Skilful driving from a carriage implies the possession of those qualities which a skilful rider alone possesses, among which good strong hands, quick eyes, a cool head, judgment, courage, and patience are the most essential; while a good knowledge of horse nature is requisite to make the driver accomplished, and capable of undertaking the management of high-spirited horses.
To handle the reins properly is no mean art, and can only be acquired by experience added to natural qualifications. As has been already said, a driver of horses should understand harness and harnessing, and before mounting to the "box" or driving-seat, he ought to assure himself that the harness is all right and properly put on, and that the horse or horses are "put in" as they should be. Whether there be one or two or more horses, the reins should be in the left hand before ascending, though held loosely.
Unless the animal is an extraordinarily quiet one, some person should be in front of him holding his head, until the driver is fairly seated and the reins gathered up. The seat of the driver is an important matter, especially if one or more spirited horses are to be controlled. It should neither be high nor low, the driver being in such a position that, while sitting comfortably, he can use his body, arms, and legs to the best advantage in restraining and supporting his charge without feeling insecure. The body should be maintained upright and easy, the arms vertical, elbows near the sides, and hands in front of but not far from the body, and kept there.
Having carefully adjusted the reins in his hands - the left hand holding them, the right hand assisting - and holding them just so tight that bending of the wrists will guide, restrain, or stop the horse, the mouth of the animal should be felt, the amount of feeling depending on the kind of mouth and the bit the horse wears. The horse should be trained not to move until a few seconds after the driver is seated, and then he should walk for at least a few yards before going into a more rapid pace. Nothing, perhaps, is so injurious to limbs and feet as starting suddenly from a stand-still into a fast trot, and a large percentage of the foot-lameness of carriage horses is due to this cause. With nervous horses this precaution is more particularly necessary, as if set off hurriedly they are nearly always made unsteady and troublesome at the start, and even when standing.
" The rationale of driving may be compared to steering a boat. There must be no pulling and hauling, first on one side and then on the other; the slightest movement will be felt (on a well-broken, well-bitted horse) and anticipated - just as much pressure as is needful to keep the head straight; this pressure on either rein is, or should be, very slight."No more pressure should be put on the reins than is required to guide, check, or halt the horse, and the reins should only be used for this purpose - the animal being kept in remembrance that he is to obey the rein. If he will stand the whip (held always in the right hand), a slight touch on the right or left shoulder will make him obey the right or left rein, if he does not respond to it at once.
But the whip should ever be used sparingly, and only to awaken the horse's attention; rarely used to punish, and then only when punishment is really required. The abuse of this instrument is often really terrible, and deserves the severest reprobation. Often horses are cruelly slashed with it for no reason whatever, save that the driver is in a bad temper, is drunk, desires to "show off," is naturally brutal, or imagines it is horsemanlike to ply his whip without stint. More especially do the unfortunate Hansom cab horses suffer from this abominable cruelty, which is only too often participated in by their fares inside, who hear and see the lash needlessly applied to the poor beasts without a word of protest - thus, in reality, encouraging the active perpetrator of the cruelty.
Brutal tugging at the reins is thought by these kind of drivers to be also workmanlike, and generally the whip and the bit are combined to render work a positive torture, without any countervailing advantage.
The whip should only be kept for emergencies, and for a gentle reminder when the horse's attention begins to flag. It is carried in the right hand, which also generally holds the right rein. "But when the driver and horse understand each other, and are in steady action, the reins may be trusted to one hand, while the whip is gracefully borne aloft in the other. Paradoxical as it may sound, it is much easier to drive and turn a pair of horses, if they go well up to the bits, with one hand, than a single horse; because the coupling reins, with a turn of the wrist, may be tightened so as to bring the outside horse intended to turn toward the pole, and the pole, acting as a rudder, turns the carriage. Therefore, in starting with either one or a pair of fresh horses, good coachmen take the reins in both hands; and in both hands must they be retained so long as there is the least probability of a horse turning to the right or left. So, too, a careful coachman always keeps his right hand conveniently near the reins held in the left hand, when driving one or a pair of animals of blood and courage."
With regard to pace, this must depend upon circumstances. If there is an emergency the pace may require to be forced; if the journey is short then it may be faster; if long, it must be proportionately slow. Something will also depend upon the condition of the horse or horses. Some will do six or seven miles an hour for several hours, but will be exhausted in a very short time if pushed to ten miles an hour. The driver should know what his horse can do in the way of pace and distance, and above all, he ought to be cognisant of signs of fatigue and exhaustion.
If driving two horses, suit the pace to the slowest. Ease in going up hill or on rough roads, and make up time going down hill (if not steep) and on smooth and level roads. In very hot weather, horses should not be driven so fast or so long as in cold weather. On country roads horses may be allowed more head freedom, but in the crowded streets of towns they must be kept well up to their bits and on their haunches, so as to be more ready for guidance.
In starting, the horse should not be touched with the whip; he may be made to move by a signal from the rein or by a word, and when the whip has to be used it should always be applied to the shoulders.
We have already alluded to driving heavy draught horses. With regard to driving tandem and four-in-hand, the remarks just made equally apply; the special directions required can be best obtained from a practised hand, and practical experience can only be slowly acquired by handling the reins and "tooling" the horses under careful tuition.