For a horse’s first day downtown, we pick a quiet evening when there is not much going on in town, and we go for a short drive through the James Bay residential area and/or Beacon Hill Park. Over the next few days, we will bring the horse out for gradually longer periods of time, still sticking to the quieter parts of town, and avoiding busy intersections. We start bringing the horse to the carriage stand on Menzies St., where he will see his buddies hanging out, and start to learn that that is “home base”. He will start getting accustomed to seeing his buddies around town, and learn that at the end of the day, they all return home together again.
All of this work is done with two people on board the carriage – the driver, and a “footer”. There will only be one driver of a new horse to ensure that a strong partnership develops: this ensures the driver can quickly identify changes in the horse’s behavior, and provides the horse maximum consistency in what is asked of him. The footer’s job is to be ready to jump down and lead the horse if he gets confused or nervous, although most of the time, the footer just gets to come along for the ride! If you happen to see us working with a new horse in town, you will likely notice the footer riding on the running board of the carriage, beside the passenger seats. This position allows the footer to be able to step down very easily and get to the horse’s head if needed, and also allows the driver to take up the entire box seat, saving the footer from taking an accidental elbow to the ribs!
As the horse becomes comfortable with the routine in town, we will start taking guests on tours. We still have two staff on the carriage, and now, the footer’s job is to give the guests the tour, so that the driver can focus entirely on the horse. We continue in this way for a week or two, until the driver feels comfortable doing everything herself. The time this takes is different for every horse, but as a driver, you know when the time is right.
At this point, the horse has passed the beginning stages of the training program and is considered a Novice carriage horse. He remains restricted to working in select areas, and we will carefully schedule what days and times the horse works, according to what else is going on in town. The horse’s training continues both at the farm and in town, as we continue to build his confidence of new situations.
It’s all about building up confidence and setting the horse up for success. Time and miles are the best teachers of all, and it is always a joy to watch new horses get the hang of things, and come to really enjoy their new career!