Once, when Langley driving coach and trainer Larry Brinker was working with a green horse hooked to a cart, the animal started to kick his heels. After three or four similar episodes, Larry walked up to the horse, grabbed it by the scruff of the neck, gave it a little shake, and told it to stop the behaviour immediately. It did.
If you’re thinking that either Larry is really, really big or the horse was really, really small, you’d be right on either count. Larry is 6’4” and the horse in question was around 34 inches at the withers.
This slice of mini life explains why miniature horses are popular as driving animals.
“They’re pretty docile, easy to train, and intelligent. You can easily keep three or four on an acre. Then there’s the cute factor,” said Larry.
Miniature horses are the product of nearly 400 years of selected breeding. They are not ponies.
While Quarter horses have show names like Broke da bank or Heeling Money Pit, miniature horses have names befitting a cute animal that eats a whole lot less than a full-size equine.
Cat Woman and Spider Man, two driving minis in training, live with two old hands, Ricky and Reecie, on the Langley farm of Kate Gillie.
Although she grew up around horses in Africa and Ireland and is confident in the saddle, Kate drives minis because it is a horse activity she can share with her children, aged six and four years.
“I drive minis because I can share my passion with them. At age six, Sydney is already driving her gorgeous little gelding, Max. My minis are all super kid friendly. Friends of my children tell their parents that I have horses for the little people,” said Kate.
Minis also allow people who are intimidated by regular-sized horses to enjoy an equine experience with less risk of injury. Drivers rely on voice and contact with the bit to guide their horse. Driving whips are an extension of the arm, and are used gently.
Many mini drivers compete in combined driving events, or CDEs, which consist of a driven dressage, cone driving and a cross country event which involves navigating obstacles or hazards. Others are content to navigate fields and country lanes.
Small minis are fine for driving on flat surfaces or in the arena, but minis at the top end of their height range are better suited for CDEs. Driving vehicles are either two- or four-wheeled, with teams pulling the latter. The popularity of mini driving has made used tack available on both sides of the border.
Larry, who with his wife Holly is a popular CDE judge, says minis can trained to drive in as little as six weeks with a good trainer. Learning to drive in the Lower Mainland is a bit more daunting — a lot of driving coaches do not work with complete novices.
Kate suggests that, in the absence of a coach, anyone interested in trying the sport seek out a mentor to introduce them to driving before investing in a horse or vehicle. The driving community is welcoming and supportive, she added.
“Before deciding on purchasing a mini, network, try it out, get to know what it’s all about and, with help from new friends who drive, find the right mini for you. The mini world is no different than any other horse world, it’s best to know what you are doing before buying what looks like the perfect horse.”
Here are some web sites to visit for more information about driving and miniature horses:
r http://www.hcbc.ca — has a list of driving coaches.
Anne Patterson is a Langley writer and horse owner.