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Why Do I Use a Travois?

Updated: Aug 28, 2019

I don’t need to use a travois. My pony is doing very well pulling this and that with the traces so I feel it’s ready for the cart. Why would I need to use the Travois?

I get this question A LOT. People feel that this step is only for difficult ponies, horses, donkeys, draft horses and not the “easy” ones. But actually the travois step is extremely important for every single driving equine.


The travois mimics the feeling of the shafts very, very well. I often hear stories about how well the pony or horse did pulling logs and tires. They did this for months and everything went wonderfully. Then they hitched that same animal to a cart and all hell broke loose.

Why does this happen?

It’s called claustrophobia. The travois mimics the feeling of the shafts very, very well. THIS is the thing that can send a pony or a horse over the edge when they are hitched to a vehicle. The solid feeling of the shafts pressing in on them. The fact that the shafts inhibit how much they can move from side-to-side. The shafts will often block their shoulders and their hips. This can be very scary for some horses. And some horses seem to handle it just fine until they get into a sticky situation and then they spook, bolt, kick the crap out of the cart, etc, etc.


Why is my travois so long?

People always ask me this as well. I hear how they have a small mini so feel the 10′ long travois is just too much. It’s excessive.

There is a reason I use such a long travois. I have experimented with different sizes over the years and feel the 10′ long travois is the sweet spot for all sizes of equines, even minis.


The 10′ travois makes the pony have to learn how to push a shaft over. When a pony (or horse or donkey) drives, they are going to have to learn to push INTO pressure. After all the time we spend teaching them to yield to pressure this can be hard to help them remember how to do. If you remember horses have survived for thousands of years by being persistent and having opposition reflex. If the mountain lion drops on their back they will often flip over and land ON the mountain lion. We spend hours and hours and months and years teaching them to move over with a touch of our hand on their side, or to back up when we put pressure on their chest and/or nose. Now we want them to learn to push INTO the breast collar to pull our vehicle. To push the shaft over to turn left or right. To push into the breeching to push the vehicle back or to ignore the pressure of the breeching when going downhill.

The heavier, longer 10′ travios helps more with this than shorter light weight travois do. To get that long travois to turn they will have to really push that shoulder into the “shaft” and that will kind of lift and flip the travois. What a great way to prepare them for the cart. I really can’t think of a better way.

My travois is made of 1 1/2″ schedule 40 – 10′ lengths for the sides and then I use 1/4″ schedule 40 3 to 4′ long for the cross piece. You can also use a piece of wood for the cross piece BUT you must be sure the sides of the travois can still move with the horse. Bolting a board hard and fast to the sides of the travois will make the shafts extremely narrow and will make the job very difficult. For a sensitive pony this may be too frustrating and can cause them not to want to head out and learn and become sour to the idea of driving.


Should my travois be heavy?

The point of the travois is not to make the job hard and heavy but is to help them learn to navigate between shafts. The travois is the step between ground driving and hitching to a cart (for minis and small ponies) or between ground driving and a stone boat for the bigger horses.

There are times, especially when re-training driving horses, that you will need to use more weight at this stage. But this is usually when they have already driven and have had an accident or have had a lot of time off. These horses can benefit from really having to work at this stage so attaching heavy things to the travois or going right into the stone boat is appropriate at this time.

In the past when I was training the larger equine to drive I would use the 10′ long travois with a 2 x 6 bolted as the cross piece. This would add a bit of weight but not a lot and gave me something to attach different things to, to have them drag, as they came along in their training.

So why do I use a travois?

It’s a confidence builder. It’s a time for your pony to spook, get scared, freeze, then feel the shafts alongside their body, feel what it feels like to bolt a little bit and have that travois attached to them, follow them, squeeze them between the shafts.

I encourage the silliness when they are hitched to the travois. I want to KNOW what they are going to do when spooked or scared and there is something attached to them. I don’t want to be surprised about that when I am sitting in the cart and they are bolting towards a fence or a ditch or a tree. It can be VERY hard to stop an animal attached to a cart with wheels when they are spooked and then scared of the vehicle, the shafts, etc.

All of my ponies walk, trot and canter in the travois. When I have them spend some time cantering I do that on one long line, with a halter and on a circle. Obviously I can’t keep up with them for extended cantering time. So they do this out on a circle. Do lots of transitions trot/canter, canter/walk. This is not something I do once and call it good. I do this often before I hitch to the cart. There is not a set number of times that I do this but I want them to be VERY confident at all speeds in the travois. This will set them up for success at all speeds in the cart.

Again, this is what I do. This is my opinion about travois. This is why I do what I do. But this doesn’t mean you have to do it. Do I hope you will? Yes. I would love to know that everyone is giving their pony all the chances to get it right and not skipping “steps”. But I won’t call you wrong if you don’t use a travois. I will always cheer you on and hope for all things positive and good for you and your pony. If you come to me and ask my opinion this is what you will hear: Please be sure to make a travois and have them pull that before hitching to a cart.

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