How do you drive cones?  It sounds so simple at first thought!  Then your asking what does this have to do with you if you do not compete in Combined Driving.

There are many breed horse shows that have what are called Carriage Classes.  Within this category you will find a variety of obstacle classes which are a variation of sets of cones set up that you have to drive through.

  • Timed Obstacles (20 preset sets of cone)
  • Scurry Obstacles (10 preset sets of cones)
  • Town and Country Obstacles (includes non cone obstacles)
  • Double Jeopardy Obstacles (two drivers drive same course one after the other with same horse)
  • Reverse Psychology Obstacles (drive course one way then reverse and go through course in reverse)
  • Pick Your Route Obstacles (driver picks the route he wants to go through all obstacles)
  • Your Route My Route Obstacles (10 sets of cones driven in order then driver picks his own route and drives it again)
  • Fault And Out (10 preset sets of cones driven in order and repeated if no cones down until time is called)
  • Progressive Obstacles (10 sets of cones progressively narrower, you drive until you dislodge a ball or finish)
  • Gamblers Choice Obstacles (driver chooses obstacles and drives each in any order and can drive each obstacle twice, each has a point value)
  • Cross country Obstacles (1k course with obstacles)
  • Fault Obstacle (20 preset sets of cones over a predetermined time)

As you can see, there are a lot of ways that you can drive cones without going to a Combined Driving Event.  A great many of the breed shows, as well as the open shows, can have a variety of these classes that you can enter your horse into.

So how do you drive cones and not knock down all of the cones and balls?  Well, you start out by practicing cones at home.  You want to start with the cones, about two feet wider than you wheel width.  If your horse is also new at cones this will give him plenty of room for giggling around as he first drives through them.  The horses first instinct is to drop his head and take a look to see what these strange orange cones are.  Then he thinks maybe I should shy at them, and if they are too close to start with he will look at the right cones and shy to the left and hit the left cone. You want plenty of room to be able to keep the horse from hitting the cones.   The first time that your horse hits a cone, it will startle him, so you need to be ready when that happens.

Now, the new driver generally will also look at the cones instead of looking through the center of the cones, thereby chancing a knock down.  The other new driver issue is that they will look down at the cone on one side to see if they are making it through.  The problem with this is that when you look down, say to the left, this causes you to also drop your left shoulder resulting in you pulling the rein, therefore you will hit the cone.  Never look down at the cones as you drive through!

The very first thing you do when you practice at home is to decide which set of cones you will drive through first, and in what order you will drive through the rest.  Having a predetermined route will make it easier to practice as it gives you one less thing to think about as you drive the cones.

When you start to drive you need to be at a nice easy working trot (it is easier to trot through cones than to try and walk through them).  As you head for your first set of cones, you need to be lined up about fifteen feet ahead of the set you are headed for.  You need to aim for the center of the space between the cones and when your horse is properly lined up, your focus will change to a spot past the set of cones, straight out ahead of you.  You need to keep this focus until your horse and all of the carriage is through the set of cones.  If your focus wavers before your horse and carriage is all the way through, you will most likely hit the cone.  Now that you have made it through the first set of cones, it is time to head to the next set where you repeat the same process.

When you are learning to drive cones, an equal pace of your horse will make it easier for you both to learn.  When you get proficient at them, then you can ask your horse for a lengthened or strong trot or for a canter.  Cantering through cones is for the advanced and very seasoned horse and driver.

Here is some general information on spacing of cones that you will have at competitions:

Combined Driving:

  • Training level            35 cm (13.8″) + track width
  • Prelim level               30 cm (12.9″) + track width
  • Inter level                  25 cm (9.8″) + track width
  • Advance (FEI)          160cm (62.9″)

Pleasure Driving:

  • Precision Classes     20-25 cm (7.8-9.8″) + track width
  • Speed Classes           30-40 cm (12.9-15.7″) + track width
  • One width for all      200 cm (78.7″)
  • L shape                       3.6 m (141.7″)
  • U shape                       4.5 m (177.2″)

As you see from this list, the range of width goes from as little as 7.8″ (advanced) to as wide as 78.7″ for the one size fits all course.

The basic principals of driving cones is much like driving your automobile through a gate that is not a lot wider than your vehicle.  Aim for the center with your horse then look straight past and you will make it through without knocking a cone down. Remember do not look down at the cone as you drive through!  Stay calm and quiet when you are driving the cones and your horse will also stay calm and quiet and you will work as a harmonious team