Allpony Interview with Amy Resch Barker: Driving Instructor/Trainer at Matthew’s Promise Farm
Thank you to Amy Resch Barker of Mathew’s Promise Farm for taking the time to answer my questions about carriage driving. She is the first interview in an informational series I am creating to introduce kids to different horse sports through the Allpony website, blog posts, social media and a new activity book!
Amy teaches children and adults how to drive horse and pony drawn carriages, and rehabs and trains rescue horses, ponies, and mules to be driving companions. I found her story to be inspiring and I hope you do too!
What is your background? How did you discover carriage driving?
I have been excited about horses since I was a toddler. I took riding lessons nearby as a young child on mini shetland pony named Bonny, and I loved it so much I wouldn’t leave the barn. My parent’s bought two warmblood horses when I was in high school that I rode and showed at hunter/jumper shows. Soon after I started to teach riding lessons, and was hired at local hunter/jumper barn to teach. I enjoyed working with the kids. I started working with young horses during this time. One of these horses bucked me off and I broke my back. I couldn’t ride for 6 months, so I trained a miniature horse I had to drive. That experience lead me to start teaching driving as well as rescuing horses and mules to train them to drive. I have been teaching driving for 5 years.
What basic skills do you teach kids in the first 10 lessons or so?
Most of the kids I teach start out with some experience with horses. I teach safety first, and have them wear a helmet in the cart. I initially ride in the cart with them. I teach them how to communicate with the reins since we don’t have legs around the horse like we would if we were riding. I have them learn the parts of harness, the different types of carts, different ways to get into a cart. By the 10th driving lesson, the students learn to harness a child-safe pony on their own. They are also taught to walk and trot around cones and back up. Additionally, they learn to stop with a wheel inside a hoola hoop, back into a parking spaces, and how to avoid obstacles. In case of an emergency, the kids are taught how to leave cart and let the horse go. I also teach cooling out and allow the students to bond with the ponies and mules.
What do you wear to driving lessons?
Wear boots or tennis shoes. Tennis shoes are great for keeping a grip on your footing in the cart. Wear comfortable clothing, and you can even wear shorts in hot weather. Wear a helmet. Gloves are not necessary at first in order for the student to get feel of the reins and the horse’s mouth.
What type of tack and equipment do you need?
The type of driving vehicle depends on type of ground you are on. Wood tires are not good on sand and bicycle tires good on roads. The vehicle and harness should fit the size of the animal. Miniature horses can only pull one person and 2 wheeled cart, while work horses can pull a large carriage with 6 wheels.
What types of horses/ponies/mules make good driving companions?
Any trainable horse, pony, mule or donkey can be taught to pull a carriage, although a nice mover makes for a smoother ride. Gaited horses with a lot of action in the legs, such as Tennessee Walking Horses and Saddlebreds are amazing.
The size of the animal should be appropriate to your application. Pony size mules or a welsh pony size animal can pull 2 people in four wheeled vehicle, while miniature horses can pull a two wheeled cart with one person in it. Hackney ponies are great because they are attractive and have a smooth gate.
What types of competitions are there in driving?
There are breed shows and open shows that offer driving competitions. There is combined driving, which is a three phase carriage driving event that tests the horse and driver with driven dressage, marathon, and cones phases, similar to three day eventing. I like to show at the Benson Mule Days events. There are also reinsmanship competitions, in hand and trail competitions, driving obstacle classes where you drive around cones and figure 8 around barrels, pulling competitions, and driving barrel racing.
What do you wear in competitions?
Skirts and aprons, gloves, and historic dress for the type of cart and harness you have. A black wooden cart is more dressy so you would wear a blazer, driving apron, and a church hat. Wooden carts are not as fancy, so you could wear a blingy shirt and jeans with a belt buckle. A hackney cart is fancier and you could even wear an evening gown. You always wear a hat in competitions. Gloves should be the color of the reins because the leather will stain them. Women wear long skirts that are ankle length and a driving apron with an empire waist. The driving apron keeps spectators from seeing up your skirt, it provides warmth, gives a polished look, and should match the rest of your equipment. You want to use the best harness and equipment you can afford, no nylon.
Thanks Amy for sharing your sport with us!