The Road to Driving FOUR - Part 2

by Hardy Zantke

The Road to Driving FOUR - Part 2
by Hardy Zantke 

I promised the list of equipment that we need for this part:
Besides two pair harnesses and your  pair carriage you’ll need the following additional equipment.  Only the first two items are absolutely necessary. You can get started even without having any of the other items, as you can jury rig them to get started.
A set of lead bars for your carriage and a way to attach them to the front of your pole. Make sure your carriage is build strong enough to support the extra weight of the lead bars as well as the extra groom on the back. There are different types of lead bars in use: The common one is a main bar with two swingle trees.  I suggest you start with that, rather than with a single wide lead bar. A good welder can usually build you a set fairly easily, or you can use a wooden set, but make sure that it is strong. You do not ever want a lead-bar to break for lack of strength, as then the pieces will hit the leaders in the hocks, and even if they are not prone to kicking, that certainly can send them running.
Four-in-Hand Leader reins. Your pair reins should be sufficient as wheeler reins (unless the coupling rein buckles are very close to your hands). Similar as with the lead bars, make sure that you have strong leader reins. You depend on this equipment, so don’t use old questionable stuff that has been seen it’s better days. Proper equipment is important to prevent accidents. You would not start parachute jumping either with a marginal chute. My advice would be to get leather reins. I love my Zilco harness, but cannot drive properly with synthetic reins. They are too narrow and slip too easily through the hand. We cannot have any rein slippage when driving four as then the team gets out of alignment. Leader and wheeler reins should be of the same material and have the same width as otherwise you will find it hard to drive properly with all four reins in your left hand.
Two Roger rings (which you should have already from your tandem driving). Traditional Pleasure Drivers often still use the rein terrets on the wheeler bridle rosette. They have the disadvantage that in turns they pull the inside blinder off the inside wheeler’s head. Therefore competition four-in-hand drivers prefer Roger rings which are buckled into the throat latch buckle (from behind - which first looks backwards to the layman, but makes sense that way as it then does not pull open the throatlatch buckle when under tension). But if you don’t have Roger rings yet, that should not stop you. You can just use two large key rings and tie them with a piece of baling twine to the outside throat -latch-buckle of each wheeler.
A leader rein terret on the center of each wheeler’s saddle. If you don’t have these, you can certainly start without them by just running the leader reins also through the outside saddle terrets. But having the center terrets makes it much easier for you, as you can easier distinguish between  leader- and wheeler reins coming to your hands from the saddle terrets from slightly different angles with the leader reins from the center of the saddles.
Leader traces or trace extenders - as leader traces are usually a little longer than your regular pair (or wheeler) traces. If you have buckle-in traces on the leaders’ pair harness  perhaps they will be long enough if you just buckle them into the last hole. Otherwise for starters just use four pieces of rope at the ends to extend the leader traces.
A connection strap between the collars (or breastcollars) of the leaders. Note, no connection strap is used there for a proper Pleasure Driving or Coaching Turn-out, but CDE drivers use a connecting strap there and you’ll want one too when you start out to keep your leaders better together. An old stir-up leather or similar strap will do, or you can even use a rope for starters.
A whip to reach your leaders - if you think you will be able to even use one to get to them. Otherwise just use your pair whip for the wheelers - and your voice for your leaders. (Some of us also have had our groom carry a hand full of pebbles and throw one at a leader as a whip replacement - but then the groom needs to be good at that.)
The last piece of equipment which is frowned upon by traditionalists, and therefore hardly ever mentioned in any of the books, but which I  recommend to any beginner is a rein clamp. That is a clamp with which you can clamp all four reins together once you have them in the right position and  proper length for your trot work. When you drive with the two-handed system, then you should have two rein clips, one for each hand. But as I explained in the last issue, you should really start with the Achenbach system for all your training as well as dressage. You should only use the two handed method for driving marathons and cones. There that system is faster - and your well trained horses won’t fall apart when you lose the contact for a split second when picking a loop, as long as they were normally trained with the Achenbach system.
The disadvantage of the rein clamp is that once you set it on a given position and have clamped all your reins together, you can’t easily adjust them in your hand - other than by taking loops, or moving your hand. For more adjustments you would need to change the setting by opening the clamp, adjusting the reins to a different position and then closing the clamp again. That is much harder to do then adjusting rein length in your hand when you don’t have a clamp. But the big advantage of the clamp to any beginner is that you can concentrate so much better on driving your horses, rather than having to really clamp down your hand all the time to make sure none of your reins slip a little through your fingers. Clamping your hand to prevent slippage will quickly make your hand tired and take all the fun out of driving four. Further, I explained in Part 1  why you want to have leaders which are really forward so they always are on the bit giving you good control. With that usually comes that they will pull a little in your hand. Without the rein clamp that forward contact - together with just the weight of four reins - will get your left hand very quickly very tired, especially when you are not yet used to it and haven’t built up the muscles for it. Then without even noticing it, you will try to relieve that pressure a little by giving with your hand a little. But that really won’t relieve the pressure for long. It, will only make you lose your contact with your wheelers and in addition it usually results in your leaders getting into draft which then will make them pull even harder. This then forces you to clamp your hand even harder to not have any of the leader reins slip through your fingers. It all will become more difficult and unfriendly for your poor hand and take all the fun out of driving your four.
All of that is avoided by using a good rein clamp. You clamp the reins together behind your fingers, no rein can slip through anymore, you can hold the four reins easily that way, they can’t get mixed up either and stay in place with left leader on top of your index finger, right leader below the index finger, left wheeler below right leader, and right wheeler below the middle finger. Your hand can hold them easily with the rein clamp, you don’t get cramps, your arm stays soft and you can have fun driving your four, and concentrate on the driving, rather than on cramping your hand. Also for the rein clamp you want good leather reins of close to an inch wide, or 7/8, but not narrower than that. Narrower reins can lose their position in the rein clamp. Also when driving without a rein clamp narrower reins are harder to hold and slip easier through the hand and fingers.
Without the rein clamp you’ll soon go to driving two handed where reins don’t slip so easily and you’ll become a sloppy driver with a sloppy team. So get a good rein clamp (or two for the times that you get ready to drive your first marathon or cones and then want to go to two handed driving). There are various different ones on the market. I like the small stainless steel light weight clamps looking like an open square through which the reins go with a little vice like bracket pushed up by a set screw from the bottom. The entire clamp is hardly noticeable from the outside as it sits in the left hand and makes driving four so much easier.
That is all the equipment that you need to get started.  I mentioned already in Part 1 that you should get the book “The Principles of Driving” by the German National Equestrian Federation for the proper rein handling techniques. It also covers many other aspects of driving, not only four, but also driving in general, so is a good investment. In addition I recommend “A Driving Horse Photo Album” by Robert Mischka which shows all of our top drivers and is very beneficial to look at the pictures in details and see how they hitch, for example, which Roger Rings they use, how long the pole heads are, where the leader bars are so that the wheelers don’t hit their noses on them, etc.
I’ll give some tips on actual driving your four in the next part.