Our community of Teamsters is what keeps Alberta Carriage Supply doing what we love: helping you put your horses to work. Safely.
And it seemed to us it’s been a long time (before the pandemic) since we chatted with one of them. Since then, one of our favourites, Ann Hills, has retired and finally settled in Peace River, where she’s had property for over a decade.
Here are the highlights of our conversation where she talks about how she got started, some of her challenges and a bit of advice she’d offer to new drivers.
ACS: When did you become interested in driving horses? (aka what’s your backstory?)
Ann: “I started getting interested in driving versus riding a number of years ago. When I was in my early 20s, my uncle on Vancouver Island owned a bunch of Canadians and he also drove a few. We would just hook them up to a buggy and go down the road or into a field.”
ACS: How did you start driving on your own?
Ann: “I didn’t have any vehicles at the time or a team or even a single I could drive. I was still moving around a bit but I had a team up here (in Peace River). They were full sisters and I just started driving them. My neighbour had a little experience and we’d throw the harness on and drag some tires or a bail down the road.
I’d still have them but, unfortunately, medical issues arose and I couldn’t use them. These things happen and that’s the downside of owning animals.”
ACS: That must have been tough. So, what did you do then?
Ann: “After the sisters, I bought a Canadian filly, Nikita, from people out East. I never drove her, but I had a foal out of her, Duncan (one of Ann’s current horses, who is now a 14-year old). After that, I took her to my uncle’s place. She’s living the life of Riley on Saltspring Island these days.
When Duncan got older, I started ground-driving him, literally. A friend, who drove pretty seriously down in Red Deer and the Sylvan Lake area, told me to bring him out. We hooked him to one of his big Percheron girls, named Bonnie.
We both got experience – me with driving and him getting used to driving double and learning from another horse that wouldn’t take any crap and knew what she was doing. I was hooked.”
And then the Alberta Carriage Supply’s Basic Driving Clinic came along and the rest is history.
ACS: So, when did you get involved with Alberta Carriage Supply?
Ann: “I harassed Terry and got a few lessons just driving down the road with Duncan. I was able to start to buy vehicles and all the rest of it. I got the wagon, but in hindsight, I should have got the forecart first, because it’s on two wheels, and a little safer.
I think we ended up hooking onto one of Alberta Carriage’s forecarts. Once we got good at that we’d go back to the wagon.”
But poor Duncan was still a loner.
Ann: “He was driving single at the time, he didn’t have a buddy. And I was still getting my feet wet.
So when they told me about harvesting at the Bar U (National Historic Site), I just made myself available to be involved with it.”
And it was a win-win. She got some experience driving doubles and fours. And we found a great, positive team player.
ACS: Why do you love it?
Ann: “I like the mechanics of it, you know, you have to have a good fitting harness and collar with the hames. Once you have that, everything kind of comes into play.”
Her voice gets excited as she warms to her subject.
Ann: “When you hook up double, you’re looking at the line of draft and tongue weight. And surprisingly enough, just like in the clinics I took part in, the tongue weight with mine on my forecart is like 45 lbs just as is. But once you hook them up and park yourself in the seat, the tongue lifts off and takes that weight off to a point… You know, things like that.”
Some of my neighbors like them but they’re not involved (in driving), so it’s just a bit of a challenge for me to work with them. I have them, so I think, “Let’s hook them up. This is what I’m going to do with them today.” It’s a nice switch, I try not to think of anything else I have to do that day besides driving.
You have to focus on what you’re doing with them. I always have a plan when I hook them up, even to the point where when I leave the hitching post which direction I’m going to go in. Because Douglas is a little bit lazy and he just likes to follow Duncan. So I switch it up and make him turn around from his side.
Douglas, the new addition, is a Blue Roan Percheron cross, so there’s 200 pounds difference between him and Duncan. One’s 18 (hands) and the other one is 16. Douglas is 1800 lbs and Duncan is 1600 lbs. Duncan is 14 years old and Douglas is 11.”
ACS: How was your experience with Alberta Carriage Supply?
Ann: “The guys are very knowledgeable. And they keep it simple for beginners. They want you to be safe but also know that this is supposed to be fun. It’s just not work but it’s supposed to be enjoyable.”
ACS: What do you do now? Why do you continue to do it?
Ann: “Obviously I’m retired but I work part-time permanent hours at the dairy in St. Isador.”
“I take the odd neighbour out, just for weight more than anything.
Both Duncan and Douglas have farmed. We hooked Duncan with Clancy (a Clydesdale owned by another of our teamsters) and we’d plow. We would also hook the hay rack up to them.
“I took him to Tovie (a horse trainer in DeWinton who specializes in groundwork), and we worked with him. Which was great. It cemented his good behavior and made him better to drive. I’ve also worked with Jeff Hoar, from Innisfail, who chases cows around the line there. So I had training and riding lessons (with Duncan).
The riding part actually really helped the driving.
I think the connection, the lines, you know – the feel of the lines in your hands, they get what you’re putting out.”
ACS: What do you do with them these days?
Ann: “I have sled runners for both the forecart and the wagon… So when the snow flies, I switch to the sled runners. There is lots of snow and the forecart is more fun. The wagon is nice if the neighbor comes over but the forecart is pretty cool. There’s drag to it, you know, because it’s going along snow. And they still get a workout.
There’s also an abundance of trees around here. I’d like to take them along. I have a cut line on the far west side and I’d like to rip through there with them with somebody else, but I’d have to be careful. I have too many bears floating through. Wildlife is an issue, on occasion.”
ACS: What advice would you give someone who wants to learn more about driving?
Ann: “I would say get involved wherever you are, because there’s always somebody driving. See what they do, what are best practices. You pick up on things you like from different teamsters and make it your own. Alberta Carriage Supply creates a great community of horse people. Take a lesson. Also if you’re starting out, definitely start with something with two wheels. It’s better than four. Graduate to four. But two is optimum.
If you start out single, then your horse is confident whether they’re being driven single or eventually double. They learn to rely on themselves.
Be prepared to make the odd mistake. Because it happens. It happens and you just have to breathe.”
Our sincere thanks to Ann for her time and telling us her story. – ACS