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Driving Clinic with Claudia Hrebicek

Updated: May 10, 2022

Our driving club, Ten Mile Drivers, hosted Claudia Hrebicek from the Bitterroot Valley last weekend. She does quite a bit of teaching about driving, how to start your own horse driving and does a lot of team driving. She also has a business called Out West Wagon Rides... it's just as it sounds - they do wagon rides! So she really knows her stuff. I learned a TON at this clinic.

The clinic was held at Carrie Hahn's indoor arena, Lazy H Percheron's. This is a gorgeous, huge arena!

We started the clinic on Friday evening with an informative talk by Claudia. She discussed harness, hitching practices, and talked about what the clinic would be about. We went out and looked at a marathon vehicle, 5th wheel style hitch as compared to a pioneer cart type hitch. She explained what happens when one of the horses in a team surges forward ahead of the other. (This results in the slower horse doing most of the work! I didn't know that before!) She also showed us how when one horse lunges forward this can pin the other horse up against the team pole making it nearly impossible for it to go forward. When this happens it can cause the horses to veer off to one side. We got to see this several times over the next two days.

(Driving a team is HARD! There is so much to think about, how to handle the lines, how to encourage or correct, how to HITCH! So so much to learn.)

We started on Saturday morning at 9:00 am. There were 5 of us drivers in the first group, two small ponies in the arena, Zorro and Monty, one Percheron/Quarter Horse, Judy, one HUGE Percheron, Vegas and a team of mules, I can't remember their names! They were a green, driving team that had a few things to work out. This gave the rest of us a great learning opportunity watching how Claudia helped them through some things, how she adjusted their lines and how she used a body rope on them to encourage them to work together as a pair instead of as two different mules doing different things.

First we went out on the rail and worked on driving circles. We were to make our circles nice and round and support our horse with the outside line. The inside line would start the circle, giving our horses direction and the outside line would support them and help them stay straight. All of our circles improved as the day went on and we did more obstacles!

One of the first things Claudia told me to do is to lower my hands when I'm driving. I hold them up high, just as I did in my show driving days. She wanted me to hold them lower in my lap. The moment I lowered them so much anxiety and stress and tension just drained right out of my shoulders, upper arms, lower arms and chest. It was amazing!

The next pattern we did was a long serpentine. This was a very fun one because we could trot if we felt comfortable doing so. Zorro and I had a good time with this. He quickly caught onto the patterns and would try to run them all by himself. LOL! Super smart pony, but not a good habit for me to get into, allowing him to decide these things by himself. This could lead to him making decisions I many not like - and actually, it already has led to him doing this! eeeek!

We did a pattern Claudia called go and stop. She set up cones close together then further and a little further apart. We were to walk up to the first set of cones and stop with our horses front feet in line with the cones, or with our cart tires in line with the cones. Then ask for our horse to whoa. Then walk forward to the next set, which were a couple of steps up, then stop, then walk up to the next set of cones which were closer together, then stop, then walk another 2 steps and stop! This was a great exercise for being sure our horses were really listening to us. Then we did that same pattern but backwards. Our horses started at the short end and we back two steps, stopped, then backed 3 or 4 steps, stopped then backed a few more steps, stopped and then backed the longer section and stopped. This is a great one for driving horses because sometimes they want to start backing and then NOT stop! So this is a great way to check that and to instill in your horse that they must stop when you say whoa.

Then the last pattern we did was a Figure of Eight. We would trot straight through the center, make a nice turn to the left and then trot through the other side and make a right hand turn which brought us back up through the center! This was a very fun pattern and one that I'm going to set up here. Along with the serpentine, when I make my little grass arena a bit bigger...

Then the afternoon group did the same thing the morning group did! This way 9 people could participate in the clinic.

Molly hitched her two mini mares to a vehicle for the first time at this clinic! It was so exciting. I got to drive them the first time around the arena. It's so different driving a team, even a little one! I am not too proud to say that there is NO WAY I could handle anything bigger than what I have. LOL!

On Sunday, the morning started with some snow fall. It was a chilly day so Carrie turned the heat on in the indoor arena! Yes. This beautiful arena has heat!

Before we got started I had to run to the rest room. Zorro was very strong and naughty during warm up and he made me work hard! So I asked Rita to hold him for me... I told her to take him for a spin if she wanted to!

We started Sunday's morning session with some walking and then asking for a whoa on the rail. Claudia went around the arena asking each person to have their horse whoa and then walk, then whoa and go straight into the trot. (Of course we had all warmed up our ponies ahead of time!)

This was a great exercise for Zorro. Pretty much every time I ask him to whoa at home he will jam on the brakes. I think he is happy for any chance to stop. LOL! But sometimes when we drive with a group or in an arena he is reluctant to listen to me and is still having a hard time understanding that the bit is talking to his FEET, when we are in the bike, so Claudia just helped me be more precise with him. As well as to be more firm. He is my baby and sometimes I am happy with his half-hearted attempt and she would like to see me be more firm at those moments when he is reluctant to listen. He is so smart it only took two times of a firm hold when I said whoa for him to just whoa whenever I asked.

We went on to play with patterns that focused on backing and fanning our horses. Fanning is when you ask your horse or team to step across, either to the left or to the right, without moving forward. When you do this correctly one wheel of your vehicle will not move or turn, it will pivot. This was very fun because we got to "run" the barrel pattern, or the clover leaf as well as do an obstacle course. After our first go at the obstacle course Zorro knew exactly where he was supposed to go!

I don't have too many photos of my group during this time because I was focusing on the patterns and also feeling a little cold... but I did get this cute photo of Zorro supervising Morty's run on the obstacle course. Zorro would worry a little about Morty when he was out there! LOL!

(At lunch time my friend Janet found me this little rock- if you follow me on Facebook you'll know that I always find heart rocks and heart shapes in nature and LOVE them. I thought this was so sweet. It's in my vest pocket.)

Then after lunch the second group got to go out and do all the same patterns!

I got to sit and pretend to drive a team of Fjords while their driver went to get her coat and I rode on the back of the marathon vehicle. I got to help make harness adjustments on the big huge percheron and helped make adjustments on Molly's team harness as well. So I learned a lot about all different sizes of equine this weekend. I know I will never be able to learn everything I want to know and understand. I am so grateful for this club and all the members! They are all so patient and kind and love to teach. And they put up with all my endless questions.

One thing we learned is, it is a very different thing to hitch a team to a tire drag than to a vehicle with a team pole. We need to get a few different parts and pieces so Molly's team (the two minis!) will be hitched correctly. Hopefully I can do another blog post about that when I have a better understanding and we have all the correct parts. Their hitch was a bit red necked this weekend but it worked and every one was safe.

The weekend was fantastic and I am looking forward to more clinics by Claudia! I would love to haul my two over to her place and have a one-on-one lesson some weekend as well. There is always so much to learn and I am full of so many questions!!

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