Show Ring Driving, what is it really? Most breed organization shows have some driving classes that one can take their horse into if the horse knows how to drive. The standards for these classes are generally set forth in the rule books for your particular breed.
The two biggest organizations that establish rules for driving are the Show Ring Driving and the Show Ring Driving For those breeds not recognized by either one of these then they usually have their own rule books.
Pleasure driving classes are one of the most popular throughout the breeds. Pleasure driving is driven in a large arena with all participants for the class driving at the same time, much like a halter class. There are many classes within pleasure driving which gives you, as the competitor, many classes to choose from.
Divisions are separated by those based on what the horse does or what the driver does or the experience of the horse or the driver.
Rules for the drivers are pretty easy. You can drive with both reins in one hand or use two hands with a rein in each. You are required to carry a whip that is long enough to reach the shoulder of the farthest horse. The driver is the only one who can handle the reins, whip or brake during the competition. The driver cannot receive any outside assistance while showing in the class. Your dress should be conservative and you must wear a hat, lap robe and brown gloves. If you are driving more than one horse then you will also need a groom for every two horses in your hitch.
Horses of any type or color are allowed in pleasure driving classes. This includes mules, donkeys, asses, miniature horses and draft breeds. Many shows have height classes for horses over 14.2 hands, ponies under 14.2 hands and those under 9.3 hands are VSEs’. Ponies can also be split into two groups small 9.3 to 12.2 hands and large ponies 12.2-14.2 hands.
Either type of good, clean fitting harness is allowed, hames and collars or breast collar. Most harness is black unless you are in a natural wood vehicle, painted vehicle with natural wood panels or a vehicle that is painted brown, then brown harness would be appropriate appropriate.
Usually most any type of safe serviceable vehicle is allowed as long as it looks like it is a pleasure to drive. There are some exceptions on the types of wheels that are allowed.
The gaits that your horse needs to know for a pleasure class are as follows;
Walk: free, energetic with a moderate extension with a four beat gait.
Slow Trot: well maintained forward impulsion but slower and more collected but not to the degree required in dressage while maintaining a steady cadence.
Working Trot: forward more free and straight with engaging hind legs and hock action. The hind feet should touch the ground in the foot print of the forefeet. There should be more energy and impulsion along with suppleness and balance in the horse.
Strong Trot: increase of pace and lengthening of stride while still maintaining balance. The hind feet should touch the ground in foot of the foot print of the forefeet. Excessive speed will be penalized.
Halt: this should be a square solid stop. Horse should stand attentive, motionless and straight while waiting for his next command.
Rein Back: the legs should be raised and set down simultaneously in diagonal pairs while staying straight. Horses must step back four steps pushing carriage straight then step forward again to their original starting point. This is a whole lot harder than one thinks.
Under the title Pleasure Class, there are many breakout classes by size of horse (miniature, pony, horse, draft), sex of horse (mares, stallions, geldings), vehicle type (2-wheel, 4-wheel, antique, etc), age of horse, and Reinsmanship (this is where you drive a specific pattern) to name a few.
The other types of classes that you will generally see at a pleasure show are ones like Drive and Ride ( where you drive your horse and then unhitch, saddle and then ride the same horse), Sporting Tandem (one horse hitched directly in front of the other), Carriage Dog (normally you will need a dog trap vehicle to enter this class), etc.
Then there are the Obstacle Driving classes which again can have a wide variety of types, Scurry Obstacle, Pick Your Route, Double Jeopardy, Town and Country, Reverse Psychology, Your Route/My Route, and more. These classes are defined by sets of cones, rails, fence panels, and barrels for examples. Classes are divided by precision (8-10″ over wheel width), speed (12-16″ over wheel width) and four-in-hand (16-20″ over wheel width). Many of these classes have time limits in which to navigate the course. Dislodging an obstacle or a refusal constitutes penalty points added to your score.
If you are looking to go to a specific breed show then you would need to study the rule book for that breed. As an example, the Pinto driving classes have names like Ideal Pinto Driving, Roadster, Roadster To Bike, Fine Harness as well as some of those mentioned above. Most of the breed organizations have rules that closely follow the USEF or ADS rules but then also have some slight variances also.
So as you can see there is a lot of driving that can be done with your horse. Whether you just want to get your feet wet in training shows or try your hand at a large breed show or a sanctioned USEF or ADS show, there are a lot of choices for you. Pick the classes that you feel best fit your horse and his training level. Keep in mind that some classes will not fit your horses’ way of going, so I would pass on them, that way you will not be discouraged when you do not place in the class.
The rule books for both ADS https://www.combined-driving.com/2015/10/01/show-ring-driving/ and the USEF https://www.combined-driving.com/2015/10/01/show-ring-driving/ can be found on their websites as well as many of the breed registries rules on their sites. It is a good idea to get acquainted with the rules well before you go to a show.