Here are some things to look for when searching for a horse that is already trained to pull a cart.
When you arrive at the seller’s facility if the horse is already hitched this could be a sign there are problems. Ask the owner to unhitch the horse completely and start from the beginning.
If the owner refuses to do this then it would be best to walk away. You will want to see how the horse acts during the harnessing process and as it is being hitched to the cart.
During the harnessing process if the horse dances around this could be a sign of nervousness or it may be that the horse is very green to being harnessed. When being hitched to the cart notice how the horse acts when the cart is being put on. Are they dancing around, is their head raised high, are their eyes getting big? All of these could be signs the horse is nervous about the cart. You want to find a horse that is quiet and calm while being harnessed and hitched to the cart.
Have the owner take the horse through its paces before you get in the cart and observe how the horse acts. Does the horse stand quietly while the driver is getting in the cart? Do they wait for a command before walking forward? Does the horse walk quietly or are they wanting to prance around? When asked to trot do they bolt into the trot or calmly go into a trot?
When asked to stop does the horse throw it’s head up and resist the bit? Does it take several steps with the horse resisting to get them to stop? Do they have to run the horse into something to get it to stop? All of these are signs of a horse that is in fear or they have not been properly trained which is dangerous. A horse hitched to a cart is basically pulling a weapon.
After the owner takes the horse through its paces if the horse is calm and quiet then, by all means, get in the cart with the owner and go for a drive. If you’ve had some experience with driving then take the reins yourself and see how the horse responds to you.
If you are new to driving take someone with you that has a lot of experience with driving. An experienced driver will be able to tell you if the harness and cart properly fit the horse. An ill-fitted harness or cart can be a setup for a dangerous situation. Have fun and stay safe.