Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Value of a Complete Training Foundation

Having friends in the just completed 2014 Single Horse World Driving Championship in Izsak, Hungary, I followed the United States Team members closely through the FEI  and DrivingNews USA Internet sites.  Facebook kept me in touch with the personal stories by the players and fans.  I spent some sleepless nights over the last 3 days so I could have up to the minute results as they unfolded 9 hours ahead of my time zone.  It was an exciting weekend for this (now retired) armchair competitor.

What I want to talk about is not the results so much, but of an incident that happened that could have been disastrous if the simple step of foundation training had not been put in place and reinforced throughout this horse's career.  Here is what happened.  Our top ranking USA team member, Leslie Berndl of Newcastle, California was in fine position after the first phase of Dressage.  She had the 12th best test out of 77 competitors from 18 different countries in the world.  Dressage is her strong suit and she delivered a good one for the USA team.

Our three team members (Jacob Arnold, Donna Crookston and Leslie) were looking forward to a great marathon.  As luck would have it, the bit in Leslie's horse Travis broke in the second hazard while they were at full speed.  The bit fell out of Travis's mouth and Leslie acted with a verbal command to halt.  That big, on the muscle horse, came to a dead stop for her and stood.  He had been asked, and even though he was in the "heat" of the moment, he stood and waited.  It was no accident (literally) he stood.  He was trained to halt on command no matter what.  Everyone should want that in their driving horse.

Since there was no way to repair, they had to retire from their competition at that point.  Here is the point of my post:  I wonder how many carriage drivers make sure that important part of the training of the carriage driving horse is in place? When things go wrong with a horse pulling a carriage, it is very dangerous with the weight and bulk of the carriage, putting people on board, and people all around at risk of injury or death (not to mention the horse).

Understandably, Leslie is sorely disappointed at what happened after so many months of hard work and training for this biennial world championship.  Because she and her horse Travis have this wonderful relationship and complete trust in one another, she will rise to compete again with this great horse...because he listened to her, stopped on her verbal command alone, and stood.  It could have been career ending for both or worse.  That is great horsemanship.
Leslie driving Travis through a water hazard

As a final note...failure of equipment can happen even in the most quality made equipment, so I think the best form of insurance to protect one's huge investment in this sport (or any equine endeavor) is to train the horse to have the kind of foundation that ensures trust between horse/rider/driver so when something goes wrong...the horse does not question, but does what is asked.

There is a public video of the incident and when I figure out how to link to it, I will add to this post.  I will also follow with a draft I have been working on for awhile that this incident is related to:  "The Risk of Do it Yourself Horse Training"


  1. It's something not just for driving horses, but riding horses, too. I have taught my horse to stop to the verbal regardless what is going on, and it is so useful. I know if his bit broke, he would stop on a dime if I asked him to.

    It is a very important part of a horse's education. Hats off to Leslie for including it! Hat's off to Travis for remembering his training in the heat of the moment.

    1. Thank you for your comment Judi. I am happy you have that training in place with your own horse. I am amazed at how many don't realize how important the verbal stop is. When things get tough for the horse, he can fall back on the training and stop and wait. One has to train for that and override the horse's instinct to run.