Cart Before the Horse

By Christy Landwehr


Zippy Farms was busy that Saturday afternoon. It was snowing outside, so everyone was in the indoor arena trying to get a ride in. Samantha was driving her new horse around the outside of the rail in her new cart while Carrie was teaching a lesson to an amateur adult rider in the center of the arena on a circle around her. All of the other riders had left the arena when the horse and cart had entered the arena, but Carrie was almost done with her lesson and thought it would be safe in the center of the arena.

As Samantha was driving her new horse and equipment around, the belly band and wrap strap that prevents the shafts from rising up suddenly came disconnected and the cart started to tip. Sam jumped out and hit the arena wall. Then the cart fell over completely and her horse launched into panic mode and started running wildly around the arena with the damaged cart being drug sideways behind it.

Being of herd instinct, the panicked horse thought a safe haven might be with the other horse in the center of the arena, so it started galloping straight for Carrie and her student. Carrie quickly had her student dismount and told her to let go of her horse and run to the arena gate.


The saddled horse panicked when it saw the horse and cart coming towards it and ran to the other side of the arena. The driving horse ran with it and stopped at the other end of the arena, giving a moment for Samantha to get her horse under control, bringing a rather frightening incident to a close.

Very lucky. In this incident, the only injuries were to Sam’s horse and her equipment. The horse had a few scrapes and bruises from the cart banging on its back legs; the harness and cart were beat up as well. Fortunately, Sam, the other horse and rider and the instructor were fine.

This scenario could have turned out significantly worse. A thorough safety check prior to driving the horse would have revealed the faulty harnessing. This incident illustrates how a wreck with a harness horse can quickly escalate into pandemonium. Safety for harness drivers is of big concern these days and this is one reason why CHA is working to develop a harness driving certification program.

Many saddle horses have never seen a horse and cart before and can become very unnerved by the sight. Not to mention when that cart is tipped sideways and the horse attached to it is panicking.

If at all possible, horses should not be ridden in the same arena as someone practicing driving. Ideally, there should be a separate arena for harnessed horses to work; if not, the arena time should be divided so that harness and saddle horses are not using it at the same time. Also, do not teach a lesson to someone while someone else is driving. The two should be separate activities.

Busy arenas are dangerous places; simple rules should be followed to keep everyone safe. Without a driving horse in the arena, riders should try to track the same direction; if that is not possible then it is necessary for riders to follow the left shoulder to left shoulder rule for passing. Horses working at higher speeds should use the rail while horses walking or cooling out, stay toward the middle. Whatever the arena etiquette is at your facility, it should be taught to all riders and posted in the rules.

You also should not longe a horse in an arena where horses are being ridden. The potential for collision or for someone to run into the longe line is too high. If longeing must occur in an arena where horses are being ridden, make sure that the horse is longed in the direction the riders are going and far enough off the rail for the riders to have plenty of room to work. Follow these simple guidelines to keep everyone safe.

Editor’s Note: Normally this column includes true stories that have been fictionalized. This article is a true story written in the words of the victim, with editorial assistance from the author… Thank you for sharing stories that will prevent others from being hurt. If you have a story you would like to share, please email it to us at