In my last blog I focused on the versatility of my Welsh ponies and cobs. Although they compete primarily as driving horses there are definite benefits to working them in other ways, especially using long reins or ridden activities.
I find that these benefits are both mental and physical. Mentally, the variety means the horse is interested and more enthusiastic, while physically the horse can develop its self carriage and muscle strength, without interference from being in draft and pulling a heavy weight.
I am a great admirer of classical dressage. Many people do not realise that the horses of the Spanish Riding School start their training on the lunge and learn the most difficult dressage movements on long reins to develop the correct way of going, balance and self carriage. Using classical techniques on long reins has been my main method of schooling my driving ponies and I have found it invaluable in improving their way of going in the carriage.
Carriage horses can lack the strength and muscle development to work correctly from behind and so are seen working on the forehand, motor-biking round corners, failing to track up, or working with tension and hollow backs and high heads. Schooling work helps develop the appropriate muscles and encourages engagement so that the horse can correct these faults through its physical development. Obviously it’s essential to make this work comfortable, achievable and interesting to prevent a horse getting bored or sour, and to realise this is not a quick fix but something worth waiting for over time.
Quite a few driving trials competitors have riders for their horses, since dressage is such an important part of their event. A good rider will provide excellent schooling for the driven horse — whether it is used at national driving trials or in the showring or purely for pleasure.
Recently I have found a good rider for my 14.2hh cob Alfie and I’m thrilled by the way the partnership is progressing. Alfie was already broken to ride when I bought him nearly 2 years ago, but with me has focused on long reining and driving work until now.
After a few sessions to get to know each other, Alfie and Naiomi have enjoyed plenty of variety, with hacks out in company, pole work and some jumping (right) along with schooling sessions. Alfie loves this diversity — he is relaxed and thoroughly enjoying life, looking great and working willingly.
Pleased with Alfie’s attitude and progress, we decided to enter him in the next dressage event at the Lluest, the Aberystwyth University Equestrian Centre where he is kept. This was an affiliated competition with big classes due to it being the finale of British Dressage’s (BD) camp at the premises. With riding kit kindly lent to us and with a gleaming set of Equilibrium Stretch and Flex boots he certainly looked the part warming up — though a ginger cob stood out among the big bay horses!
Undaunted we entered Alfie for prelim and novice and were thrilled to get 3rd in the prelim (below right) and 4th place in the novice (above). Alfie qualified for the Welsh Dressage Championships in June and we have all affiliated to BD so he can take part. This means Alfie is now affiliated in dressage under saddle as well as in horse driving trials.
Soon after the competition we had the opportunity of a training session with Patrick Print, who was very enthusiastic about Alfie and his potential. He has developed his lateral work from basic leg yielding under saddle to shoulder-in on each rein. All this helps make him more supple and gives greater freedom through the shoulder and back.
Alfie is now able to execute excellent walk to canter transitions under saddle and in the carriage. This is an excellent demonstration of his impulsion and the controlled propulsion though from behind will be especially beneficial in manoeuvring around the obstacles and springing the hills on the marathon.
Generally his impulsion is much improved in all paces, as is his self carriage. Even basic schooling pays huge dividends, as once you have your horse balanced pulling the carriage is much easier and you can drive far more accurately.
When riding Alfie works in an open bridle and French link snaffle but when driving has a traditional bridle with blinkers and a military reversible bit. Horses are generally very adaptable. They definitely enjoy variety in their work and whatever their driven discipline can improve their self carriage and way of going through long reining and ridden work.