Based on how well breaking Louie to saddle went, I figured- sure, breaking him to drive should be pretty easy. And so far, I am right! Did I mention I love this horse?
Today we started out today just long lining (and me getting my exercise too), did a lot of walking to warm up, as I really think that this helps with Louie's hind end soreness that he had been experiencing (he looked 100% sound today, by the way). After a good long warm up with walking and slow trotting, we worked in stretchies for just a few minutes and had fun hooting and hollering with that. We took off the stetchies and worked a little bit more on stopping, standing, and turning, all of which went smoothly.
So I decided today is the day we are ready to start introducing shafts for Louie. Shaft training, I feel, is a very essential step to preparing a horse for pulling a cart. The feeling of shafts against a horse's sides is rather un-nerving for some, so desensitization is imperative. Using these shafts that rest on the ground not only gives them the feeling of the shafts bouncing on their sides, but also makes a noise as they pull through the dirt, that is scary for some as well.
I walked Louie over to the training shafts (aka my winter sled shafts made of PVC poles) that I had strategically placed in the arena prior to tacking. Louie stood between them and I petted him, etc. I picked up one of the shafts, rubbed it against his side, and got no reaction. So I put the end of it through the near side tug, about a foot sticking out, but didn't secure it to anything. I took a deep breath, and walked Louie off holding onto his caveson, petting him at the same time. He went about 5 steps, didn't blink an eye (well at least I don't think so, he had blinkers on), the shaft fell out and hit the floor, again no reaction. Lots of pets, good boy, good boy! And then back to between the shafts.
Well that went pretty easily, so this time I put both shafts through the tugs, and still did not secure them, but put them through far enough that the clip I had installed on the shaft for hooking to the breast strap was through the tug, and that gave the shafts just a bit more holding power. I really wanted them to be able to come out easily if we encountered any problems, so this was ideal. Then, following the same procedure of walking and petting, we walked off. . . Louie didn't even notice the shafts, didn't care about the noise of them trailing on the ground behind him, didn't care about them touching his sides. Good boy! So I took a few steps back, assumed my position on the long lines, and walked along side him, all the while repeating "good boy!' in such a shrieking high pitched broken record way that probably everybody in the barn needed ear plugs. haha. We tried a couple of turns, "okay Mom, whatever you say. . . " We stopped, petted, and continued on.
Now that he had mastered walking in the shafts, with the feel of them against his sides while turning each way, it was time to try the next challenge- the trot. Now trotting in this set up is a lot more challenging than walking- the poles bounce, and make more funny noises and feelings than they do at a walk. But Louie didn't care. After much persuading (next time I need to grab a whip), he finally bounced off into a slow, steady trot, and pulled those poles around like he had been doing it all his life. Thanks to Stephanie, the barn manager, for taking these pictures for us! (Nevermind the graininess, I think I need to set my camera for indoor photos).
Wow. What a good boy! He didn't give me the slightest hint of a problem. Not one crow hop, not one kick, not one bolt, not one once of nervousness. Just calm as could be, level headed Louie. Of course he got a huge rub down, massage, toweling, a few treats, and some lunch and grazing for being such a good boy. We shall see if he tries any funny business with the next shaft training session, but based on how easy he was to get going under saddle and how smoothly today went, I don't expect any problems. The next step will be adding weight (ie a helper to pull back on the traces), which should be a fairly simple task. I love my horse!