cover issue196When it comes to driving the options are endless. One, two, three – even 40 or more horses at one time or another, have been hitched up and driven to some sort of wheeled vehicle. Most people who take up driving do it with one horse or pony. For many, driving a pair adds an extra challenge as well as horsepower. Driving a tandem – one in front of the other, or a four-in-hand – a pair in front of a pair – are considered the most difficult configurations to drive. A unicorn is made up of three equines – two in the wheel, and one in front. This is also considered to be a combination to challenge the most skilled whips. But there is another, less common, way to drive three horses – three-abreast – or side by side.

Driving three-abreast is not as traditional for private driving as the other combinations. The main purpose for putting three across the front of the vehicle is for additional power. Old photos show fire wagons, water pumps and other heavy commercial vehicles being pulled by three horses. This configuration is also common among drafts horses working on the farm.

According to David Saunders, who has driven almost every combination offered to him, the advantage of driving three-abreast is that turning doesn’t take as much room as it does with a four-in-hand or unicorn. The extra width does not pose a problem.

David explains, “Driving three-abreast is just to add horsepower. With a four-in-hand, the leaders essentially are pulling on the pin, whereas with three abreast, they are all pulling on the point of draft. Chariot drivers often drove four-abreast, allowing them to swing quickly in a smaller space than two in front of two.” He also points out that some people refer to driving three across as “trandem” but this is not a traditional term.

The troika is another variation of driving three, first developed in Russia in the 17th century. It is traditionally driven so that the middle horse trots and the side horses canter; the right-hand horse will be on the right lead and the left-hand horse on the left lead.

Gloria Austin is also very experienced driving various configurations. She once borrowed a Cocking Cart (a very high, two-wheeled carriage) from Dr. Cormack of Ontario, and drove three in the wheel with a leader in front.

While it is quite unusual for private drivers to drive three-abreast, anything is possible. Gloria has a lady’s wicker phaeton in her personal collection at Grand Oaks Resort in Florida that is set up just for three-abreast, although a pair can be driven to it. The carriage was made by Brewster, and was probably a special order. Gloria notes that these oddities happen occasionally. Some of the more unusual carriages may have been made for display purposes at World Fairs or other exhibitions, much like concept cars seen at today’s auto shows.

Linda McVicker made the decision to try driving her ponies three-abreast when one of the ponies in her four-in-hand didn’t work out. Rather than drive two, leaving one behind, she did some research and found that driving all three at once was what she wanted to do.

Linda worked with Jack Alvarez of Driving Essentials and purchased a Glinkowski carriage that was set up so she could drive her three Welsh ponies abreast. The carriage can be changed to work with a pair or even a single. And she has both pneumatic wheels for everyday driving and traditional wheels for dress-up driving.

Her four-in-hand harness needed little changing. The breast collar on the center pony needed an extra ring on the breast collar because two pole straps are attached.

The most difficult part of driving three-abreast successfully is setting up the reins correctly. Linda’s ponies will stand still for hours, which was a good thing as she learned how to make sense of the reins. “It was like spaghetti,” explained Linda, “trying to figure out which noodle went where.” She used the diagram in Fairman Rogers’ Manual of Coaching, and enlisted help from Craig Kellogg. Linda said she kept a copy of that diagram in her pocket for a long time to make sure she didn’t mix anything up.

As her three ponies had been driven as part of a four-in-hand for many years, they settled into the new configuration fairly quickly. “We started out driving around in a paddock two or three times,” said Linda, “but then Craig felt we were ready to hit the road.” The pony she put in the middle had been a leader in her four. “He was a little frustrated.” Linda felt he liked being out in front, and even now still wants to pull the whole thing – another rein adjustment! If one pony tends to be faster than the others, that one should be put in the center. The center pony or horse should also be a confident animal. Young or green ponies might not like being confined between the other two.

Linda had the option of driving her three as a unicorn, but said she could never relax with a unicorn. It was more work than driving four. With all three in front, “I can relax and enjoy the scenery. When all three are in synch, I hear the sound of just one pony’s feet hitting the road.”

Driving three-abreast is slightly more difficult than driving a single or a pair. Just the weight of the reins makes it a little bit harder, and you are dealing with three animals instead of one or two. Knowing when and how to lengthen the rein on the outside pony and shorten the rein on the inside pony when making turns is important. When making a turn, the outside pony has to go faster than the inside pony and needs more rein. If you aren’t careful, the outside pony will have to canter to keep up while the inside pony is barely trotting. Linda thinks making turns at a slow trot is easier than at a walk.

Maintaining contact is important when giving with the outside rein. If you throw away the outside rein, the balance will be lost and the pony will drop his shoulder and dive into the turn.

Reins specifically for three-abreast driving can be purchased - My Draft Horse Superstore on the internet is one place that sells them, or you can gerry-rig a set of pair reins by putting another coupling rein further back that is a little longer, and punching some extra holes.

At a recent pleasure competition driving the three, a discussion ensued about the number of grooms required. The decision was that a three-abreast was considered one unit, so one groom or passenger would suffice. Since the rules are not specific, the decision could be a ‘judges’ choice.’ The other situation that occurred had to do with the measurement of the carriage for cones. Since the carriage is pony size, the swingletree is low enough to hit the balls on the cones, so it was necessary to measure the swingletree, not the wheels, to get a measurement.

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