Monday, November 30, 2009

Driving Mr. Marley

I've not had any time to post because I have been so busy with Marley.

Let me catch up...

I had a couple of nice lessons at Driving Pro's ranch while Marley was there for training. The first one went very well as I drove around an open field with Driving Pro beside me in the cart.

The second lesson went well too, but there was a chilly wind and Marley was a little spooky. A horse trailer went by on the road and the horse inside stomped its hoof and Marley jumped forward. I pulled back and said "Whoa!" Driving Pro reminded me that Whoa means Whoa, and only Whoa, and to reserve that word for stopping & standing. When Marley got a little jumpy, he instructed me to pull back on the reins smoothly and say "Easy". I got to practice that at least 6 more times because it was a very blustery day and the wind was carrying many strange noises.

Prior to driving, while we were harnessing, Driving Pro advised me not to be so wordy when working around Marley. I tend to talk to my horses a lot and use their names often. Verbal commands are useful aids when driving, so Driving Pro told me not to use Marley's name so much when I'm harnessing. For example, I should just say a simple "Whoa" when I'm harnessing him and want him to stand still - not "Take it easy Marley, Whoa Marley, That's a good boy Marley, I'm right behind you Marley, yada, yada, yada." Driving Pro said using a driving horse's name usually gets their attention and is followed by a command to move. Like, "Marley walk" or "Marley trot."

Marley came home after our 2nd lesson. We went back the following week for lesson #3 which was a small group lesson with my friend & neighbor and her Haflingers. Driving Pro had disassembled his large round pen and used the panels to fence an area between several of his out buildings, giving us a very safe and confined area in which to drive.

We drove around and around and did figure 8s at the walk and trot between some orange cones. It was great fun and very enjoyable. Marley behaved perfectly, although he was a little lazy. Mr. OnceUpon teased me about "feeling the wind in my hair" as we plodded along at a snail's pace.

Lesson #4 was at home where Driving Pro showed Mr. OnceUpon how to harness and hitch. Driving Pro doesn't want me to hitch the cart by myself yet; he wants Mr. OnceUpon to help so we can bring the cart up to Marley together and each put a shaft in the shaft loops on either side of Marley. Driving Pro said the majority of accidents happen during hitching and unhitching, so he wants us to hitch together to be safe and efficient.

All harnessed and hitched, we began the driving lesson.

We started out by driving around the property and up & down the road a couple of times. Then we ventured onto a paved road where we encountered a few surprised motorists who slowed down and waved as they carefully passed by. Marley was great; traffic didn't bother him at all. Then we turned onto that road Misty mentioned in her last Monday Muse where all the horses live and Marley got excited and Driving Pro had to grab the reins. I stepped out of the cart at the end of that street and Driving Pro schooled Marley vigorously with figure 8s at the trot and then had him trot up and down the street past all those horses that I now call "the cheerleading squad". I was really spooked by the incident but he made me take the reins on the way back home. Along the road we met another neighbor on horseback who road along side of us for awhile and all was well. Whew, we arrived home in one piece. Driving Pro said any horse could get excited in a situation like that where a bunch of horses run up on both sides of the road. He said the way to handle it is to "drive through it" and steer and stay on the road. But my skills aren't quite there yet. I'm so glad Driving Pro was with me. He gave me a homework assignment to take Marley back to that street the next day (ride him or lead him in halter) and do ground work with him in the street near the cheerleading squad. I did that and my fickle pony showed no interest in his adoring fans.

Last Wednesday Mr. OnceUpon helped me hitch and I drove by myself, out in the open, for the first time.

My cart is a Haflinger sized forecart made by Pioneer Equipment Company. It's not a fancy cart, but a farm cart; we can hook a harrow to the back of it and do some real work. It is solid and stable and good for a beginner driver like myself and ideal for going off road and driving on the prairie.

I drove around our property and up & down our street. Then I asked Marley to trot up the street. He trotted nicely but abruptly stopped as we neared our driveway entrance. I urged him forward, but he tried to turn left into the driveway. We had a little discussion that involved right rein, a tap of the driving whip , left rein, right rein, another tap of the whip and "Marely trot!" I was a little clumsy at steering and using the driving whip as an aid. He finally started trotting forward, but stopped at the next driveway entrance. We had another awkward discussion, but moved forward again. I tried trotting him the length of the road a 2nd time, but had the same issue at the driveway entrances. Each time Marley was trying to turn back toward the barn. Uh oh. Red Flag. We do not want this behavior to take hold, as he has had some serious barn-sour issues in the past. I got him beyond the driveways and into a trot to the top of the street and decided to stop on that good note and we walked around the property some more before unhitching. I was concerned though and called Driving Pro right away and scheduled another lesson.

I was worried and a little scared (which grew into 'a lot scared' as I thought more about it the next couple of days). The combination of the bolting incident by the cheerleading squad and a little trouble on my own Wednesday wore heavily on my mind.

I'll share those thoughts and lesson #5 in my next post.

My good husband is preparing dinner now and I really should help him.


  1. You are fortunate to have the Driving Pro - what fun and a good challenge. It sounds so far as though everything that's happened is normal lumps and bumps as you do something like this. Even the "driveway sour" stuff - you dealt really well with that and ended well. I bet it'll just fade away as you continue to focus on everything he's doing well and build on that! Can't wait to hear more!

  2. Once Upon, you are the best story teller! I feel as if I am in that cart with you. I love your cart and obviously, I love Marley. I admire your resolve and your wisdom to have Driving Pro. Your photos are great as always. I can't wait to hear the next installment.

  3. How awesome! I am jealous I want to learn to drive too! How old is Marley again?

  4. Wow, sounds like he is doing great. And neat idea on the cart that can be used for work too.

  5. I think you two are really working well together and having lots of fun together. There's bound to be some adjustments along the way, but I'm sure you and Marley will take it in stride and and be Driving Pro's soon enough.

  6. Well done!
    Driving is like riding, you won't learn it all in one very nice to have the Driving Pro to help out when needed.
    Such a nice thing to do together. Fjords are in general very good driving horses, and I am sure Marley enjoys the work too (with some extra entertainment along the way)!

  7. Kate, my goodness, yes. Couldn't do this without the Driving Pro. He is confident we'll be on our own soon.

    Thanks Juliette. I'm not giving up on myself or Marley. I'm the one who needs most of the work, anyway.

    Thanks Golden. Marley is about 10. Your Haflingers would be great for driving. My next driving post will show my friends team of Haflingers. She's having a great time driving her boys.

    eventer79, thanks, I'm going to look for a chain harrow this summer so I can drag it around our property and smooth out the areas where the gophers have build condominiums.

    Thank you Gray Horse. Lots of adjustments, but we'll figure it all out.

    Hi HorseOfCourse. I think Marley does like driving. He really digs in and pulls when the going get tough. He's like a little freight train going up a hill.

  8. Great Job !!! Rosie is broke to drive but I'm not.. LOL. I think I should learn to drive with someone Marley's size and not Super Size like our mares!

    P.S. Marley you sure do look cute in your harness!

  9. Thanks JeniQ. I always tell myself Marley is a pony, what's the big deal? But he is amazingly strong. You have half the battle licked if Rosie is already trained.

  10. It sounds like you and Marley are doing a fantastic job learning together with driving pro's help. He sure is a handsome fellow. I wouldn't mind having a Fjord myself as I think they are cool horses. I also like your cart- it looks sturdy and safe. I'd take sturdy and safe over fancy any day of the week. I chuckled over driving pro's comments about talking to your horse and using his name. I would SO FAIL on that one!!! I talk more to Grif than I do to most people. I don't know that I could keep my mouth shut-LOL

  11. Oh that looks like fun and you are doing so well

  12. You are doing a good job and keep going. Rome was not built in a day and you will not be a Driving Pro in one either. You may want to have some one with you until the "bugs" are worked through, just as safety insurance. If he decided to throw a God-awful fit, your passenger/groom can get to his head and stop him before a wreck happens. You and he will get there. Right now, you both are green and learning. It is just so much fun! (my word verif is "goody"--How appropriate!)

  13. Thanks Carol. I keep catching myself being extra chatty with the Marley now.

    Thanks Jack. We are having fun.

    phaedra96, thanks and you are so right. I won't be driving away from our property without Driving Pro with me for some time.

  14. oh, i'm so jealous! i've driven before, but never driven MY horse, and he's so old, i bet he'd rather be driven than carry me.

    driving is so popular here in germany, and often with fjords! and since so many of the "trails" here are actually roads, it would be perfect.