7 Thoughts I’ve Had While Riding Hitch-Broke Draft Horses


The author at a recent draft horse show on catch-ride Bushmeister Rock. Photo by Missy Dabolt.

The author at a recent draft horse show on catch-ride Bushmeister Rock. I’m fairly certain my thought at this moment was “might as well smile while I’m getting low-key run away with.” Photo by Missy Dabolt.

Now, before everyone gets all upset with me and tells me all about their amazing riding draft or draft cross (I am sure they are lovely and you are welcome to tell me all about them anyway), I’d like to point out just a few things unique to this experience. I have gotten the opportunity in my horse life to ride some truly well-broke full draft horses in my lifetime, as well as many excellent draft crosses. A well-broke draft under saddle is one of this horse world’s greatest pleasures. This list is not about them.

This list is about the truly well-broke driving horses that for whatever devil-possessed whimsical reason we’ve decided to attempt to ride. Bless our gentle giants, for they are endlessly patient and saintlike for allowing us to crawl all over them and barely flick an ear, regardless if it’s the first ride of their lives or the hundred and first. Very few of the draft horses I’ve ridden or even showed under saddle have ever received any formal saddle training but that hasn’t stopped us from having a great time.

1. Well, here goes nothing. Whenever I’ve gotten on a light horse for what might be its first ride ever, there’s a lot of prep work that goes into that moment. Whenever I’ve gotten on a draft horse for what might be its first ride ever, I pretty much strap on a helmet, get a leg up from someone and go for it. Bravery? Foolhardiness? You choose, but I’m going to chalk it up to the magical temperament of the draft breeds.

2. My, it’s kind of a long way down. Yes, I’ve actually ridden warmbloods that have been taller than some of the draft horses I’ve ridden … yet somehow these big guys feel taller. On the other hand, as a particularly tall rider, it’s really nice to sit on something that finally takes up my leg.

3. Gee … haw …. gee! It’s very convenient that the draft people install these convenient verbal cues to help steer their teams. This feature is particularly useful when riding a draft with no saddle training, as they have no idea what it means when you apply your leg. You can squeeze all day long and they’re still going to plod along in that straight line they intended to the whole time. The great vocal cues are also helpful for starting and stopping.

I’d love to be a railbird some time at our local draft horse show for the riding classes (except I’m usually riding in them) just to listen to the chorus of muttered (or shouted) gees and haws and whoas as horses and riders thunder by.

4. Now where on earth is your partner? You know how they tell kids “if you get separated from your parents, just stay where you are and don’t move”? My own Rocky is like that: if Randy gets too far away Rocky just stops and waits for him to come back, even if we were already moving in Randy’s direction and he can clearly see him. I’ve also ridden the opposite: when the partner gets out of sight or earshot, grab some mane and hang on because you’re about to go very, very fast until you find him. And of course I’ve ridden some horses that don’t seem to care at all where there partner is and continue to ride on just fine.

5. Okay, let’s use the closed bridle next time. This is particularly true at our local draft horse show which offers a few riding classes. Since everyone there is primarily showing their hitch horses, most of us usually enter the class with a pair of reins buckled onto the regular driving bridle, including the blinkers. One year I was feeling pretty fly and swapped out the driving bridle for an open bridle without the blinkers and chaos ensued — apparently, this particular mare did not enjoy suddenly being able to see all the suddenly-frightening things (despite the fact that she had been shown in the halter class just a day prior. Horses, man).

That said, I ride my draft at home in an open English bridle and he does not mind one bit. Different horse, different situation.

6. This is a sofa. A big giant sofa with legs. You can show me your light horses, your gaited breeds, your loftiest dressage mount. I’ve ridden lots of different breeds, from Icelandics to Arabians, and nothing has come close to the sheer comfort of plodding about on a draft horse. I can’t explain it — I’m sure there’s some science involved — I just sit back and appreciate.

7. This is the most fun I’ve ever had on a horse ever. Another difficult one to truly pin down, but I’m going to credit this again to the brilliant temperament and incredible presence of draft horses. Sit on their back for just a few moments — yes, even the ones that have never been ridden — and you’ll believe you can move mountains.

Go draft horses and go riding.

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