Before I describe my recent foray into the driving world, I’d like to take a moment and issue a blanket apology to everyone. I may have, occasionally in the past, been guilty of saying, “How hard can driving be?”
After several weeks of driving lessons, I stand before you, whip held (probably incorrectly) in hand, and I can tell you I was oh-so-wrong. Driving is not freakin’ easy. To drive my point home (pun intended), I almost titled this article “Okay, So Basically Driving Is, Like, Really Hard.”
Unfortunately, it didn’t flow off the tongue quite as well.
At my driving lesson this morning, as I ground drove a tiny bay pony around in what appeared to be drunken circles that were suspiciously flat on several sides, I reflected on where my journey with horses has taken me recently. How did I end up here, starting my horse life over from scratch, attempting to learn something completely new at the ripe old age of thirty-something?
Some of you may remember an article I wrote a few years ago, where I shared how some serious medical issues had forced me to stop riding. I had grand plans to leap into driving immediately, but instead, I took a short break that quickly stretched into a long break. Emotionally and mentally, I just couldn’t handle being around horses for a while. I needed some space to get better and to get my feet back under me, and I really needed to quit bursting into tears every time I left the barn or watched someone else ride.
So I stepped back for a few years.
My fabulous little dressage horse became a chunky pasture ornament, which she could not possibly be happier about. I sorted through my feelings (ie, I finally put my big kid breeches on), and I eventually arrived at a healthy mental place where I felt I could take the next step.
It turns out, however, that the next step forward for me feels like 15 steps backward.
When I was still riding, I wasn’t exactly headed to the next Olympic Games, but I wasn’t a total newbie either. I had taken lessons, owned horses, and competed some. I was solid in my adult amateur status, with just enough experience to confidently call myself “mostly not a beginner.”
So when I embarked on my first driving lesson, I hadn’t exactly prepared for the idea that I would start from scratch, heading back to the basics and learning a new sport from the ground up. Words like “breast collar,” “breeching,” and “trace” were thrown at me, as were about a thousand driving safety rules. I felt on shaky ground indeed, and my preconceived notions of driving being “so easy” were quickly thrown out the window.
Besides all the normal riding lesson problems—looking where I’m going and maintaining good posture and hand position—I now have to worry about things like where the cart wheels are or how fast my own feet are moving while ground driving.
And I’m doing it all holding a driving whip that’s as long as three dressage whips combined, while my first riding instructor’s voice echoes in my ear, yelling at me for hanging out so long directly behind a horse. Because evidently in driving, I have a death wish and this is exactly where I now spend all of my time.
Don’t even get me started on the approximately four hundred pieces of leather that make up the driving harness, all of which (I swear) look slightly different every single lesson. I thought learning to tack up a Western saddle or to put a martingale on properly was hard. But that’s got nothing on my adventures in trying to decipher the puzzle that is a hitch and harness. (Is “tack up” even a term in driving?)
I live in fear that I’m going to assemble everything upside down and backwards, and my instructor is going to tell me to just get the hell out. I have nightmares about finding buckets of loose leather straps, and no matter how I put them together, they never form a harness.
It’s enough to drive a girl batty.
Despite feeling completely out of my element, I am enjoying the lessons immensely. I’m surprised at how much driving feels like riding, even if I’m sitting behind the horse and not on it. There’s still the connection and teamwork with the horse, and trotting down a gravel driveway gives me a similar thrill whether I’m in the saddle or behind it. I find myself looking forward to the barn again, to seeing how much I can learn and progress during my lessons.
One day I even hope to reach the point when I can finally stop Googling “which part is the crupper?”
So once again, I’m sorry, driving community. You’ve all been so wonderful to me already, and I have truly felt welcomed with open arms. I’d like to apologize one last time and also offer you a deal. If you can forgive me for thinking driving is easy, I’ll be happy to forgive you for tricking me into falling in love with yet another expensive horse sport.