In 1995, Connecticut trainer Margaret A. Beeman asked her then new client, local arborist and avid amateur driver Scott Monroe, what his goals were for the black Morgan he'd just bought as a three-year-old. Scott's answer was unhesitating: "My dream has always been to be on a USET team--and why be on a team if you're not going to win?"
Scott is the first to admit he's intense and competitive. "I'd been driving about four years with my first horse, and I knew I was really hooked. For better or for worse, I'm not the kind of guy who can buy a horse and drive up and down the mountain and say I'm satisfied." With this new horse, Bethesda After Dark ("Shadow"), he was aiming for the top.
Since then, the goal of "driving for America" on a World Championship team has sustained Scott and Shadow and molded them into a combination that works as one entity.
From the Beginning: Making the Right Thing Easier
To succeed in combined driving competition, Shadow needs to be willing to do as Scott asks--immediately. Whatever they're training him to do, says Margaret, "We ask him to do it, we show him the way, we let him search and find it."
An example: In the very beginning of their work with him, Shadow--like many young horses--wouldn't stand quietly. "One common solution is to put a chain over the nose or gums to try to make the horse stand still," Scott says. "But Margaret said, 'OK, since he doesn't want to stand, let's help him figure out that standing is a better deal.' So when we said 'Stand' and he wouldn't, we walked him around and around us--we were standing still--until he caught on that it was a whole lot easier to stand still than to do all that work.
"That's the very first step, and everything builds on that. Under saddle or in harness, for instance, when he resisted a light aid to round himself and give, I applied a little pressure and then released, telling him, "When you resist me, you'll feel this, but then I'm going to give it back so you can't fight me. This is where I want you to be.' And eventually he said, 'Oh, OK, this is where I need to be.'"
In the round pen, Shadow's total attention is on Scott--as Scott's is on him. Early free-longeing built directly on "making the right thing easier," Scott says. "I asked him to walk. He didn't want to walk? OK, let's do a little work at trot or canter. I like that. Then I'd give him the signal to turn to the inside and check in with me: 'OK, let's try it again; will you walk off now?' There's no longe line, no whip. It's just body language and voice.
"It took months of work, but now he changes his gait, changes his direction, stops, back up, all in response to my body and voice. When he's walking in the round pen, my hands are at my sides. If I raise one hand without saying a word, he picks up a trot and trots until I give another command. The round-pen work has sharpened my ability to focus on him. That's an asset when we're taking the hazards at speed; my timing has to be exact, and he has to be responsive. "
Even when pulling a carriage, Scott says, Shadow needs to carry himself rather than lug on his forehand. "We want him on his hindquarters so his front end is light and I have 'power steering.' We want impulsion, nuance, softness, no hanging on my hands.' When Margaret rides Shadow, as she sometimes does when Scott is tied up with work, often she uses a dressage saddle. Scott says, "She can ask everything from him that I need in terms of suppleness and collection."
Widening the Circle of Knowledge
Scott and Margaret take Shadow to yearly clinics with Canadian-born/Wyoming-based horsemanship clinician Peter Campbell, who trains horses in all disciplines. "He says, 'I don't care what kind of bridle you put on your horse's head, it's what's in his head that counts,'" says Scott.
The clinics have helped them improve their mastery of "the connection of the rein to the foot, and have helped Shadow gain a better understanding of what we are asking of him," according to Margaret.