Dust swirls behind the wheels of the open carriage. “Gee” shouts the driver. The chestnut horse veers right, black mane flying. Its hooves skim through two orange cones with less than four inches on either side. “Haw” shouts the driver, and the horse sails through the next set of close-set cones to its left.

Perched in the carriage seat with reins at ready, Eileen Davis directs her Friesian Sport horse, Sailor, through the paces of a Singles Driving course at her and husband Allan’s, “Davis Ranch Combined Driving Center” in Williamson Valley.

“Combined Driving” includes World-wide Olympic skill-level events that entail a horse pull a carriage through three types of races: Dressage, where the horse must “dance” intricate patterns and look beautiful at the same time; a Marathon, where it pulls a carriage a distance of from 13 to 18 kilometers, as well as maneuvering through from two to eight obstacles; and finally, Eileen’s favorite the Cones: a fast-paced race through an intricate series of 20 orange cone pairs topped with tennis balls that fall off easily if nipped by the horse or carriage as it passes through. The horse must traverse it in 3-1/2 minutes.

“it was horses that

got me through the

tough times…”

         – Eileen Davis

 Of added interest in the cone race is the presence of a “gator” in the back of the carriage — short for “navigator.”  Her husband of 41 years, Allan, is that ballast and balance, enabling Eileen, Sailor, and the carriage to zigzag gracefully through the sharp turns of the cone race by shifting his weight.

With striking ice-blue eyes, short-cropped blonde hair and a slim build, Davis looks every bit the dedicated athlete she is. . .and Combined Driving is her elixir of life.

Eileen’s passion for horses goes back to her childhood, when her father took her to a riding stable at age 12 and she fell in love with the big, powerful animals.

“That was pretty much it,” Eileen recalls. “I was hooked.”

 From then on, her unwavering focus was to ride every horse she could find, whether that necessitated making friends with girls at school who had horses, or mucking out stalls in her hometown of Palm Springs to earn riding lessons.

When Eileen grew up, married and had two children, she also made sure she had horses. But then tragedy struck.  In the early 80’s Eileen was in a car accident that crushed a disk and required back surgery. Then, unbelievably, two years later she was in another accident that disabled more vertebrae.

“The doctor told me, “forget it – you’ll never do anything with horses again,” Eileen said.

He recommended surgery to put a rod in her back, but for Eileen that wasn’t an option. She refused the surgery and looked for another way to interact with her beloved equines.

Bubbling with undisguised enthusiasm, Eileen explains that “something” turned out to be riding in carriages, not leisurely ala sunbrella, but as an entrant in Combined Driving competitions.

The sport of Combined Driving is perfect for Eileen.  “You don’t have to climb on a great. big horse,” she says, but you still have the thrill of the ride and the companionship of horses. “That’s a plus for me and my body.”

Eileen has been competing in U.S Equestrian Federation events since 1993, with a big success in 2004, when she and her former horse, Daniel, won Reserve Champion — the number two spot in the nation — at the USEF Singles Combined Driving Championship in Parker, Colorado. In 2005 and 2006, she and Daniel also vied for a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team that would go to Padron, Italy, though, in the end, they didn’t make the team.

Unfortunately, shortly after that, Daniel became ill and was unable to continue competing. Eileen eventually found Sailor to take his place and has been training him in Combined Driving for the past five years. Sailor is finally ready to compete in the upper level of the sport.

With Sailor in tow, Eileen and Allan have traveled the country in their self-designed horse trailer/RV to compete in Combined Driving competitions. In August, they head out for Kentucky, then on to South Carolina for the 2012 U.S. Singles Championship.

“It’s Sailor’s first time out in the upper level, so all I’m trying to do this year is place in the middle of the pack,” Eileen explains.  “I don’t expect to blow anyone away.”

Recently, Eileen and Allan set up a foundation, the Eileen Davis Foundation, to help youngsters learn the skill of Singles Driving.

“It’s such an expensive sport to get into and stay into that very few young people are doing it,” Eileen notes, saying that she and Alan want to ensure that future generations will be able to do this exotic and interesting sport.

“It was horses that got me through the tough times,” Eileen says, “and I want to help others be able to enjoy horses, too.”

You can follow Eileen and Sailor’s competitions and find out more about them at www.horsecde.com.

August/September 2011 Prescott Woman Magazine