The Do’s and Don’ts of Carriage Driving Safety

Hand Carved Circus Wagon at the Montana State Fair 2008 Click to see all the details

Driving is one of those sports that often presents unique opportunities.  This Circus Wagon took ten years and four carvers to complete.  The key to all driving is the right equipment for the right job, and doing it safely.

An opportunity to review safety guidelines has recently presented itself.  It’s always a good idea for all beginners and experienced drivers to take some time and think about this topic and why we do the things in driving that keep us and our animals safe as well as the people around us.  This list is courtesy of with a few of my personal touches.

1. Don’t ever remove the bridle and reins from an equine while it is still hitched to a vehicle!!! This is probably the #1 preventable cause of runaways.

2. Do fasten your traces first and undo them last when hitching to and unhitching from a vehicle. If the animal is startled, you don’t want the cart attached by a wrap strap with the traces undone; this can cause an awful wreck.

3. Don’t make assumptions about your equine’s ability to handle new experiences. Just because he’s broke to ride doesn’t mean he’s broke to drive; being steady in the ring doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be steady on the road or trail.

4. Do take the time to gradually and systematically train your equine and get him used to new equipment, locations, and activities.

5. Don’t ever leave an equine unattended while it is hitched to a vehicle. Always tie a horse while hitching and unhitching.  If there is no place to tie up it is acceptable to have someone in the vehicle with the lines in their hands as you hitch or unhitch rather than just a header.

6. Do make sure that your vehicle and harness fit and are suitable for your equine, and are properly adjusted. This is a matter of safety as well as comfort.

7. Don’t ever let passengers enter the vehicle, or allow them to remain in it, unless the driver is seated and ready to go. The driver is always the first and last person on the vehicle.

8. Do double-check your turnout before moving off, to see that everything is fastened and adjusted correctly.

9. Don’t hitch or drive an animal alone unless you and your equine are both very experienced. Be sure that your helper is capable of helping.

10. Do wear a helmet, especially while training, driving out, competing in timed events, or any other time that your brain seems valuable.

11. Don’t forget your spares kit when driving away from home.

12. Do keep your harness and vehicle in good repair. Having a rein, trace, girth, or wheel break while you are driving can be disastrous.

13. Don’t hesitate to listen to your own common sense. You know your equine best; if something seems off, wrong, or unsafe, pay attention.  As you are driving look ahead at where you are going, is there anything that you might need to talk your way past? Be relaxed but prepared. 

14. Do learn with a gentle, trained equine, if you are new to driving. The old adage, “green and green equals black and blue” is especially true for driving.

15. Don’t allow non-horsemen and children to pat your equine while it is in harness. It’s too easy for the animal to become scared which could lead to the horse running over the person or child with the vehicle. Your horse does need to be approachable and unafraid of sudden noises when hitched.

16. Do carry a whip at all times. It doesn’t do any good in an emergency if it is in the socket or back at the trailer. A cell phone attached to you is another good emergency item to pack.  Make sure your animals are accustomed with sounds of the phone.

17. Don’t take on passengers, particularly children, unless you are sure that both they and your animal will be obedient. Passengers should wear helmets, too.

18. Do not try to long line your horse when hitched to a vehicle!  Once hitched get in and stay in the vehicle.  You have less control of your horse when you are out of the cart.  In case of emergence if you find you have to get out it is best to have a header if not stay close to the horse and follow the lines to the bit and back again to re-enter the vehicle.

Again, never exit leaving a passenger without a driver in the vehicle, all passengers are the first to get out. 

 Do seek out information and help when you need it. The only dumb question is the one that you didn’t ask.  The answer to that question probably would have kept you out of trouble! 

On the other hand drivers with experience need to step up and offer suggestions.  That help may save someone from a driving wreck.


About Teamdonk

Teamdonk is all about Kristi's three driving and riding donkeys. Join us as we share our adventures. Meet the boys Luc, Galahad and Merlin. Don't forget to visit the older blogs at, 2010, 2011, 2012 13 & 14 add the year like this
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2 Responses to The Do’s and Don’ts of Carriage Driving Safety

  1. This is great info about safety and can never be repeated too often. However, your #5 needs some correction. You said:

    Always tie a horse while hitching and unhitching unless you have someone in the vehicle with the lines in their hands or a header.

    BUT you should never hitch or unhitch with someone in the vehicle. I suspect this is an editing problem because I don’t think someone who knew all those other good points would seriously say that.

    • Teamdonk says:

      Thank you bringing that to my attention, I have reworded it. Remember you always have more control in the vehicle than out of it. Several times I have been in a position of no place to tie up, one was in the middle of a field last summer. This would be acceptable in that situation.

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