The Road to Driving FOUR - Part 3

by Hardy Zantke

The Road to Driving FOUR - Part 3
by Hardy Zantke

Now that you have prepared yourself and your horses and have gotten all the equipment for driving four, I promised to give you some more tips for the actual driving:

Once you are ready to hitch your four for the first time - after having driven them all in pairs and tandem often, have your equipment together, have hopefully even had the chance to take some four-in-hand driving lessons and feel ready for the big moment,  you should not only have at least two, but better even four good helpers around, as well as a knowledgeable four-in-hand driver who can make sure that all is set up properly. Your wheelers can be hitched as you do usually when driving them as a pair, only now you have added the leader bars to the pole head. The horses should stand well, assisted by grooms at their heads, while you bring up the leaders and stand them in position. Again, grooms should be at their heads, while leader coupling reins are attached, then leader reins are run back and then traces are attached and adjusted for proper length. You should pick up the reins - read up in the German books how to adjust them to the proper length already on the ground and put them properly in your hand - but if you missed that chapter, no big problem, you can get up on the box, and as long as your horses stand calmly and you also still have grooms at their heads, you can adjust your reins to the proper length, so that you have light contact with all four horses, then give your command to move off at the walk. Hopefully you have trained all your horses to all walk off together at the same moment ar your command. I use a half-halt as a preparation, and on the release of my half-halt I cluck and all walk off together. Walk just a short distance and see if all four reins are at the proper length in your left hand with you slightly leaning forward and your left arm slightly streteched out. If not, adjust them accordingly. Make sure that you also have contact with the wheelers, and that the leaders are out of draft. When you have that adjustment, then halt again, and then set you rein clamp to be just behind your left hand - and then walk off again. The slight leaning forward and slightly stretched out left arm unfortunately is needed with the rein clamp at the walk (and is unsighly and one of the reasons purists frown on the rein clamp), as the reins need to be shorter at the trot, so that when you start trotting you can sit back and bring your hand closer to your body in front of your chest and still have proper contact with leaders and wheelers, and leaders out of draft.

Once you have your rein clamp set, you can walk off again. But stay at a relaxed walk for a while, and get the feeling of everything. If you have a straight stretch ahead of you, you can also do a little trot, as long as everything stays relaxed and calm. As long as it does, working at the trot often is even easier than at the walk, at least as long as you go straight.

For turns you should go back to the walk. Similarly as with a tandem, for turns your leaders must be out of draft - as otherwise they would pull the polehead into the turn, pulling your wheelers off their feet and cutting off your corner.  So to get the leaders out of draft, one would need to shorten the leader reins. Here now comes the magic of driving four (and tandem similarly), in order to get the leaders out of draft, all you need to do, is taking a large loop on the inside leader rein. For example: When making a 90 degree turn to the right, you pick up the right leader rein with your right hand about 8"  in front of your left hand and then bring your right hand back to your left hand. As you do that, your leaders will turn to the right while your wheelers still keep going straight, thus your leaders will be at an angle to your wheelers, and your left leader rein will now have a much longer distance to the left leaders mouth, as it is held out to the left by the head of the left wheeler. With that you have shortened automatically your left leader rein (you shortened your right leader rein by taking the large loop), so now not only have your leaders made the turn, but they have also come back as both reins were shortened, the right by you taking the loop, and the left by being held out and thus having the extra distance around the left leaders head, and with that both leaders have come back and are out of draft and can’t pull the wheelers off their feet nor the polehead into the turn. This is important to think through and to understand, as it is the basic of properly driving four.

Most beginners take their loops too small, as they are not used to taking up so much inside rein on a turn from either a single nor a pair. Tandem drivers also do not need to take their loops as big, as they only have one wheeler instead of two, thus their outside leader rein does not take such a long extra distance as with the wider spread between the heads of the two wheelers in a team. That is also the reason that tandem drivers can get away better with driving two handed than team drivers without losing the contact so much, as tandem drivers can often make their turns even without taking loops, but on right angle turns with teams one needs the loop.  So rather take a loop too big than too small. One can much easier let out part of the loop than taking more of it. 

The next important item is that wheelers should not fall in on the turn, as otherwise you’ll also hit the inside corner. In the turn the head of your inside wheeler should be pointing in “the luge” - that is the gap between the butts of the two leaders. You have three aids to accomplish that: First, keep your left hand - which holds all the reins - back close to your body to keep the wheelers on the bit and not lose the contact on them. If they should start falling in, then move your hand to the inside of the turn, that will shorten the outside wheeler rein and keep them to the outside. If that is not enough, be ready to hit your inside wheeler with the whip on his inside and / or call his name to move him forward. As he pulls forward, he will pull the inside of the carriage forward, which then brings the pole slightly to the outside (see Pair Driving 102) and avoid you hitting that inside corner. Using the whip on the inside of the inside  wheeler is one of the most important whip uses in team driving. You will need to do that often to prevent the wheelers from falling in. I’ll get to the third aid in the next paragraph:

Usually, when horses first start driving in a team - which by the way, most of them LOVE, they are herd animals, so the more the merrier - the wheelers will not fall into the turn, as they don’t know yet that they’ll always follow the leaders. So the above two methods of keeping them out are often sufficient. If you use those two methods well, they will probably also learn with that not to fall in. But if you become sloppy then they’ll fall in as they learn that we usually follow the leaders, even if only a short moment later in the turns. So when they “learned” to fall in, then we need to use a more drastic method, then we need to take what is called an “opposition”. The opposition is a small loop that we take on the outside wheelers rein. So contrary to your LARGE loop on the INSIDE LEADER rein, for the opposition we take a SMALL loop on the OUTSIDE WHEELERS rein. We take that loop BEFORE we come to the turn, and BEFORE we take the leader rein loop. We pick the outside wheeler rein with our right hand, take a small loop and put that around our left thumb and keep it there and move our right hand slightly forward, so that the wheelers are not yet sharp on the bit and the loop is not yet effecting them, pulling them to the outside. Then we take the large loop on the inside leader rein, and start our turn, as the leaders turn, should the wheelers now fall in, we do the same as described before, bringing our left hand back and into the turn, only now we have the small loop of the outside wheeler rein around our left thumb and that now comes into effect as the wheelers are getting back on the bit with our hand brought back and that should hold them out. But we should not rely only on the opposition, but in addition use our inside whip, as otherwise we get the wheelers counterbent. (See Pair Driving 102 for proper bending of the pair by driving the inside horse forward - that is the same also here with the wheelers and since our opposition works against that, we must overcome that with the inside whip and driving the inside wheeler forward.)

Once we are through the turn, we can slowly let out the loop of the leader rein as well as any opposition if we took one and get straight again.

Whip use: I mentioned above the importance of the whip use on the inside wheeler in turns. Now to the leaders: In the previous parts I wrote already how difficult it is to use the whip on the leaders. For that reason you often see advanced team drivers having an extra long fishing pole type whip on the carriage during training and warm-up, which has a pole long enough to more easily reach the leaders. Often the groom uses that in warm-up and for training, as the leaders must know, even if they are usually forward enough, that you can still reach them with the whip. Otherwise they learn that they can become lazy and don’t even shape up anymore when you call their names. So it helps in the training to call a leaders name, and if he does not react, then he immediately needs a little touch with the whip. But that touch with the whip is difficult to give without having the wheelers disturbed by the whip flying by. Here are a few training tips: The groom throwing rocks. The groom with a long telescope whip. The groom walking (or running) next to the leader, and you calling the leaders name, and when he does not react, then the groom touching him from the side, and finally your own best chance to touch him with your four-in-hand whip from the box without hitting your wheelers in the face: Drive a large circle to the side of the leader whom you want to show that you can still reach him with the whip. Then unfurl your whip and have it ready pointed out to the side of the leader whom you want to touch, call his name, and when he does not react, swing the whip in a wide circle motion far away from the inside wheeler through the inside of your turn and hit the inside leader on his side.  That is your best chance of touching the leader without disturbing any other horse of your team. You will need to do that every now and then to show the leaders, that you are still in charge, and that they still need to obey your voice, and that you can still reach them with the whip if they don’t listen to your voice. Of course this is easier done on the right side to the right leader, than having to reach over and doing the same in a left hand circle to the left leader. But it needs to be done to him too on occasions to remind him too that you can still reach him.

Rein-backs: In order to achieve a fairly straight rein-back, just back your wheelers, e.g. just grab the two wheeler reins and ask the wheelers to back-up, and forget the leaders. As your wheelers back your vehicle, they also back you on the box seat, and with that your hand goes back and with that you then also get the leaders to come back with you a split second later than the wheelers. This way the leader traces will help to keep your pole head straight and you have less chance of a crooked rein-back - even if you don’t have that new modern fifth wheel brake to help with the straight rein-back.

Cones: Knowing how difficult cones can be for a single as well as for a pair, it is often amazing to see how the team drivers manage their cones rounds. Let me share a little well kept secret:  Cones with a well trained four-in-hand are actually easier than with a pair. First the team gets 10 cm more  clearance anyways, then the team carriage is 10 cm wider, so now the horses have  20 cm more clearance than in a pair. Horses are not dumb, after having done cones often enough, they know what that is about and also try to stay in the middle. So when a team driver points his leaders properly towards the cones, they often manage to stay to the middle, and then everything else usually follows through properly, contrary to a pair, where the horses have 20 cm less room, and then the carriage follows right away. In addition the speed requirement for a team is much less than for a pair or a single. So it is not really due to the superior driving ability of the team drivers that we have so much fewer faults in teams cones than with singles or pairs. The true superiority of top team drivers is shown in the marathon obstacles. That really is the hardest part and truly amazing what team drivers accomplish there.

I hope that with these tips I have given you some of the basics of proper team driving. Yes, it is a dream for many, and it is quite a challenge, but once you have it in place, it is also quite a thrill to drive a well behaved and properly trained team. Perhaps one day you too can make that dream become reality and even if it is not with your own horses - but with a lesson some place. With the above perhaps you then know already some things and are not a complete novice.

Best wishes and happy team driving one day