The Road to Driving FOUR - Part 1

by Hardy Zantke

The Road to Driving FOUR - Part 1
by Hardy Zantke 

This is a series about a dream that perhaps looms in the background of many of us - although for many it might have to stay just a dream - but why not have some dreams? Often those are what inspires us, so let’s go to the land of our dreams and get some tips on putting together and driving a four-in-hand. 

We need to look into three different areas: 1. The driver and how to prepare him for the task. 2. The horses or ponies and 3. The equipment. 

Let’s start with you - the driver: Before we can run, we must know how to walk. So before thinking of driving four - you must know how to drive a pair. I will not go into that today. I have written four articles on that subject. You can find them on this website under  Pair Driving 101 - 104.  

Then you need to get yourself familiar with handling four reins. There are good books available which explain the proper rein handling. I like “The Principles of Driving” by the German National Equestrian Federation which covers not only the proper Achenbach rein handling - which is based on the British Coaching style - but also the now widely used two-handed method. My other driving “bible” is “The Art of  Driving” by Max Pape. It is more thorough and has a lot of excellent information, but does not have anything yet on the two-handed method. Both books are available through the ADS and / or CAA. 

Many beginners find it easier to start with the two handed method, I highly recommend that you should start with Achenbach and all four reins in your left hand with the right hand assisting. It will make you a better driver and your horses a better team.  Once you started two-handed, it is human nature to get lazy and comfortable where one is and not wanting to make the efforts to ever learn or switch to the other system, which I think is really needed to driving and training  properly. One handed driving is needed with a single and a pair for proper use of the whip - without losing the contact on the right rein when using the whip. It is also needed for driving a team as you will need to take loops on the inside leader reins for turns. Picking the loop can only be done properly with the free right hand, while the left hand holds all four reins.  

In the two handed method one also needs to take loops for turns. That means, each time one of the two hands reaches forward to take a loop, the contact is lost on the reins in that hand. Driving without the contact for a quick moment does not hurt a well trained team. Accordingly team drivers can use that method for quicker action in marathon obstacles and cones, but I believe the good training can only be done by normally driving with all four reins in the left hand and keeping the contact. So do yourself a favor and start out the proper way, lay a good foundation for your future Tandem and Four-in-Hand and drive with all four reins in the left hand. 

On the road to driving a team  many of us find ourselves first with the opportunity to drive two. So if you have two good horses or ponies available to drive, then I suggest you start driving Tandem. That is an excellent way to prepare yourself for driving four, as the rein handling is very similar, yet you only have to deal with two horses instead of four. This is for many less intimidating,  and one can learn dealing with all the reins. But also here,  do drive with all four reins in the left hand, even though with a tandem the disadvantages of the two handed method are not as pronounced as with a team as one does not need to take the loops as large as with a team, so can get away easier with driving two handed. 

Actually, other than having to drive only two horses, tandem driving is really more difficult than driving four as the leader has no horse next to him to steady him. So he can jump around much easier and give you “Tandem moments” when he is facing you. That does not happen very often with a Four-in-Hand.  So your rein handling with the Tandem will make you even better than what you will need with four. Once you can drive a tandem well, then driving four becomes really  easy. There is a good article on this website on Tandem Driving by Jay Hubert, including some good book suggestions. That should be very helpful in getting you on the right track to tandem driving.  

After practicing the handling of four reins  with a rein board, some of us have then learned driving tandem by first riding one and longlining the other one in front. Or you can longline both in tandem. Start at the walk in an arena and use calm horses or ponies. You will quickly learn that it is very important to have a good leader, who is ALWAYS going FORWARD. That is one of the most important characteristics of a good leader. As long as he keeps going forward, you can steer him with your reins. When he hangs back, then your reins become useless and then you are out of commission, as it is very difficult to become good enough with your tandem whip to make the leader go forward without getting your wheeler upset. But start practicing to hit targets two horse lengths away from you with your tandem (or longe) whip while sitting on your carriage without any horses hitched, and without getting too close with the whip to where the wheeler would be. You will quickly see how difficult that is, and while we certainly should practice and know how to use the long whip properly,  in reality not many team- or tandem drivers do. So let that part not stop you from having a little fun with a tandem and team. You will be ok without reaching your leader properly with your whip, as long as you just remember to only put somebody in the lead on whom you can depend on that he always is willing to go steadily forward.  That should then include that he is not timid nor should he be spooky or in any other way unreliable. Your calm and reliable Steady Eddie, however, does not belong in the lead if he is lazy and hanging back. Then I rather have one in the lead who is a little more high strung. The same applies to your four. The leaders must always be willing to go forward, and while a tandem leader can easily jump around when he is spooky, that will be a lesser problem with a team, as usually both leaders will steady each other. But naturally you don’t want a chicken out there either. 

The next important criteria for your horses is that they should be trained and willing to stand quietly. As long as they can’t do that, there is no sense of even trying to start driving tandem or four-in-hand. You’ll need a quiet halt of all of them often to sort things out and to make adjustments. 

Voice Commands: We use our voice as a forward driving aid as well as a calming aid. This becomes even more important with driving tandem or four, and especially so for our leaders.  They should know their names, and go willingly forward when called upon - again, as you’ll have a hard time to reach them with the whip. 

Also make sure that your leader is not ever ticklish at his hind end with a tendency to perhaps  kick. You want to be sure that no leader will ever kick when the wheeler might come a bit close to him from behind and when the leader traces touch him on his legs or the lead bar or pole head pokes into his hind end.  That can become an issue with mares when they get in heat. So try that out before hitching on the ground. Leader and wheeler should get along well with each other for the tandem, and all four should get along well  with each other for the team. If you can ride your horses, I suggest riding them behind each other, even with bumping into each other, first with open bridles and when all goes well then also with blinders. Once you have two which are ok in all these aspects, then you can start driving them tandem.  

Before you can drive four, obviously you need four, and basically you should have two well trained and reliable pairs - or two tandems - and be well familiar with all four of them. I would ride them also then as two pairs, e.g. have a helper  ride one future leader and pony the other one next to him, and you ride one wheeler and pony the other one next to you and then slowly start getting closer and closer to the leaders from behind and see that they all are ok with that. First at the walk, then at the trot. - and if you all are brave and good riders and have two more to join you, then why not also at the canter? But be very careful there and start building up for that slowly as explained in my pair driving article. When horses canter next to each other and are not familiar with that, they can easily kick at each other. So start out far apart with four riders and slowly move closer - like in a good quadrille. It takes a while to build up that level of mutual confidence. But if they can’t do that under saddle, then they probably can’t do it in front of the carriage either. Perhaps you don’t plan to ever canter them while driving, so you may think you’ll never need that. But that sets you up for dangerous situations. Then when you should ever have a spook and the horses start running, and they have never done that, the situation becomes much worse. So it is much better to practice these things in a safe and controlled environment.  

So once you have the two reliable pairs and they all get along with each other, you have two brave and forward leaders, and you have become a good pair driver as well as good tandem driver, then you are ready to hitch and drive them as a team. 

I’ll explain in the next issue what equipment you will need.