Hitching My Miniature Horse: The HyperBike
The HyperBike: An Awesome Alternative
Like nearly every miniature horse owner on the planet, I started out with an Easy Entry type cart. That was not my dream cart, however. What I was saving up for was a HyperBike. It is two to three times the cost of the standard EE cart, but I found it to be a thousand times worth it!
A couple of things set the HyperBike in its very own class:
- It was created and designed specifically for miniature horses. In no way is it a scaled-down version of any pony or horse vehicle.
- It is also designed by a company that truly understands the miniature horse, physically and mentally.
- The HyperBike is made by one single company, Graham Carriage Works in the USA. This means when you contact the company, you speak to a real person, usually the same person, a person who has built your cart and knows it inside and out. No "press # 1-9" here.
- The cart weighs a screaming 30 pounds! Seriously, 30 pounds. It is beautifully constructed by any standard and has the most comfortable seat —even after hours of trail driving.
But things don't end there. Let's break down the HyperBike for a better look.
Side-by-Side Comparison of the Easy Entry Cart With the HyperBike
You may be seeing some major differences already.
- Wheels. First off, the wheels on the HyperBike are larger than the standard 20" wheels on the EE cart. The HyperBike comes with 24" wheels that roll right over road ruts, trail pocks, brush, and rocks. This makes pulling it easier and more pleasant for the horse.
- The rims are a nylon composite material, called Zytel. Normally, I would not promote a nylon wheel, but the lightness of the carriage and the size of the horse are a perfect application for them. More on these wheels later.
- Looking closely at the HyperBike and EE cart side by side, you will see that the shafts of the 'Bike are substantially shorter than the EE shafts.
- Also, there is also no basket between the driver and the horse!
- With the HyperBike, you are nearly one with your horse, literally. As a single-seater, there is you, your mini, and a lightweight frame designed to take you everywhere.
How the HyperBike "Sets" on a Horse
The HyperBike Hitches Differently
One almost needs to forget everything learned in a regular cart! To be sure, the hitching process is the same—as is the harness—but where the driver sits is a whole new drive! Like a racing sulky, or bike, one's legs ride up in stirrups. In the HyperBike, one's feet are actually alongside the horse. Giving the horse a job-well-done pat on the rump is simple: just reach out a hand. After an exceptional cones run, I leaned forward and gave PJ's rump a hug as a reward. A man watching told me "Being able to do that was reason enough to drive a HyperBike." I agree, but there is still so much more.
There is ample room for the horse to move out. In fact, the cart encourages a slow mover to move forward and lengthen. I let a friend drive her normally "deadhead" horse in my 'Bike. We got him all hitched up and off they went around the arena. Her gelding had such a great time, he started cantering. Her husband told me he had no idea the horse even "had that gear!" He had only seen the horse walk and jog a few steps - in a year of ownership.
My own horse, a national level pleasure driving miniature, found a true extended trot. He'd had a very fast trot, where his legs moved like a steam-powered centipede, and which was fine for the show arena. Suddenly, while going down a dirt road, he opened into an amazing extension. It shocked him so badly, he simply stopped. We restarted and hit the extension again. This time he was getting a lot of "good boy!" so kept it up. A week's work later, not only did he have it on command, he could maintain it indefinitely.
We campaign at a local show series, where he has to compete in open classes with Friesians, Clydesdales, Arabians, Morgans, and Saddlebreds. He might be the only miniature in the class, but he has his own fan club. He rarely fails to get people up on their feet and cheering him on!
Wide Wheel Base Makes for a Better Trail Ride
At 48" wide, the HyperBike is nearly a foot wider than the standard EE cart. The width makes the 'Bike incredibly stable. Combine that width with larger wheels that roll over uneven areas, the ride becomes not only more stable, but more comfortable as well.
While any cart can roll over if a wheel comes up above its own height. The HyperBike's wheels are large enough that this doesn't happen very often.
From the rear, one can also see under the seat. The seat does not need to be unbolted to slide forward and back. The seat sits on a track, attached to the frame, and is moved with a lever under the front of the seat, just like many car seats. There is also an adjustment for the back of the seat, which one may change from very straight up to a slight slant backward. Screwdrivers are needed for this.
If you look down the shafts, you can see the "stirrups" - the curved bars - for the driver's feet. These are adjustable forward and back, for longer or shorter legs. They also adjust up and down, so your feet can ride higher or lower, whichever is more comfortable. The adjustment is made using the same quick-release lever as is used on bicycle wheels. Simply lift the handle, turn it to loosen, make the adjustment, then tighten and flatten the handle. So easy, it can be done on the trail without ever stepping out of the cart. This is very handy for longer trail rides when one's legs would normally get tired. Simply adjust the stirrups until the new position is comfortable and drive off for another hour!
The ability to easily adjust the seat and stirrups—without tools—makes the HyperBike suitable for a broad range of drivers in one family. This also makes the 'Bike an option for handicapped drivers when legs are not necessarily equal in length or have the ability to straighten out evenly.
The Importance of the Singletree
I am the first to admit that a couple of my pet peeves have to do with the singletree.
Originally, and still, when horses drove wearing collar and hames, there was no need for a singletree. The collar distributed the weight of the cart or carriage more evenly and a well-fitting collar did not rub.
With a breast collar, however, there is a band of some material fitted across the horse's chest and shoulders. To this band is attached the traces, which run back and attach the horse to the cart. As the horse moves forward, or is in draught, the weight of the carriage is pulled across the horse's chest.
If the traces are attached to a stationary point on the cart, the shoulders rub against the breast collar, eventually creating sores, just as a poorly fitting saddle rubs sores on a horse's back. By hooking the trace end to a pivoting singletree (aka "swingle"tree) the swinging motion of the shoulders is allowed by the singletree. The breast collar remains stationary at the chest without rubbing.
The problem with many miniatures is that their build often works against a straight line of draught of the trace.
If you look at the photo above showing how the HyperBike sets on a horse, you will see that the trace follows very closely the line of the shaft, but slightly below the shaft, and continues to the singletree located under the seat. By placing the single tree under the seat, it has worked with the mini's smaller frame, and is out of the way of the driver's legs, all the while maintaining a straight line of draught - again working for the comfort of the horse.
My second peeve is how the trace attaches to the singletree. There should be hooks of a type that prevents the trace from falling off—and thereby disconnecting the horse from the carriage. The HyperBike does exactly this with a "T" type hook. One lines the slot at the back of the trace with the top of the "T", then slides the trace down the trunk of the "T". The trace is not going to work its way off, but is easily removed when desired.
For those who do drive with collar and hames, the HyperBike also has hooks.
As most miniature horse owners know, minis can be somewhat rotund. A finer point of the 'Bike's singletree - and hooks - is that they are wide enough to accommodate ample rumps!
The photo above isn't just about the singletree. It also shows the heart and soul of fitting the HyperBike to the miniature horse!
Miniature horses make wonderful driving horses, as we owners all know. But they come in such a range of sizes. I have a friend who owns 30-odd miniatures, most of whom have their own harness, and only a few of which share the same size easy entry cart. Some are small enough that her smallest EE cart looks huge when hitched to them. The basket and axle portion are the same size; what changes are the length and width of the shafts. In an EE type cart, the shafts are a "U" shape and can be purchased separately, then cut down to fit, or widened.
Graham Carriage Works took a different track. The shafts break down. In the photo above can be seen a heavy-duty wire C-clip. One of several sized shafts can be inserted into the frame, the C-clip dropped through, clipped, and the 'Bike is ready to go with a 29" miniature, a 33", up to a 40". One needs only to purchase the shaft set appropriate for the size of the mini being hitched. True, various shafts can be purchased for the EE cart, but bolting them on makes changing shafts more complicated. With the 'Bike's shaft set, one can accomplish the same task in 90 seconds. I know, I have done it!
One can also change the height of the cart. Look at the closeup of the frame where the wheel attaches. The two red spots are plugs in what are called "call-outs." These are holes in the frame through which the axle goes. In fact, one can see the axle head in the centre call out, between the red plugs.
If the miniature horse is very tall, one would remove the plug on the lowest hole, put the axle pin—with the wheel attached—through the hole, which would raise the cart at its highest level. Teeny, tiny mini? Pull the top plug, put the axle pin through, and the cart now sits 4" lower.
The HyperBike is the only cart to offer this feature. While several other types of carts can offer various shaft lengths, the basket remains at the same height. Regardless of shaft length, the stationary height alters the line of draft and the balance of the cart. HyperBike's ability to raise and lower its height offers any drivable size miniature horse the comfort and safety of an appropriate line of draught and a well-balanced cart.
How important is this? Consider a 29" mini, weighing well under 300 pounds, with a driver weighing nearly 200 pounds - and this is not an uncommon ratio. Miniatures were pit ponies, and are capable of pulling the weight. As pit ponies, they were pulling a 4-wheeled vehicle - the weight was not on their back. With a 2-wheeled cart, the weight lies in the tugs, on the saddle of the harness, i.e. on the horse's back. The cart sitting too high, or too low, will corrupt the line of draught and cause discomfort.
If one owns several miniature horses - particularly in a range of heights - the HyperBike will adjust for this, making one cart a money-saving prospect. Additionally, the fact this can be done in a matter of seconds with no tools, this is also a time-saving prospect.
The Wheel Close UP
I said I would have more to say about the wheels, and here it is!
The wheels are made of incredibly durable material. In one video I saw—the video that sold me on this cart—the driver is actually driving on a wheel with no tyre. The solid rubber tyre had come off in the midst of an obstacle at a Combined Driving Event. The driver, being very competitive, retrieved the tyre, slung it over her head like a shoulder bag, and finished the marathon portion on the rim. She is still using that wheel years later. That's a heck of a tough wheel!
These rims support several available tyres: one hard rubber set and two different pneumatic sets. Some competitions do not allow pneumatic tyres, and some areas are littered with thorns and stickers that prohibit them. One of the pneumatic sets is more of an offroad knobby, while the other is more of a road tyre. Owning two or even all three sets is not unrealistic. I own two sets: the hard rubber set I compete in, and the "Fat Daddy" pneumatics for trail driving. The pneumatics came with an anti-puncture strip and slime. I have yet to have a flat with them, despite the goat head stickers that abound.
Changing the wheelsets is a dream. The axle is a pushpin affair: push the pin in, which allows a locking ball to disengage, pull the axle out of the rim, put the axle into the rim of the wheel going on, push the pin to drop the locking ball and push the axle through to lock the wheel onto the frame. Changing two wheels takes about 10 seconds.
By the way, the open tube just forward of the frame is a whip holder!
Are There Disadvantages to a HyperBike?
Like all things, yes, there are some disadvantages!
- Most noticeable is that this cart is a solo flyer; the grandchildren aren't going to join you in this cart. Which could be a disadvantage. Or not.
- It is a little pricy. Not for the product mind you, but in comparison to an easy entry type of cart. It is a very well built cart, individually hand made as opposed to mass produced, with excellent materials and craftsmanship. Frankly, one gets not only what one pays for, the quality far exceeds the price.
- One's horse should be well enough trained that he or she stands quietly while the driver enters and exits the cart. Unlike an easy entry cart, one cannot simply step into the basket and sit. Rather, one must throw a leg over a shaft. It is true that each person adopts a particular entry/exit method suitable for their particular build, physical ability, horse, etc. A friend of mine likened getting into the HyperBike to putting on a pair of newly washed Levis. Attempting this while the horse is dancing around would be like putting Levis on while they were still in the washer.
- This may disqualify the cart for some handicapped, older, or very young drivers. Also, as one sits in the seat with feet up in the stirrups, those with certain types of back injuries may find the 'BIke uncomfortable. If one can comfortably sit on the floor, feet spread apart and knees drawn up a bit (remember the stirrups adjust forward, back, up and down), one will likely be comfortable in the HyperBike.
Other than these mentioned issues, I haven't noticed problems. If one is interested in showing a pleasure class, or breed show classes, likely one will use a cart as dictated appropriate to the class's description and rules.
Awesome Advantages of the HyperBike
There are many!
- Weighing in at 30 pounds, nearly anyone can move this cart around or put it up in a pickup truck bed. Sometimes it is a little too easily moved. I had this cart at a competition where it was very windy. I went around the trailer to get the cart to hook up and there was no cart! I looked all around and inside the trailer. No cart. Another competitor showed up with my HyperBike on a lead rope and a big grin. The cart had gone all the way across the parking area; he had found it wedged between his truck and the gooseneck trailer. He used the lead rope to tie the cart to my trailer so it wouldn't run away again.
- The cart completely disassembles. Wheels come off, shafts come out, stirrups fold up, down, in or out. I once showed up for a lesson with my HyperBike disassembled and in the tack compartment of my 2-horse straight load - the compartment located under the horses' feeders, and has a saddle rack running through it. As I was arriving for my lesson, my coach was yelling at me that I would have to go home and get my cart; I'd somehow managed to forget it. I parked the trailer, coach still trying to catch me and send me home. In the time it took him to get to my trailer, I'd pulled out the parts and built the 'Bike. Took him awhile to figure out how I'd pulled that off.
- Totally adjustable for any size miniature horse! Without tools! And quickly too! At a class for harnessing, hitching and types of carts, I must have put the HyperBike to 8 different horses, ranging from 27 inches to 39 inches. I could have used a little smaller shaft set for the tiny guys, but we just lengthened the traces a bit. There wasn't a single horse that could not be safely and comfortably driven because we could raise or lower the frame, move the seat forward or back to balance the weight, or change the wheels to make the cart easier to pull. On the quieter, more experienced horses, we did it while they were hitched to the cart. In no case did it take us more than 5 minutes to adjust everything.
- Phenomenally stable. There is a long standing joke that EE stands not only for Easy Entry, but for Easy Exit as well. I have been to events where the EE has ejected the driver. It can happen to any size equine.
- The HyperBike's wide stance makes roll overs, in the arena or on the trail much more rare. It can be done, of course, but rarely. And those wheels? I have seen my HyperBike go completely airborne, at a gallop, and driven over the shafts of parked carts (admittedly by an idiot whose butt was surely saved that day). Upon landing, the 'Bike kept right on going, wheels intact. Generally speaking the typical spoked wheels on and EE cart would have folded up. Been there, did that! Those composite wheels are truly tough - and weigh only about 4 lbs. apiece!
- Because the driver's feet are up on the stirrups, the driver can use them as a slalom skier uses the poles or kayaker uses the foot pegs to help make turns more stable. The seat makes it easier to lean into or out of a turn - or brace against. A word of caution here: some horses, on feeling the driver set up for a turn, immediately turn! They can feel you back there!
- A great company to deal with. Graham Carriage works, Bob Graham, is wonderful to work with. He is honest about his product, its uses, even its limitations. He will have parts on hand. If you need to order a seat, different sized shafts, different wheels, you aren't going to go through Pakistan or China, or option numbers 1 through 9. You will talk to Bob.
- Competitions rock in a HyperBike. Horses condition well for competitive trail drives. Driven obstacle classes are just easier, as are Gambler's Choice. Combined driving cones, hazards and marathon were made for the 'Bike. Events like Darby, Scurry, pace marathon? Doesn't get any better than the HyperBike for speed, quickness, agility and most importantly, SAFETY.
- I am still grinning about a great friend who tried my 'Bike on her exceptionally fine Darby horse. She was so excited that she could turn in a 2-foot radius. I took her over to a smudge in the dirt, maybe 3" wide. No tyre track, literally just a smudge. That was my turning radius: 3".
- Horses love the HyperBike. And that's what it is really all about. You will never have more fun in any other type of cart or carriage. On road, off road, in the brush (and I have driven over some brush that actually lifted me and the 'Bike off the ground) in the arena and out, it's the most comfortable ride for you and drive for your mini.
Accessorizing the Cart: For Safety, Comfort, and Fun!
I compete hard in this 'Bike, so I drive it hard to get us conditioned. This photo shows several of my favourite accessories. They either make the ride more comfortable for my horse, or they make my life easier, or our lives safer.
First off, the yellow pull cord. This connects to a snap shackle which is shackled onto the singletree hook. If there is an emergency, the traces can be quickly loosed with a simple yank on the yellow pull cord. I used the yellow because it is readily seen. And since we spend so much time driving on the roads, this is an easy, inexpensive safety feature.
The little square on the shaft is a bicycle computer! It tells me how long I have been on a single drive, and the total of all my drives, our speed, time of day, the length of the individual drive (a trip odometer), and a total odometer - which is how I know I have over 800 miles on my cart. I cannot stress enough what a valuable resource the bicycle shop is.
Reflectors! It's the law, and in many competitions it is the rule. These reflectors come from a local bicycle shop. As winter sets in and daylight is short, reflectors are not really an accessory; they are a necessity.
Also legally necessary: the Slow Moving Vehicle (aka SloMo) triangle. I made this one out of a safety officer's vest found alongside the road (don't tell him). It rolls up and fits in the pocket on the back of my seat - another accessory!
Having a bag of some sort that fits on the seat is very handy. Put water, sandwiches, snackies, whatever, and take off for a picnic drive. PJ is very fond of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, so I take one for him too. And maybe some of those Little Debbie cream filled oatmeal cookies. Yummy!
Put the hoofpick in there, and a halter and lead.
Snapping the harness speeds up the whole hitching process. By keeping the breeching holdback straps attached to the shafts of the cart - and with two similar sized horses - I can simply snap onto the breeching ring. I don't have to remember the setting, I don't have to worry about not replacing the strap exactly when I take it off to clean. Just snap and go.
This method can be used on nearly any cart or carriage!
Notice, in the top photo, the adjusting clamp for the stirrup - the round silver release with the black handle on the lever. Picking up the lever and rotating it loosens the the clamp so the stirrup can be adjusted.
Just to the left of the brass breeching holdback snap. Make sure the knob for opening the snap is away from the horse!
Goals and Needs
Any cart one spends money on should suit the goals and needs intended. The needs are always simple: the cart should be comfortable for horse and driver. It should be well made, fit the horse, and be able to safely go where the driver wishes. If any of these needs are not met, the drive will not be fun for either horse or driver.
The goals are more complicated. Deciding what one wishes to do at first may be easy:
"I want to drive my miniature horse."
Just learning to drive - and experience - often inspires motivation in different goals.
For gaming, combined driving, trail driving, driven barrels or nearly any sort of individual driving, The HyperBike is an excellent choice.