I had my second carriage driving lesson in the school at the weekend. Considering it was a couple of weeks since my first session, I am amazed I managed to remember how to put all the harness on without anything being upside down or back to front. But I did.
To begin I jumped on the back step of the carriage while Dave drove. We set of across the fields to let Duke stretch his legs and warm up. This was an opportunity for Dave to go back over what I’ve already learned, how to hold the reins with one hand and what signals to give to Duke.
Dave makes it look so easy, but it’s not. It’s quite tricky not to try and “ride” with the reins rather than use them to drive; perhaps, in this respect, being a rider puts me at a disadvantage. Also, all the driving horses I’ve had the pleasure of driving have also been very responsive, so it’s hard not to oversteer, too.
After letting me take over for the last part of the warm up session, we headed to the school where Dave had set up some cones on and inside the track. Jean jumped on the back of the carriage so Dave could teach me from the floor.
To this point I’d been using two hands, and the first thing that happened when I put my reins into one hand was I tipped my torso forward. Dave had used reins with stops on them today to help me see if I was holding them evenly. As it turned out, I wasn’t.
Dave explained what I was doing wrong and how I should be holding the reins. I set off again at the walk following Dave’s advice to take the route through cones as instructed.
The cones are an excellent training aid, as well as being a vital part of three-phase driving trials. Dave had me using them to perform changes of reins and circles, and they certainly show if you get it wrong as you run them over! I did this quite a lot today, I am embarrassed to report.
However, once I had got a little more competent with coachman’s style, I was able to see how Duke was reacting to my signals. I also need to remember to lower my voice when asking Duke to walk or trot. He’s used to a man’s voice, not a squeaky Scouse girl’s voice!
Eventually, Dave told me to give my left arm a rest and use both hands again. It felt so much easier, but I am determined to master one-handed driving.
After the session in the school, Dave jumped on the backstep and we set of to one of the obstacles he has constructed in his field. After attempting some simple, straight routes through, I tackled a rather tight turn. Dave said it was going to be too tight, but I made it through; then Dave joked I was getting cocky! It was more sheer beginners’ luck I think.
Dave then directed me down a dip in the field. The highlight of the day was as we cantered up the other side of the dip. This was the first time I’ve cantered a horse in harness. It was very different to the scurry ponies I’d driven last year, and I can’t wait to do it again. After this we cooled Duke down and headed for the stables.
I’ve really rather got the bug, though I don’t think any of our gold medal winning single horse drivers need to worry too much just yet!
Don’t miss Kerry’s next training blog, coming soon