The safety test is intended to help you progress. It also gives us peace of mind, so that we can all feel safe when in the company of fellow NWDC drivers and their turnouts.
The safety test is very informal and friendly. We only want to make sure you and your horse, equipment and methods are safe. Please arrange your test beforehand by phoning the Secretary who will put you in touch with an approved tester from the club; you may either travel to them, along with the horse, carriage, tack and equipment that you intend to use at the events, or they can travel to you (you may need to give them some petrol money for this). We prefer not to test at an event as it may result in disappointment.
We suggest that you print off this page and read it carefully before you ask to be assessed.
Safety Guidelines for Driving a Single Horse or Pony
Horse - Harness - Harnessing up - Harness Fitting - Carriage Fitting - Vehicle Safety - Putting To - Driving in Company - Driving Do's and Don'ts - Taking Out - Insurance - Accidents - Summary - Neck collar vs breast collar
For the new driver - these are the guidelines we expect you to follow as a member of our club. They are meant to help you. Remember that what you ďget away withĒ at home or with a quiet animal may go badly wrong in company, at an event, show or drive, or with strange or sharp horses. Get into the habit of doing things correctly - the right way is the safe way, tried and tested by generations of drivers. If there is anything you do not know, or if you do not know why we do things in a certain way - ASK FOR HELP. Don't cause an accident by choosing to disregard the rules.
For the experienced driver - these guidelines are to give you a basis for helping new drivers. If your opinion differs on any point, please explain before you disagree with it in front of a novice. Your way may be only subtly different from ours!
The BHDTA require novices to be tested prior to competing. The BHDTA test is fairly new, while we have been testing since 1993!
Both of us test you on: 1 harnessing up; 2 putting to; 3 driving safely on the road; 4 taking out; 5 unharnessing. Further rules apply to progression into National Novice competitions. See the BHDTA web site for details (menu > Reference > BHDTA ADMIN > Forms).
The Horse - and You
Unless you both are very experienced do not travel alone. At club events, activities, or shows, always have your groom in the carriage with you.
NEVER tie up and leave your horse with the vehicle attached.
NEVER tie your horse up to any carriage.
Be realistic in your expectations. Don’t ask too much of yourself or the horse. Don’t attempt new or difficult things without plenty of skilled advice and training.
Make sure the horse is fit for what you intend to do - physically and mentally. Good horsemanship is about looking after your horse. He should then continue to give you good and safe driving for many years. Condition your horse slowly and steadily before bringing him to a meet. He should be capable of walking and trotting at least five miles with a normally loaded carriage without undue “blowing”. Most drives are longer than this and an unfit horse may become sore and damage himself if he attempts to keep up on a long, fast drive.
Horses or ponies must be 4 years old or over to take part in a NWDC drive, fun day or event of any kind. This rule is also enforced by the British Driving Society and the British Horse Driving Trials Association.
Make sure the harness fits the horse before you hitch to the vehicle. Fit and test new harness at home - not at an event. Look regularly while you are cleaning your harness to see that it remains safe - buckles too. Donít forget to oil or saddle soap leather. Keep buckle tongues clear of rust (try wire wool).
Always put strap ends into their keepers - this prevents things getting caught on them, and stops buckles coming undone. Plaiting bands or insulating tape will make temporary keepers until you can take the piece to the harness maker.
Carry appropriate spares (rein, trace, breeching strap, length of strong twine) of the right size. A mobile phone in your pocket would also be handy if you are going into remote areas.
When out exercising your horse should wear a headcollar under his bridle. Carry a lead rope where you can easily reach it. You can then tie up safely if anything happens (like desperate thirst as you pass the pub). Remember not to tie your horse up until you have unhitched.
Carry a knife on you - not in the carriage.
NEVER remove any harness until you have unhitched completely.
Put all harness on/off in one set place, then you wonít forget anything.
1 collar or breast collar goes on first with traces
2 pad and breeching next
3 then the reins
4 lastly the bridle - and donít forget to buckle on the reins!
Collar - must fit snugly without being tight. The flat of a hand should fit between the side and the horseís neck, and the thickness of your hand (at the thumb) between his throat and the bottom of the collar when it is lying in the right position on the shoulder. The hames must fit accurately in the groove and the hame straps must be supple and strong. You may find you need several collars to fit your horse through a long season when his neck changes shape from fat to fit. Keep collars clean and dry.
Breast collar - must be fitted high enough to clear the point of the horseís shoulder but not so high that it chokes him; long enough to allow a full bearing surface over the chest, but short enough to clear the backband. If you use a breast collar you MUST have a swingle tree on the vehicle to allow free movement of the horseís shoulders. If you donít you will make him sore. Keep collars clean and dry.
Traces - these must be strong and supple. Adjust them so that the backband lies just forward of the tug stops on the shafts when the horse is in draught. You should always have at least one hole spare on the traces behind the buckle - then you can still get home if thereís a breakage at the one you normally use. (This applies to all load bearing straps.) Check that the leather holding trace buckles is sound.
Pad - must be the right width for the horseís back, and padded so that it clears the spine (this includes the crupper dee at the back). The panels should be long enough to protect the horse from the tugs. A sliding backband is essential with a 2 wheeled vehicle while a fixed one is preferable for a 4 wheeler if its shafts are independently hinged. Check that the backband, holding the tug buckles, is sound - and also the tugs themselves. Donít fasten the bellyband too tight, which will strain the shafts, and restrict your horse in all his actions. Neither must it be so loose that the shafts can tip skywards. Aim for an easy floating movement of the shafts at the trot. Four wheelers can have a tighter bellyband than two wheelers but you must leave enough slack to be able to brake with your breeching.
Breeching - must be high enough to clear the hamstrings of the horse, or it will push his feet away when going downhill. If too high it may rise uncomfortably under his tail when moving at speed - and you may end up going faster still or meeting his back feet over the dashboard! The breeching should be clean, smooth and broad enough to act comfortably as your brakes. It should be just slack enough to allow free movement - the width of a hand between the breeching and the horse when the traces are tight. Breeching straps should be checked regularly for wear. Trace carriers will be needed for a modern vehicle with a low swingle tree - make sure they are long enough not to upset the balance of the breeching. You can safely pass the traces through a loose loop of the breeching straps if the line of draught is close to the shaft line (but donít trap the trace to the shaft in a tight loop if you use a breast collar and swingle tree, or you will ďfixĒ the collar and make your horseís shoulders sore).
Crupper and backstrap - should steady the pad and prevent it being pushed forwards when going downhill. The crupper must lie high under the tail; also check, especially with a hairy pony, that no hairs are trapped under the crupper dock - missing either of these checks can make the horse sore and he may buck.The crupper backstrap should be just firm when you place a hand sideways under it over the loins.
Bridle - Cheeks should be adjusted with the lower buckle so that the bit lies snugly in the horseís mouth. Adjust the top buckle just high enough so the blinkers clear the eyelashes of the horse (adjust the winker stay too). His eyes should be roughly in the middle of the blinkers. Browband should be long enough to accommodate the forelock without pulling the headpiece onto his ears. Noseband should buckle at the back and be snug, not tight - two fingers sideways should slip between the jawbone and the noseband (a little less for tiny ponies). Throatlash can be a little tighter than on a riding bridle but must not choke the horse if he flexes his neck correctly.
Bit and curb chain - Curb bits should be just wide enough for the mouth and certainly not a tight fit. Snaffles can be a little wider because the joint takes up some of the width when it swivels. The smooth side of a Liverpool bit goes against the horseís tongue - never the roughed side. Put the curb chain on the last link at the off side, then you can be sure of your settings being correct on the near side every time. Twist the curb chain clockwise until its links lie smoothly before hooking it up, not too tightly. Check this - you should be able to pull the cheek of a Liverpool bit back to an angle of 45 degrees to the line of the horseís lips before the curb chain is tight.
Do not use a roughed, tight curb chain for extra power over your horse - if you think he needs this measure, you probably need to train him better or drive better. Remember to undo the curb chain before you take off the bridle after work.
Reins - Put these at the mildest setting you need for your horse. The plain cheek position (the ring) on a Liverpool bit, or rough cheek (round the bar above the first slot) are the mildest, followed by top slot. Fasten the reins through both rings of a Wilson snaffle. Few horses need severe settings for normal work - is yours really the exception? Keep rein billets clean and supple as saliva collecting here may rot the leather and the rein may break (and it always happens when something else startling is going on!) It is worth a winter trip to the saddler or harness maker to have the leather checked and if necessary have new billets stitched on.
Comfort of the horse - if your horse is uncomfortable he is unlikely to be obedient, and if he is not obedient he is not safe. Consider his comfort as your own guarantee of safe driving.
Height of carriage/shafts - the carriage should ride level when the shafts in the tugs run along the centre of the horseís barrel. If they do not, the vehicle does not fit. The shafts should be wide enough at the horseís hips to allow him to corner comfortably. The horseís quarters should clear the foot board or dash by at least 25 cm / 10Ē so he does not have the vehicle pushing on his tail downhill or catch his hocks on the swingletree. Again, if this is not the case the vehicle does not fit.
The horseís shoulder must be protected from very short shaft ends in front of the tug - longer ones are kinder as the horse can more safely push them round sharp corners. Shaft tips with a strong downward curve may cause problems with reins catching under them.
Balance of 2 wheeled carriage - when the driver and groom are seated the shafts should rest lightly in the tugs at the trot and not ride up or bounce hard on the horseís back. Lifting the tugs on the backband makes a vehicle ride lighter on the shafts; lowering them places more weight on the shafts. The tightness or slackness of the bellyband can also affect the balance of a 2 wheeler.
Many modern carriages adjust, either by sliding the seat or moving the body of the vehicle. High vehicles, where the seat is higher above the axle, are more responsive to changes in seat position than low ones - even the thickness of the cushion may make a difference. You should learn how to adjust the balance by moving your bodyweight when going uphill (lean forward) or downhill (lean back). Experiment until you know what is comfortable for you and the horse in all situations.
Four wheelers need plenty of room for the horseís quarters when turning, to allow him to clear the footboard. Reins, traces and shaft length will be longer than for a 2 wheeler and you will probably need trace carriers instead of passing the traces through the breeching straps. The breeching straps may need to be longer than for a 2 wheeler because they usually attach further forward. The belly band may be tighter than for a 2 wheeler and the traces will pass outside it, instead of inside.
Ensure the vehicle is safe, fits the horse, and (if 2 wheeled) is balanced.
Use a vehicle that is appropriate and safe for what you want to do. You must be able to get in and out of the vehicle quickly and safely.
Cushions must be fastened on and you should have a rail round the seat, and for normal work a dashboard or a dash frame between you and the horseís quarters.
Have your vehicle regularly maintained. Modern vehicles do require maintenance - bearings and shafts are susceptible to hidden damage.
Check for flaking paint which may mean stressed areas of wood or metal. Look particularly at the junction of shafts and body, especially with aluminium shafts or where round ďpipeĒ joins into square sections; at the swingle tree; and wherever wood or metal is bent, bolted or welded. You may then see a warning of breakage.
Look to see that the footboard and floor are sound.
Check that springs are sound with no cracked leaves, and look for rust and cracks where the spring shackles suspend the vehicle - this is a hidden stress area.
On a four wheeler check the turntable is lubricated - not too greasy but not stiff.
Make sure the wheel hubs are properly lubricated and the tyres are sound, firm in their channels if they are solid tyres and at the correct pressure if they are pneumatic.
If you have hydraulic brakes, check that there is still enough fluid in the reservoir and the pipes are sound. Also check the brake pads.
Check that swingle tree straps, chains, shackles or bolts are sound and correctly tightened each time you clean the vehicle.
Collect letters to be posted (or mobile phone, hat, gloves, polo mints or whatever) and put them handy, in the carriage or your pocket, BEFORE you start putting to.
Take the horse to the vehicle with harness complete (including bridle and reins).
Your groom should hold the horse.
Pull the shafts into place through the tugs - do not back the horse into the shafts. (Backing in can be done with heavy agricultural turnouts or machinery, where the shafts are very strong and the horses are placid in type. Elsewhere a hoof on the shaft can cause breakage or panic.) Your groom can help by putting the offside shaft into the tug. The tugs must be in front of the stops on the shafts. This is an important part of your braking system.
1 Traces. Just long enough to let the tugs move off the tug stops when the horse is in draught.
2 Breeching. You should be able to get a hand down between the horseís quarters and the breeching when the horse is in draught.
3 Back band. You should allow some movement in the shafts of a 2 wheeler - roughly a handís breadth at the girth.
The driver is responsible for seeing that all is correct.
NEVER have anyone in the vehicle during putting-to or taking-out
NEVER tie up and leave a horse in his vehicle
Put on anything you need (gloves, waterproofs, crash hat) before you:
1 Pick up the reins and take up contact with the horse.
2 Get into the vehicle, before anyone else, keeping contact throughout.
3 Sit down and pick up the whip.
4 Grooms/passengers can now get into the vehicle - off you go!
Driving In Company
Drive in a considerate manner. Do not use the whip excessively or inappropriately.
Consider your horse while driving, before and after. Good horsemanship is about looking after your horse. He should then continue to give you good and safe driving for many years.
Introduce inexperienced animals at small, undemanding events.
The driver should sit on the right. The groom or passenger can then get out safely from the left hand side of the cart onto the roadside if they are needed, instead of among oncoming traffic. The main groom or passenger should be active and competent to assist the driver.
Drivers leading a road drive should think ahead and indicate before changing pace or direction. Let all turnouts get to the top / bottom of steep gradients before changing pace.
On drives keep a consistent pace, not too fast, and do not allow your horse to “sit in the boot” of the turnout in front. You must be able to pull up safely in the event of something unusual happening.
Before overtaking ask the driver in front if it is OK to do so.
At a show or meet do not race about at top speed and excite your horse (and others) unnecessarily.
At an event be courteous to spectators and to officials who are giving their time for your pleasure - any instructions will be given for your own safety, or in obedience to the rules.
Junior Whips (under 18) must be accompanied by a competent adult at all times.
Driving Doís and Donítís
The driver must always be first in/last out of the vehicle. NEVER drive from the ground - if your horse misbehaves, he can easily get loose with the vehicle and run out of control. Get into the carriage at once.
Check regularly that your vehicle and harness are safe.
Event drivers use crash hats, back protectors and suitable footwear for everyone on their marathon carriage. You should do the same when you are working at home as well as when you go out on the road. For any competition involving speed through hazards, hard hats are mandatory for driver and grooms and any passengers.
Don’t drive too fast. Concentrate first on your own turnout - but be aware of others at all times.
Drive correctly - coachman style if possible and with the whip in your hand.
Keep to the left on the roads unless the road is very narrow, when being in the centre may prevent impatient motorists trying to overtake when it is not safe.
Make cycling hand signals, which other road users can understand, to show what you intend to do (see the Highway Code). Whip signals should only be used in convoys where all drivers understand the conventions.
At events of any kind, whether National or local, be courteous to helpers - both your own and those of the organisation. Bad language and unsportsmanlike behaviour are inexcusable at any time. Secretaries are empowered to ask offenders to leave the field or refuse future entries to competitions.
Try always to give a good impression of our sport. Thank people who make your life easier when you are driving - walkers who stand back off the road, motorists who slow down, cyclists who dismount, bikers who turn off engines and headlamps. A smile goes a long way, costs nothing and does you good!
Do not permit a horse to get into bad habits through your own laziness or thoughtlessness. Ask for skilled help with problems before they become too much for you to cope with, particularly if they always happen when you are away from home.
Do not attempt disciplines which are new to you and/or difficult without skilled advice and training, both for the horse and for you. The Driving Club is your first resource - ask us for advice and to be directed to suitable teachers.
Even if you are tired or hungry or fed up, this is a crucial phase. You must take as much care as you did when putting to. Doing it carefully takes no more time and may save you, your helpers and your horse from injury.
1 Groom gets out to hold the horse
2 Passengers, if any, dismount
3 Driver puts down whip and dismounts last, holding the reins
4 NEVER leave anyone in the vehicle
6 Fold up the reins and secure them
1 Back band
3 Traces (reverse of putting to)
Pull the vehicle back from the horse, and lead the horse away before you remove any harness. NEVER take off a driving horse's bridle or reins while he is fastened to the vehicle in any way.
NEVER have anyone in the vehicle during putting-to or taking-out
NEVER tie up and leave a horse in his vehicle.
2 bridle - unfasten throatlash, noseband and curb chain before lifting the bridle off gently
3 pad and breeching
4 collar and traces
Now you can tie up the horse and brush him down (wash the sweat off if the weather is warm), put on a rug or sheet, and allow him to cool off. At home he can be turned out or stabled. At an event, walk him about, then when he is cool offer him a small drink of water and a haynet. If there is a social activity after a drive, ensure the horse is in a safe place and cannot get chilled or overheated while you are partying.
See to the horse before you see to yourself.
The North West Driving Club is not responsible for your liability.
Please ensure that you have adequate insurance cover, whatever your level of driving ambition. Your household insurance may cover some aspects, eg theft but please check for third party insurance which you MUST have before driving with us. Please carry a photocopy of your current insurance when you come to your first event of the season.
We donít want to frighten you, but... !! Even the most careful drivers can have accidents. Donít increase the chance of an accident by thoughtless behaviour. Base your driving on the safety code and you will avoid most things which can go wrong.
If things do go wrong they go wrong fast and you must be on the ball to cope with them.
Keep calm. Assess the situation. What can you do - what else might go wrong - what can be prevented? Try not to make things worse!
Your first responsibility is to the humans involved.
This will probably mean you having to control the horse to prevent him hurting people. Get someone to his head. If he is down, get someone solid to sit on his neck until he is freed completely from the vehicle.
You must get him out of draught as quickly as possible so he cannot run away with the carriage and hit anyone with it.
Undoing three or four buckles can be enough - you can usually get at one trace and the neck strap or hame strap buckle, which will free the front end if they are unfastened or the straps are cut (only as a last resort please!).
Release the shafts by unfastening the bellyband and possibly one of the tugs. Unfastening the crupper backstrap behind the pad will disconnect all the rear half of the harness. (Consider marking these few emergency points with coloured insulation tape so you can ask inexperienced helpers to "unfasten the yellow bits".)
Accept help from anyone who is willing, whether horsey or not. Non horsey people can call an ambulance, contact the police, ring your home for transport, whatever is needed. (This is where a mobile phone is a wonderful accessory.) Horsey people will only need telling what you want done with the horse to give you assistance.
Donít panic - donít shout. You must not upset your volunteers or the horse, but donít let anyone do things which you know will frighten your horse further or make problems worse.
If you are out in company and someone else has an accident, stop and help if needed, but do not abandon your turnout to do so. You might be better going for help.
If you are out on the road get someone to warn traffic that there is something wrong, and to slow it down.
Get injured people to safety before attempting first aid. Arrange for the horse to go home, or temporarily to a safe stable or field. Call the vet if necessary.
Arrange for harness and carriage to be taken home or stored.
Ring your insurers and put them in the picture. Only after that can you rage or have hysterics.
Get into the habit of doing things correctly - the "right" way
is the safe way, tried and tested by generations of drivers.
Follow the safety code.
Remember that what you "get away with" at home or with a quiet animal may go badly wrong in company, in public, at an event or drive, or with strange or sharp horses.
Please ensure that you are harnessing up, driving, and unharnessing correctly and safely. This is the recognised code of practice. It is done like this for your safety and that of those about you. If you do not follow this code you may be putting yourself and others at risk.
If you are unsure ABOUT ANYTHING, please ask for help. The Club is committed to helping drivers learn to be safe, for their own safety and for the safety of their animals.
If organisers, committee members or members see anyone, member or not, disregarding the safety rules, which are for everyoneís benefit, that person may be asked to leave the field, and may not be allowed to join further club activities.
Designed and edited by Susan Millard for the North West Driving Club with thanks to Ann Varley for the original text.