Horse Driving

Don”t put the cart before the horse.English Proverb

Fix this sentence: He put the horse before the cart.Stephen Price

It is the good horse that draws its own cart.Irish Proverb

Driving is a sport that can be enjoyed by young and old, whether you”re interested in trips down country lanes or navigating around obstacles in front of cheering crowds.

For obvious reasons, carriage driving, as the sport is generally known, has historical roots that go back as far as the Roman chariots. Until the invention of the automobile, horse and carriage, coach, or cart were used for transportation of goods and people.

Some say that pulling a cart or carriage is easier for horses than bearing a rider. A horse must adjust his balance to accommodate a rider, while pulling a load is easier. On the other hand, the horse must be trained gradually to get used to the idea of something constantly following behind, as well as the distracting noise of the cart or carriage.

If you wish to compete in carriage driving events, you will need a horse, a cart or carriage and a groom. The role of the groom is to help walk the courses to memorize distances and turns, to make sure the horse and cart are clean and well turned out, and to balance carts on tight turns or challenging obstacles to avoid tipping over.

Many equine sports in Western and English competitions involve racing with wagons, carts or other vehicles. Harness racing (the cart is known as a sulky) and scurry (four-wheeled cart with two seats, drawn by two ponies) are but two. Chuck wagon races are a highlight of the Calgary Stampede, Canada”s premier rodeo.

Tack and Turnout for Horse Driving

Standards for clothing and tack are most important in the dressage and cone phases of driving trials, where the driver, horse and cart are judged on their appearance. In the marathon, comfort and durability are more important.

Driver and Groom: You”ll see a great deal of variety in drivers” attire. The small cart pulled by a Welsh pony might be driven by a sophisticated matron garbed in a dark suit with gloves and a broad-brimmed hat with a jaunty feather.

Other drivers might wear formal clothing or period attire. A good rule of thumb is to select clothing that keeps with the original use of the carriage, but period attire is not recommended for all competitions.

Cleanliness and neatness are of utmost importance. Hats, gloves, and aprons or lap robes are necessary. Brown leather gloves are recommended; driving gloves with open backs are best in hot weather. Shoes must be clean and polished. You need not spend money on fancy boots, but avoid work boots and athletic shoes.

The whip is an important element of carriage driving, as it serves a similar purpose to pressure from your legs when ridingit allows you to communicate with the horse. Most competition rules emphasize that the whip should be of appropriate length. In most cases, this means that the whip should be just long enough to reach the shoulder of the farthest horse.

Carriage: If the same vehicle is used for all three phases of the driving trials, it should appear smart and shiny for dressage and cones, but be durable and sturdy for the marathon. All brass, including lamps, should be polished to a high gloss. Some organizations (the American Driving Society, for example) require lamps, particularly at the advanced level, and rear lights or reflectors on the rear of the carriage.

Blinders, or blinkers, for racehorses are usually made to match the jockey”s silks. Carriage drivers most often use blinders attached to the bridle.

Horse: The harness you choose should be light and attractive but sturdy enough for the marathon trial. If you plan to use a different harness for the marathon, you might choose either nylon or leather, but stick to leather for dressage and cones. Blinkers and checkreins, if used, should be looked over to make sure they are clean with nothing dangling or distracting. Blinkers, or blinders, help the horse look straight ahead without distraction from his left or right side.

A carriage harness should be chosen carefully. A horse pulling a two-wheel cart, for example, is bearing some of the weight that a four-wheel cart would normally carry. The width of the harness can help to distribute the load.

Grooming for the Sport of Driving

Most grooming requirements are identical to those for dressage and showing competitions. First, the horse must be immaculate. Bathing your horse prior to competition is a good idea. Braiding and trimming needs differ by breed; check what”s most appropriate for your horse”s breed. Braiding the mane is optional in some competitions. Braiding should be used to enhance your horse”s beautiful neck and head. The American Driving Society discourages tail braiding and does not require mane braiding as long as the hair lies level and flat. Trimming should enhance your horse”s appearance and/or hide flaws. Cracks and other flaws in the hooves should be repaired, and the hooves should be clean and polished. Your horse”s coat can be enhanced with finishing sprays to add extra sheen.

Selecting a Horse for Carriage Driving

The horse that you love draws more than four oxen.Danish Proverb

Temperament: The horse you choose for carriage driving should have a good temperament: enthusiastic, but calm and trusting. Avoid horses that tend to spook, kick or rear up when frightened. A good carriage horse freezes until his driver is able to reassure him and move the carriage and horse away from any threat.

Breeds: Competition organizers do not insist on nor disallow any particular breed. Originally, draft horses were used to pull wagons, and this practice is still common in ceremonial and work situations. They are a favorite in carriage driving competitions as well.

Some of the better known “carriage breeds” include the Cleveland Bay, the Friesian, the Gilderland, the Hackney, and the Holsteiner. Several pony breeds are especially suited to pulling the smaller carts. Among these are the Welsh Mountain Pony, the Dartmoor, the Haflinger and the Fell Pony. His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh helped propel the Fell Pony, a descendant of the Friesian breed, to greater heights when he began driving Her Majesty the Queen”s Fell Ponies in driving competitions, demonstrating once again how well these sturdy ponies perform in the 16-mile marathon.

Characteristics: Horses and ponies must be fit. The marathon phase of competition is particularly grueling, and their ability to recover from the marathon and continue to compete in the cones phase is carefully assessed. Driving horses and ponies must all have the courage to persist and bravely tackle difficult obstacles. Horses who panic when surrounded by noise, people and chaos are ill suited to carriage driving.

Driving Trials

Driving competitions vary broadly in types of horse, carriage and driver and the types of events. Driving is open to competitors of both sexes and all ages. Drivers can compete solo, or in teams, with one person serving as the driver (or the “whip”) and the other as the groom.

The groom”s role is a combination of navigator and anchor; in many cases, the groom must lean from side to side in order to keep the cart balanced during tight turns. Horses can be driven solo, or in teams of two or more. Some outstanding ceremonial teams have up to 20 horses! Horses can travel abreast (side by side) or in tandem (one behind the other).

Driving trials usually consist of three distinct events. The first of these is dressage, in which the driver and horse perform a set pattern. This phase shows off the horse”s agility and discipline and showcases the harmony between horse and driver.

The second trial is the marathon or cross-country event. This is a timed race, usually with five phases that alternate trotting and walking. The horse”s conditioning is an important factor in this event, as horses are given 10-minute checks by veterinarians before the final phase to ensure that the horse hasn”t been unduly stressed and is able to withstand the rigors of the final sprint. The final phase involves obstacles and tight turns, testing the horse”s agility and endurance.

The 5 Sections of the Marathon Phase
Section 1 Can be completed at any gait, but trotting is usually adequate to make the time.
Section 2 Must be performed at a walk and is followed by a 10-minute rest.
Section 3 Involves a stretch of more difficult terrain; a fast trot is required to make the time.
Section 4 Must be performed at a walk and is followed by a 10-minute rest.
Section 5 Negotiation of various man-made and natural hazards at quick speeds.

The final trial involves winding the horse and cart through a pattern of cones. Cones have a ball balanced on their tops, and drivers must maneuver through the course, adding penalty points for any balls knocked down. This trial challenges the team”s agility and precision, as well as the horse”s ability to recover from the rigors of the marathon trial. The more advanced the competition team, the tighter the spaces between cones.

Horse Driving Competitions and Events

One of the unique features of this sport is that it has a highly social component. Drivers and collectors, even those who never compete, can meet to admire one another”s horses and carriages and travel together.

Organized carriage tours are gaining popularity, with creative options such as horse and wagon rentals. Irish countryside tours have been popular for many years.

Carriage driving is popular in the United States, Canada (especially in Quebec and Ontario), and throughout Europe. Belgium and Poland also have national organizations for carriage drivers. In the U.S., the Carriage Association of America sponsors several conferences each year. The conference offers opportunities to learn more about the sport, as well as compete in restoration competitions. Other organizations with world prominence that support carriage driving are the American Horse Show Association, the American Driving Society, and the Federation Equestre Internationale.

World Competition in Horse Driving

The World Singles Championships in carriage driving are held every two years at different locations throughout the world. Driving trials are also a part of the Royal Windsor Horse Show held in England. The only international driving event held in England is the Asprey and Garrard International Driving Grand Prix, held every year in May.

The Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) held the FEI World Singles Championship for the first time in 1998. The event took place in Fohlenhof-Ebbs, Austria. The second World Singles Championship was scheduled for Hamilton Farm, Gladstone, NJ, site of the U.S. Equestrian Team (USET) Headquarters and Olympic Training Center. Unfortunately, the event had to be cancelled because of an outbreak of the West Nile Virus, which seems to have affected horses in the U.S. and France.