Combined Driving Event, or CDE as those involved in the sport call it, is a true test of a horse’s overall agility, grace and endurance. Combined driving had its roots across the ocean in Europe and is a relatively young sport. Avid drivers who wanted something more to do with their horses on the same level as three-day eventing with jumping/dressage horses, got together to try and formulate a plan. Great Britain learned of what they were doing with combined driving from His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. He was asked by the International Equestrian Federation to help develop a set of rules for them in the 1960’s.

Combined Driving Is Born!

It would not be until 1969 that the Federation Equestrian International would sit down and draw up a set of rules for international driving competitions. Sir Michael Ansell would be the one asked to formulate this set of rules. He based these rules on the ridden three-day event. About this time, this new sport spread to Australia and the United States. The first competition using this set of rules was in 1970 at Lucerne, Switzerland. The following year England held its first competition in conjunction with the Windsor Horse Show. The United States also held its first driving competition in New Jersey.  Also, in 1971 the first European Driving Championships were held in Budapest, Hungary. Attending the event were four-in-hand teams from seven different countries.  Following the same rules in 1972, the first World Driving Championships were held in Münster, Germany.  It would not be until 1975 that the rule book would be reviewed and updated to what we have today.

Since 1972 the World Driving Championships have been held every other year and the European Championships are held in the off year.  Four-in-hand teams of horses were all that were allowed at these international competitions.  It would not be until years later that pairs and singles would be able to compete. The competitions for singles, pairs, and tandems have now been added to the rule book.  Events for these competitors are very popular nationally and regionally.

Combined driving is the ultimate harness sport.  There are three parts to a combined driving event. The presentation and dressage, marathon, and obstacle driving. The three phases are usually done in that order during a three-day event. The shorter versions, which is a two-day event, are used as training events, for both competitors and organizers, in preparation for a three-day event.  Normally the obstacle driving is right after the dressage and the marathon uses shorter distances.  The still shorter version is a one-day event, which is called a “driving trail”.  This is done in the usual order but the marathon is only one section with a maximum of 10 km.

Day One:

On the first day the dressage test now includes presentation on the move.  In presentation you are judged on the overall cleanliness, condition and impression of horse, driver, vehicle and harness. The appearance of the driver, groom and any passengers are scored on their position in the carriage, attire, holding of the whip and the handling of the horse. The dressage test is a pre-described pattern that the driver and the horse must go through.

The test can be from four and a half to nine minutes long depending on what level you are competing at. This pattern is performed in an arena which is either 40 m x 80 m or 40 m x 100 m in size.  For the very small equines the arena is 20 m x 40 m or 20 m x 60 m in size.  Letters mark the area, providing the driver with reference points which enable him to execute the proper movements.

During the dressage test the horse is judged on his freedom and regularity of paces. It is also judged on lightness and ease of movement, as it develops through the pattern. The horse is also judged on how he finds agility on his forehand and the strength of engagement in his hindquarters resulting in a lively but not animated impulsion. He must also accept the bit without resistance or tenseness of his body.

Day Two:

On the second day of competition the marathon is driven. This consists of to three sections.  Section A, transition and section B.  Section A is done at a trot and can be 1 – 7 km depending on size of equine and level you are competing at.  Transition is done at a walk and is 800 m – 1 km.  Section B is at a trot and is 1-9 km, again depending on your driving level. This is the section where one encounters the obstacles that are either natural or man-made. There can be from 3 to 8 hazards with anywhere from 3 to 7 gates at each. The marathon day is the most lively for the spectators because of the speed and danger involved.  The overall objective is to test the fitness, stamina and training of the horse along with the skill and horsemanship and timing of the competitor.

Day Three:

On the third day the horse and driver are required to drive an obstacle course that is 500 m to 800 m long. The course consists of up to 20 gates laid out in a 70 m x 120 m area. The gates are numbered and must be completed in order in a specified amount of time. The gates are set from 20 cm to 50 cm wider than the wheel width of the carriage depending on your level of competition.

This is a true test of the horses fitness,  suppleness and obedience after the rigors of the marathon the day before.

The horses used in combined driving can be of any breed as long as they are sound and broke to drive. The only restrictions on horses that can enter a competition is that they must be at least four years of age.  It was not until the last decade that ponies and very small equine (miniature horses) have been allowed to compete. There have been horses from many breeds including Arabian, Thoroughbred, Morgan, Friesian and some draft breeds just to mention a few.

The combined driving horse needs to be sound, of good conformation, and mentally and physically able to handle the stress of the three-day event. The horse needs to have “heart” as well as “scope”.  They needs to have eye-catching motion and the ability to move quickly in tight spaces. They need to be well trained to work off of the bit and flow from place to place at a steady even pace.

This relatively new horse sport of combined driving has opened many doors for horse lovers who no longer can ride or want something more to do with their pleasure horses. To solve the problem of boredom with arena show driving one might think about combined driving as an alternative.  This is also a great place for that ex-racehorse whether it is harness racing or thoroughbred racing.