How to Train a Horse to Drive

Driving a horse is fun for the most of the family! Many horses and ponies can be broken to harness from miniatures to shires. Many horses or child's ponies are broken to harness after the children have outgrown them, rather than being sold. Whether you want to train an old riding horse or a youngster, you should start with a horse with good stable manners and who can be lead easily from a head collar.


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    Let the young horse see new sights. Examples are cars, flags, plastic bags, the cart you plan to use, young children, dogs, and anything else that might one day cross his path. Being traffic-wise is even more important to a driving horse, as places to drive off-road are rare.
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    Dress your horse in soft blankets or parts of the harness. He will need to get used to having something placed on his back. Be sure to let straps gently touch his legs and get him used to having his tail handled. Treats may be a good reward.
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    Bit the horse as you would when breaking for saddle but use a driving bit. Even if the horse is broke to ride you should introduce the bridle gently as he will not be used to blinders (solid pieces of leather on a harness bridle that keep the horse from seeing the cart behind him). Most people start with either a snaffle or a solid rubber bit. You may have to spend a while before the horse becomes comfortable with the bit and the blinders.
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    Walk him around in the harness for a while to get used to it. If you have done your homework well, your horse should accept the harness with little trouble.
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    Lunge the horse in the harness and practice giving him voice commands to "walk", "trot", and "whoa". He should fully understand these commands. If he doesn't, you can grab a lunge whip and as you go from walk to trot drag the whip behind them. If they don't respond to that, you can lightly tap them on the rump with the whip. Do not hit the horse at any time. When you are showing your horse in a show-driving competition, you will have to use a whip as a traditional item. If your horse doesn't stand still, it may be a good time to take the harness off and lunge them in a roundpen while using voice commands as they transition from walk to trot, trot to walk, stopping, etc. Once your horse understands this, then you will be able to move to ground driving.
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    Attach long reins or lines to the horse's bit and begin to "ground drive" him. During ground driving, you walk behind the horse and teach him to respond to your (gentle) tugs on the reins and voice commands. To do this, have him walk toward a fence, as he prepares to stop, gently pull on both reins and tell him "whoa", or gently pull on one rein to encourage him to turn. Most horses get the message fairly quickly.
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    Ground drive the horse until you are confident that he understands what you want him to do. He should be especially well-trained to stop at "whoa" and to stand perfectly still at "stand". Your horse shouldn't turn his head as he is turning, even though this is an indication that he's paying attention to you rather than what's going on outside of his periphery. Blinders can help him focus on looking straight ahead when performing this step.
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    Spend some time letting your horse get used to the cart for added safety. Pull it around him so that he can hear the noise it makes and see it moving. Let him smell of it and become completely familiar with it. As your are ground driving, ask someone to pull the cart between you and your horse on both sides and in front of your horse. Put the horse between the shafts (but do not hitch) and lead the horse while one or two helpers walk the cart to keep pace with the horse. You might even let him watch another horse pulling a cart.
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    With the help of a friend or two, one day quietly hitch the horse to the cart. One person will need to hold the horse and comfort him (as well as have control of his head) while you hitch him up. Then lead him while he has the cart hitched to him. Do not get into the cart until you can walk him around without him getting panicky about a cart following so closely behind. Go through your commands with your horse before you feel absolutely certain your horse is ready to be truly driven, with you sitting in the cart has he pulls you and the cart along. You must be absolutely certain that your horse is ready; if you have any doubt, you may compromise the safety of both you and your horse.
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    Step into the cart while your horse pulls it. Once you have repeated the previous lesson as many times as necessary, you can step into the cart. Be sure you are wearing a helmet, and always have a friend nearby in case assistance is needed. First time must be slow, at walking pace, and preferably on a flat, level surface such as in a riding arena.
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    Repeat until both you and your horse are confident with this arrangement. Now, you can step it up to pleasure drives on back roads. Somewhere safe without much traffic is all you need.
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    Keep these lessons short and interesting. 15-20 minutes of solid driving is about all a beginning young horse can handle per lesson. Be sure to reward lavishly, and of course, have fun!


  • Be patient with your horse. A few extra weeks allowing him to learn what you want may pay off in the long run.
  • If in doubt about any aspect of driving, especially correct use of harness in hitching, consult with a trainer.
  • Check your horse's back after you drive them to make sure he isn't getting harness sores.
  • Training your own horse is fun and rewarding, and builds a deep bond between horse and owner. Professional trainers are, of course, always an option and can produce a highly-trained driving horse for shows and parades. Remember that a trainer is a good way to make sure there are no holes in your training. It's cheaper to hire a trainer than the helicopter ride to treat a kick from a horse.
  • If you are planning on any amount of major driving, you may need to increase his ration or supplements with more energy-dense feeds such as oats, since he will be typically doing more work than with riding.
  • You may need to tell your farrier that you are planning on driving your horse. Most farriers will try to leave the hooves a little long, as well as give your horse a once-over to make sure everything is in good working order. Also ask if he has any other suggestions.
  • Make sure when you are putting on the harness that you don't pinch any of their tail hairs when you put the tail loop on.
  • Practice getting your horse used to something small to pull, like a small log and hook it up to the harness. This way your horse will be used to something moving behind him/her while pulling.

Make sure this is done before he is attached to the cart.


  • Remember that a horse's first reaction when frightened is to flee. Always try to foresee any "horse-eating monsters" along your path, especially at first. It's hard to predict what a horse will shy at.
  • Remember that a horse or pony can be unpredictable, even the best behaved ones.
  • Always remember that a horse can hurt you. Be careful when going behind any horse. They can kick any time, so be well aware of the horse's body language at all times.
  • Smaller ponies and miniature horses are sometimes treated as a spoiled pet. This is unfair on the horse and can turn out to be dangerous later. Do not allow him to bite, kick or develop bad habits as a foal, even if you think they are funny or cute. These tricks won't be so nice when he's an adult.
  • Although children can learn to drive a well-trained horse, training is best left to supervised older teens and adults.

Things You'll Need

  • A horse
  • A cart
  • A harness
    • Harnesses come in many types and price ranges. Inspect used harnesses in bright daylight. If you don't know much about harnesses, do your research first.
  • A friend to help you
  • Room to work
  • A grooming bag (so the dirt doesn't get ground into your new harness)
  • Saddle polish (for after the driving)

Article Info

Categories: Horse Training