Horse Driving: Where to Begin
by Parelli Natural Horsemanship on Sep 28, 2022
By: Pat Parelli
In 1968, I remember seeing the Wells Fargo stagecoach pulled by six beautiful horses and the driver up top, who looked like a really savvy man driving them. Come to find out, it was a little lady named Virginia Fellingham. She was the driver in every parade and TV commercial for Wells Fargo.
Lucky for me, she lived right around the corner from my grandparents. Freddie Ferreira, my mentor at the time as a teenager, and I got to ride up on that stagecoach and hold the reins. It was exciting to hold the reins to a driving horse, whether one or six or more. Over the years, I've gone out of my way to learn as much as I can about driving horses. I've had quite a bit of experience.
When we first moved to Pagosa Springs, Colorado, all the hay cutting and manure spreading was horse-drawn. We even built buck fences with teams of horses going into the mountains, cutting lodgepoles, spreading the lodgepole out, and creating all the fences you see on our ranch.
When we started our operation in Florida, we did the same thing. We had two teams of horses, and we started teaching everyone. We started teaching our resident students how to harness and drive horses. I will never claim I'm an expert, but I am pretty good about finding real experts.
I ran into a man named Steve Bowers. As far as I'm concerned, Steve was the best natural horseman in the driving world and had a really good way of teaching others. Unfortunately, Steve passed away young, but his son, Nate Bowers, has continued with his work.
When he passed, Steve and I were in the middle of starting to do the video series on driving horses and how to apply natural horsemanship in preparation on the ground and even in the saddle for those that are driving horse enthusiasts.
If you're interested in driving horses, remember that prior and proper preparation prevents poor performance.
Horses need to get used to the sight, sound and feel of the carriage, cart, wagon, manure spreader—whatever it is.
The old-timers used to do some things a bit differently. A mare would have a foal, and they would work the mare in the field and let the foal follow. That foal would get used to the sight and the sound of the farm equipment, and then it was easy to get him used to the feel of the harness and the reins.
The secret to harness horses is for them to be light on the reins and strong on the traces, but many people have it backward; their horses are heavy on the reins and light on the traces.
I've seen horses pulling light carriages around by their mouth rather than their shoulders.
If you're genuinely interested in driving, Nate Bowers has a great video series that I highly recommend. Just remember horses are prey animals, and they're born skeptics, cowards, claustrophobic, and panic-o-holics by nature, in various degrees. Therefore, we need to help them be calm, intelligent, brave, and athletic because there's nothing worse than a horse getting athletic when he's not calm, smart, and brave. That's when people get hurt.
There's a particular pleasure that can only be obtained by driving horses in a carriage, a wagon, or a coach. However, if not done correctly with prior, proper preparation, it can be one of the most dangerous things. Over the years, many people who have gotten too old to ride thought, "No, I'm going to take my good old trusty riding horse and turn him into a driving horse and hook them up." It's a disaster in about one and a half seconds.
I want people to be safe. I want to help people be safe, have fun, taste excellence, and even achieve excellence regularly, whether on the ground in the saddle or behind the horse.I'm hoping this is helping you keep it natural. May the horse be with you.