In my last two articles, I have covered how to drive a dressage test and a cones course. This last article will cover driving a hazard. Most hazards will be found in the marathon section of a Combined Driving Event. What is not readily known is that pleasure shows can have a Pleasure Driving Marathon class. So learning to properly drive a hazard is important to both Show Ring drivers, as well as those doing Combined Driving.
So you are heading out on the marathon course to, what we call, walk the hazards, and when you get there all the other drivers are walking and sometimes jogging through the hazard. To a first timer this can be a bit confusing, as everyone has a different route that they are taking. Here are a few basics things to remember when you get to the hazard:
1) Do not ask for help unless it is from your coach.
2) There will be drivers from all four levels in the hazard.
3) There will be drivers of minis, ponies and horses in the hazard.
4) There will be drivers of singles, pairs and four-in-hand in the hazard.
5) There will be drivers of inexperienced horses.
6) There will be drivers that are inexperience.
7) The map you are given looks great but what is actually in the hazard is what you use.
Maps can be wrong!
When you get to the first hazard (I like to walk my hazards in the order that I will be driving them 1, 2, 3, etc.) stop at the entrance gate and find all of the gates that pertain to you and your level.
Training level gates A, B, C
Preliminary level gates A, B, C, D
Intermediate level gates A, B, C, D, E
Advanced or FEI level gates A, B, C, D, E, F
If you are in training then you just need to locate gates A, B, & C, all of the other gates are like they don’t exist. The same for preliminary and intermediate.
Once you know where the gates are at, then from the in gate, choose the shortest and the safest way for you and your horse to get to gate A. Stop in the center of gate A, and now find the shortest and safest route to gate B. Stop in the center of gate B, and now find the shortest and safest route to gate C. Stop in the center of gate C, and find the shortest and safest way to the out gate. Remember in Training level you can only walk or trot your horse in the hazard. In the other levels, you can canter inside the hazard if you feel safe with doing that.
You can see that I emphasize the shortest and safest way a lot. Training level is where new drivers and green horses learn how to safely maneuver a hazard in a slower and more methodical way than those in the other three levels. In training level, your penalty points for time spent in a hazard are not added to your overall time in the marathon like they are in the other three levels. Training level is just that, it is the level where new drivers and green horses can learn the techniques needed to maneuver a hazard without the pressure of having to go fast.
When you walk your hazards you will find that there are several ways you can go to get to each individual gate. One route may be a bit shorter but have tighter turns. One route might be all right turns, but if your horse is not as agile turning to the right, this might not be the route for you. One route might make the turns very narrow which might not be good if you are driving a big horse. My Friesian Sporthorse is a good example of this. The real close together and tight turns are hard for him because the length of his body combined with the length of his carriage is such that he cannot make a tight U-turn.
The above routes show why when you walk the hazards you have to tune out everyone around you and what they are doing, so that you pick the best route for you and your horse.
Looking at the hazard example, a training level driver is able to go through A make a right turn and make a big circle to B and then go back through A and make a left turn to circle through C. You will notice that when you add D and E, the route becomes more complicated and a lot of tighter turns will need to be made to get through the hazard. Then, when you add cantering to the equations, it is even harder to maneuver. When you canter your horse in a hazard everything comes at you faster, so you as the driver must concentrate on what you are doing so that you safely make all the turns you need to make. The time it takes for your signal to get to your horses brain is about three seconds. You don’t want to be late on the command or you might find yourself straddling a pole, or worse.
I will usually walk all of the hazards about six times to get my chosen route etched into my brain. You need to be able to close your eyes and run the hazard in your head just the way you will be driving them. If you can’t see it in your minds eye, then walk it again until you can. When your sitting at night in your trailer or hotel room, you need to be able to remember them all, in order, in your mind.
We all know that the marathon course with the hazards is the fun part of a Combined Driving Event. Here are a few more pointers that will help you stay safe and have fun:
1) Never let anyone try to pressure you to move up a level if you are not comfortable with the level you are currently in.
2) Always wear a helmet.
3) Always wear a safety vest.
4) Always wear an emergency medical card on your arm or leg.
5) Always have a halter and lead rope on your carriage.
6) Always carry a spare whip (they can get caught on trees).
7) Always carry a sharp knife (the cost to replace a cut harness is so much less than the cost to replace your horse).
8) Always have a gator that has worked with you and your horse.
9) Always put your safety and your horses safety first before a colored ribbon, there will always be another event.
10) Remember to have fun because that is what this is all about!