Horse owners who are history buffs may recognize the name Jesse Beery. Beery was an enormously famous horse trainer from the 1800's and early 1900's.
He learned to train horses at a very young age. It was clear he had a gift for horse training and made it his life's work.
Among the almost countless things Beery could do with a horse, he taught them tricks. One of the most amazing tricks he taught was teaching a horse to drive without lines. (In layman's terms, you have no long reins (known as lines) connected to the horse. The only connection to the horse is the buggy hitched to the horse) This trick almost defies belief!
Beery said this about driving a horse without lines: "While I do not advocate it as being a universally practical way of driving a horse, yet it is possible to so thoroughly train the horse to certain signals that he can be controlled more reliably under excitement and in case of danger than it would be possible to manage him with bridle and lines."
Beery says there are a number of ways to teach this to a horse but suggests his method as the most reliable.
In a nutshell, Beery first turned his horse loose in an enclosure about twenty-five feet square. He would walk in with a whip and teach the horse to have confidence in him and not fear the whip. (The horse is never whipped).
Once the horse has learned to come to handler at the command of "Come Here" and shows no fear of the whip while it's gently waved over his head and body, and will follow the handler all about the ring, then you have laid a good foundation for further instruction.
Put the horse away until the next day where the horse learns signals of the whip.
That process is as follows: Stand close the the horse's hip and take a short whip and tap lightly on the right shoulder until the horse, in anticipation of driving a fly off, will swing his head around to where the tapping is. Step forward quickly and hand him a few oats, or a small piece of apple, almost in the act of turning his head around. Step back and continue the tapping and rewarding.
After a while, in his eagerness for the reward, he will take a step or two to the right when the tapping begins. Then caress him and treat him very kindly for that act. Soon, the idea will be conveyed that when tapped on the shoulder the horse will know to turn in that direction.
Remember to train both sides of the horse.
Once both sides are trained now an open bridle can be put on. Use short lines that come back as far as his tail only - but they are used only if he becomes unruly or to convey your idea to him.
The handler's whip should not be over five feet long at this stage and the handler should stand directly behind the horse. (Beware of kickers) Let the whip extend to about the middle of his mane.
The signal you wish for him to stop for is raising the whip and holding it in a perpendicular position. Associate the meaning of this movement, and position, just as the whip is raised so the horse can see it. Pull hard on the reins and say "Whoa" - all at the same time. After a few repetitions the horse will know what to do. (Assuming you have thoroughly educated your horse to whoa)
The first few times he stops without a pull of the reins step forward and reward him immediately. Much of the success of teaching this trick depends upon how you give the rewards. If the reward is given in a manner so that the horse can fully comprehend it was complying with the handler's wish, it will greatly enhance fixing this impression on the horse's brain.
But if not given in the right manner, the reward will be worse than none at all.
In the same manner, the horse is taught to turn left and right. This is done by giving the horse a pretty smart tap on the lower part of the shoulder and immediately place the point of the whip three or four feet in that direction. Should he attempt to jump and go ahead too much, you can hold him in check with the action and signal to stop him.
Essentially, these are Beery's instructions for training a horse to drive without lines. It's important to note this is a shortened version of Beery's instructions and there is more to know.
Andy Curry is a nationally known horse trainer and author of several best selling horse training and horse care books. For information visit his website at www.horsetrainingandtips.com. He is also the leading expert on Jesse Beery's horse training methods which can be seen at www.horsetrainingandtips.com/Jesse_Beerya.htm.