Horseplay: Walk, don’t trot, to start driving your horse
Horses in harness trot easily, and it is a frequently used gait by those driving horses with a cart, carriage or wagon. But it should not be the foundation of harness work, Jim Rock told a group of people interested in driving during a demonstration in Cedaredge last month. The event was hosted by the Grand Mesa Harness Club.
“Anyone can trot, but not a lot of people can walk,” he said. “If you can do that comfortably, you can do a lot of the rest of what you need to do.”
That includes stopping horses that might be close to becoming runaways.
“When you’re in any driving situation, you’ve always got to be looking for a way out,” Rock told the several dozen people assembled at the Surface Creek Riding Arena. “A runaway can happen to anyone. You’ve just got to keep your head.”
Rock has been driving horses about 35 years, having learned from “an old-timer in Rifle in the ‘70s and ‘80s.”
He now lives in Montrose, where he owns and operates Mountain Meadow Landscape and, until recently, provided wagon and buggy rides for hire for weddings and other special occasions.
He still has two teams — one of large Percheron draft horses and another of smaller Palomino cart horses — as well as a dozen other horses. He still drives in parades and other events, and still trains horses for driving.
“I like to go out on the roads and train Sunday afternoons,” he said. “I love football season because everyone is inside and I have the roads mostly to myself.”
Rock said the driving demonstration was put on by the harness club, of which he is a member, “to try to generate some more interest in harness work among people. And if someone is thinking about getting started with harness, we want to help them and teach them how to do it right.”
Grand Mesa Harness Club was founded 25 years ago by the late Art Chaffee and several other driving enthusiasts, said club member Amanda Twamley. She and her husband, Mike, own several teams, including Turbo and Diesel, a large pair of Percherons who were present for the driving demonstration.
Also at the demonstration were Eunice and Steve Ward with their young team of Brabant horses, what they referred to as “the original Belgians.” Said Eunice,“If you go to Belgium today and ask to see Belgian horse, this is what they will show you.”
The Brabants are smaller than what most Americans know as Belgian draft horses, and unlike the palomino coloring typical of those horses, the Brabants are usually blue, red or bay roans.
Grand Mesa Harness Club has about 30 families as members, Twamley said, and usually gathers once a month for some sort of driving event. In May, members of the club took several teams to a senior living center in Delta and took residents of the center for wagon rides.
Club members are scheduled to participate in several parades and other events this month.
The club works to promote information and knowledge about driving, she said.
And promoting safety for those doing harness work is critical, said Rock, who said he has averted serious accidents while driving by being keenly aware of his horses.
“More than anything, if you watch their heads and ears, they’ll tell you when something is going to happen,” he said. “You should do that when you’re riding, but it’s even more important when you’re driving.”
Additionally, he said, it’s critical that the horses you’re driving — whether single horses or teams — learn to stop “right now,” and to stand patiently in the harness.
Rock said when he approaches any intersection while driving horses, he stops them even if it’s clear there is no traffic coming in any direction. In that way, they learn that intersections are a place to stop, not charge through and potentially create problems.
For information about Grand Mesa Harness Club, contact Vice President Jim Rock at 970-209-0671 or Mike and Amanda Twamley at 970-640-7389.