It’s a hard thing to gauge, when a horse is ‘ready’ to perform the tasks of one of our carriage horses. We ask a lot of our horses, we do things that ‘normal’ horses wouldn’t cope with. Our horses have to deal with a lot of unusual sights, sounds and circumstances. How does one even train a horse to cope with these things? We didn’t really know to be honest, but we have produced some very beautiful Clydesdales, that I am incredibly proud of. It really is no big secret how we did it, it has been a long and enjoyable process, that I’m hoping to be able to replicate with our other young ones.
Carpolac Henry and Carpolac Angus joined our herd as yearlings. Having trained horses under saddle from unhandled horses, personally I find starting from scratch a lot easier than picking up where another trainer stopped. It’s like they learn to speak my language and I don’t tell them confusing things, not to mention all trainers have different standards and expectations. Of course their breeding has a lot to do with it, it is by far easier to train a calm obliging horse, than one that is flighty by nature!
It all takes time!
I guess the biggest most important thing to remember with a young horse, is time, patience and reassurance. Small steps, introducing things slowly and calmly, break it down and make it easy for them. If they don’t have a reason not to trust you, then chances are they will trust you. If you remain calm and grounded, when they are scared, they will look to you for reassurance. Give them that reassurance. Every horse is as different as what every person is. There is not one approach that will work with every horse. You need to find what works for you, and your individual horses.
The journey with our Clydesdales has been an enjoyable family affair, many hours spent long reining, while dragging noisy things, and with our children on bikes walking alongside us. Even taking the small kid for a walk in the pram usually happened with 2 Clydesdales on the lead.
Over a number of years we have trained them to work in single harness, pairs harness and more recently under saddle. They are very accepting of what ever we ask, however we have found our biggest hold up is time. Finding the time to take them out on exposure runs, working out how to fill in the bits that we perhaps didn’t focus on enough in training.
One of our biggest challenges was standing. Now, these boys are just so calm. They are really lovely, relaxed and obliging. They stop beautifully, steer nicely and have a brilliant work ethic. But they didn’t like standing still. This would be very problematic for a wine tour, wedding, or anything really, if they don’t stand still for our passengers to get on and off.
One would stand, the other would fidget, so they’d both move off. A bit perplexed with how to fix this, we started doing ‘patience training’. I.e I harnessed them up, hitched up the cart, then walked away. Not too far, but like, sat near by and scrolled social media, or picked up poo, so I could keep an eye on them, and be their calm if they needed, but not close enough that they got my itchiness to go for a drive.
Then we Introduced a driveway loop, patience training, then do a loop of our driveway (a whole 30 or so meters) then back to more patience training. Then we introduced the ‘borrow a friends kids and let them climb in and out at every loop of the driveway. Turns out kids can be quite useful at times!
When a friend wanted a wine tour specifically with the clydies, I agreed, but only as long as they understood that the standing thing wasn’t guaranteed and they may need to jump on or off a moving carriage. The day came, with gale force winds. They were calm. They were beyond belief brilliant! Our passengers loaded, we got to the first driveway and had to stand while 2 semis went past. They stood like a statue. Due to the worsening weather conditions we pulled out after the first cellar door, and supplied our passengers with their car instead, but the behaviour of our boys was a really good sign of things to come.
Guinea Pig runs
In order to be able to commence commercial work with them, I wanted to do what I call a ‘guinea pig’ run. A wine tour as wine tours are, but with non paying passengers who understand they are quite literally guinea pigs. My husband put a call out to our friends (of course during our busiest time of year when stress levels were already high). 3 of our friends jumped at the opportunity. One of which was 33 weeks pregnant at the time and her husband who had recently had an ankle reconstruction. You know what I was saying about stress levels?!? Anyway, the weather was perfect and Langhorne creek was not overly busy. We attached our ‘L’ plates to the carriage, and set off for the most enjoyable wine tour ever. Angus and Henry had their game faces on, and were marching along proudly.
My passengers were under strict instructions of when we get there, disembark quickly and quietly pregnant and invalids first… I needn’t have worried, we stopped at our first stop, they stood, our passengers disembarked, and then they waited. I was so proud I could have cried. We visited our next stop, and same again. No fidgeting, no rushing, just calmly waiting, and enjoying the pats from anyone who would give them.
There will always be things to learn, there will always be things to improve on. The training is never ‘complete’. Sometimes the situation we are in, is the first time the horses have been exposed to that. This really is unavoidable, but with the groundwork and trust in place, the horses know they are safe, and continue working as they should.
Only a couple more guinea pig runs for the clydies on wine tours, and they should be available to take you around the beautiful Langhorne creek wine region. We can’t wait to share them with you! Check out our services page for more info on our wine tours, and if you mention this blog when booking, we will take 10% off the cost for a midweek wine tour booking.