Combined Driving or carriage driving is modeled after ridden three-day eventing. The challenge generated by the addition of a horse in harness hitched to a cart or carriage adds a thrill to the sport. Horses must exhibit the highest level of training and willingness to perform. Only voice command and reins along with just a touch of the whip are allowed.
The equestrian presents their horse drawn carriage in the dressage arena to demonstrate obedience and suppleness and the skill of the horse.
The marathon is the equivalent to the ridden cross-country phase.
Equestrians and their horse and carriage must complete a series of hazards negotiating up to six gates.
The cones course tests the ability of the equestrian to clear 20 gates at the required pace without incurring penalties.

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Here, west of the Mississippi River, we are all getting ready for the Combined Driving season to start. I thought we all need a bit of a refresher on the three phases of combined driving, and the changes that have arrived since last year. 

The Original CDE

DAY ONE- DRIVEN DRESSAGE

The object of Competition A is to judge the freedom, regularity of paces, harmony, impulsion, suppleness, lightness, ease of movement and correct bending of the horse on the move.  The competitor will be judged on style, accuracy of the chosen test, and general control of their horses

DAY TWO – MARATHON

The object of Competition B is to test the fitness, stamina and training of the horse and the driving skill, judgment of pace and general horsemanship of the competitor.

DAY THREE – CONES

The object of Competition C is to test the fitness, obedience and suppleness of the horse after Competition B, and the skill and competence of the driver.

As many of you have seen over this past year or two, most events are only two days.  They consist of Dressage and Cones on day one, and the modified marathon on day two.  This is now called the “Two-Day Driving Event”. Basically, you are doing a three-day event all jammed into two days.  In my opinion this is a lot to ask of our horses!

Then, we have the “Driving Trial”.  In this you do dressage and cones in the usual format followed by the marathon.  Now, this can be done all on one day or over two days.  In this scenario the marathon is section “B” only. The course can be up to 10 km and have six to eight obstacles.

Arena Trial

We now move on to the “Arena Trial” which can be in an enclosed arena or outside. Dressage will be the normal 40 X 80 test, but if space is not available then the driving trial test will be used, and the dressage court will be adjusted. Cones will be the same unless space is limited, thereby the sets of cones will be adjusted. 

There will be four marathon obstacles, but only two will be constructed at a time.  When all competitors have driven the first two, then they will be reset and driven again for a total of four.

Next, we have the “Combined Test” which consists of two of the three phases (dressage, cones, marathon).  Normally, what you will see is dressage and cones as the most popular pairing.  This can be an event all its own or can be combined with any other previously talked about event.

Just to keep us guessing, ADS has now included what is called “Combined a-la-carte Event” where you get to choose from several dressage tests, cones courses, and even marathon.  Competitors can choose one class from each section, such as (Dressage Training, Cones Preliminary, Marathon Intermediate) or any combination they so choose.

Oh, and by the way there is still the illusive original “Three Day Event” that we barely see anymore!

So, count them, we have six types of events to try and figure out!

A couple of the other changes that have come around this past year is the debate on making safety vests mandatory for everyone during the marathon. The new rule book confirms the Protective Vest must be worn and securely fastened during marathon. If your thinking about getting one of the air protection vests, think again, the ADS says, “when a body/back protector is required, air protector can be used combined with a real back or body protector but never without”.

One the brighter side, women are no longer required to wear a jacket during dressage!

Those who want to go advanced and you are in CAI 2 level, your horse must now be six years old or over. The ADS has set the age for any ADS recognized event at four years of age. When you fill out those entry forms, make sure your horse is the right age for the type of event it is (ADS, USE, FEI).

For advanced drivers the ADS has made this a bit harder “Entries in classes offering Advanced Dressage tests and Cones specifications, competitors must follow all vehicle requirements under FEI CAI 2* rules”.  Basically, this means that your vehicle must be the correct weight and wheel width, so be sure to check this out and measure and weigh the vehicle you will be using.

For those who attend any sanctioned ADS event that is also a USE/FEI event, make sure you check the rule book for these types of events.  At many of these events you will need to be a member of FEI and you will be required to have taken the Equestrian Federation’s Safe Sport Training.  This is training on how to recognize sexual misconduct, emotional misconduct, physical misconduct, bullying and hazing.

Up To Minute Developments!

As I am writing this article, I received a notice from the USE on their latest updates from the Driving Sport committee. Those new competitions for Advanced, Intermediate and Preliminary championships that were based on events you went to through the year, no matter where you live has been changed:

  1. Athletes must be U.S. Citizens
  2. Athletes must be active competing members in good standing with USEF during the event.
  3. Athletes must be of eligible age as defined in Subchapter DC-4 of the USEF Combined Driving rules.
  4. Horses/Ponies must have an annual or life recording with USEF during the event.
  5. Horses/Ponies must be of eligible age as defined in Subchapter DC-6 of the USEF Combined Driving rules.
  6. Athletes/horse combinations must have completed at least one event within 24 months (without elimination, retirement or disqualification) at the same division level as the Championship.
  7. Athlete/horse combinations may only participate in one National Championship division level within the same year.
  8. All Athletes and Horses/Ponies are subject to USEF rules and policies as published on usef.org.

Confused?

If your confused about what Combined Driving is, join the club!  Personally, I think that the ADS has made something that was easy to do into something so hard to figure out that they might just scare newcomers away, and we all know that without new drivers this sport will just die and fade away.  Then the ADS wonders’ why a lot of the state driving clubs are not doing ADS sanctioned events!

I am a proponent of going out and having fun with your horse and when the rules don’t make it fun to do any more, then we adjust and do it differently.

Our state club is doing that along with many other states here in the West and I commend them for that.  Don’t get discouraged and keep getting out there and driving your horse, no matter if it is showing, combined driving or just going down the road.

Remember keep having fun-fun-fun!!!!

What is a diagonal? A diagonal is “joining two opposite corners of a square, rectangle, or other straight-sided shape.

When you are driving a diagonal there can be different lengths. 

  • There’s the long diagonal from the corner on one side “F” to the opposite corner on the other side of the arena “H”. 
  • Then there is the short diagonal that starts at the corner “F” and ends at the opposite side at the middle “X”.
  • Or it could start at the middle “X” on one side and end at the corner at the opposite side “H”.
  • There is what we call the “ice cream cone” that starts at the center of the end of the arena, between the corner and ” C” and goes to the center of the long side “E” where you just came from as in Preliminary Test #6.

Then for all the diagonals, the speed you must go can be a working walk, a walk on a long rein, a working trot, collected trot, lengthened trot or a lengthened trot on a long rein.

The Long diagonal

Let’s start with the most common diagonal which is the one that goes the full length of the arena, one corner to the opposite side corner. When you come around the corner at the short end of the arena, is when you need to start setting your horse up for driving a diagonal. 

You are going to make a left turn from “A” and start your diagonal at “F”.  You are on your right rein, so just as you turn the corner do a half halt on the right rein to slightly slow your horse down, this will let him know that something is going to be asked of him. Once you horses’ nose is at “F”, you will ask him to turn left. When he is lined up straight to “H” is when you ask him to proceed at whichever gait the test specifies.

At letter “X” you will change rein so that you will be on your left rein!

When the nose of your horse gets to “H” then you will do a half halt on the left rein to slow him down and let him know a change is coming. You will want to finish the right turn at “H” at the gait specified in the test.

In training test “4”, the long diagonal is split into two gaits.  You start with a free walk on a long rein and the at “X” you change to a working trot.  Again, just before “X” give your horse a half halt so he knows something is going to change.

The Short Diagonal

The short diagonal is driven the same as the long diagonal except you have half the distance.  There is less time at which to show the judge your walk on the short diagonal, which is generally what is asked.  Although training test “4” has two short trots in it.  When driving a diagonal on the short diagonals, make sure the change of gait happens when the horses’ nose passes the point where the test says you are to change gait.

There also can be a long diagonal where you trot half the distance and then upon reaching “X” you change to a walk. Preliminary test “6” goes from a lengthened walk to working walk, to working trot all on the long diagonal.

The most interesting diagonal comes as you drive what we call the “ice cream cone”.  Preliminary test “2” has a cone starting at “B” with a 20-meter half circle ending at “X” where you start the short diagonal to “M” on the side line.  When doing this movement, you need to keep your horse going forward at the working trot through the half circle right into the diagonal.  

The ice cream cone can also be done with the movement starting with the short diagonal “M” to center “X” with the 20-meter half circle at the end.

The judge will be looking for that constant pace through the entire movement.

Diagonal Hazards

A few things that you need to look out for when doing the diagonals:

  • If you practice at home and start your diagonal at the same place all the time, your horse will learn to anticipate the movement.  Mix it up! Long diagonal can be started from four different letters “H, M, K, F”.  Short diagonals have at least twelve places you can start them at!
  • Remember to use your half halt!  I generally put the word “listen” with the half halt.  It is just the slightest of pull with your pinky finger.
  • Make sure that your rein change is right at the “X” on the long diagonal!  The judge will be looking for it there. Your horses head should show that slight tilt of the nose to the inside.
  • When coming around that corner to start the diagonal, be sure your shoulders are relaxed, and you are looking at that “letter” across the arena.  By looking that way, your inside shoulder will drop, and the rein will pull lightly, thereby helping your horse around the corner.

Like any other movement in a dressage test it takes lots of hour of practice to get the diagonal perfected.  Remember to alternate your practice of the diagonal with other movements, such as circles, or just straight lines so both you and your horse don’t get stressed while learning the movement.

The judge will always find something about the movement that they don’t like!  None of us are perfect, not even the judges!

Most of all remember to have fun driving your horse! 

If you are one of those new drivers who has ridden horses your whole life, then this article is for you. You have been astride, one if not many horses over the years, and now as you reach those senior years you are finding it harder to get up on your horse.

What commonly happens is that a friend says, “why not get a horse and drive them” and you think to yourself, that is a good idea.

Most new drivers do come from the ridden world of horses. You probably figure that this will be an easy transition.  I’ll just put my riding horse in front of a cart and drive away, “WRONG”.

Just because you can ride your horse does not mean that he will like being hitched up behind a noisy carriage, and there are a lot of very noisy ones out there.

The best way to transition into the carriage driving world is to buy an already trained and seasoned horse that has been there and done that when it comes to driving.  Once you have your horse, cart and harness, then you need to find a knowledgeable trainer to show you how to put it all together. It sounds so simple until you get into the cart and start to drive.


You will be learning a whole new way to communicate with your horse.

Astride you have your legs, seat, hand, reins.  Behind the horse, you have your reins, voice and the elusive whip which becomes a strange stick in your hands that you will find very hard to control at the same time you are using the reins.

As those astride horse lovers become accustom to this new way of communicating with their horse, they will realize that the trust between them and their horse needs to go to a whole new level. 

Your horse is basically free wheeling out in front of you, and without extreme trust between you and him, this whole experience can go wrong real fast. 

Talk to your horse when you drive!

Most driving horses know a number of basic words such as “walk, trot, canter, whoa, easy, stand and, then the really good ones also know gee and haw (right and left). Using your voice quietly to tell your horse what to do by talking to them is a must. Those astride converts will have a hard time remembering to talk to their horse.

The whip that you carry is not a tool to beat your horse with, it is to tap him when needed to speed him up when your voice que doesn’t do it. The whip is also an extension of your leg.  When one becomes very handy with the whip you can press it at their side where you would squeeze your leg to get your horse to bend or step over.  Many drivers I see carry a to short of whip to do them any good.  Your whip should be long enough to reach your horses shoulder.

Eileen astride Katie a Morgan mare

Things to consider in learning to drive!

Your reins are another item that will take time for the astride to behind driver to get the proper feel for.  Most riding reins are 4 ½’ to 5’ in length, as compared to driving reins, at 15’ to 18’ for a full-size horse.

The que from your hand to the horses’ mouth to his brain takes longer to get there. Your horse must become very in tuned with the driver to be able to feel that little squeeze of your pinky finger through the long reins.

I have seen a lot of the astride to behind drivers come to me to learn how to drive.  I always suggest that the new driver take lesson from a trainer with a horse that has been there and done that.  It is easier for the new driver to get the feel of the reins from a proficient horse.  New drivers doing these lessons can then decide if driving is for them. As with the horses, not all of them like to drive.  It is the same with new drivers, some find that the transition to driving is not comfortable for them.

Here are some of the most often made mistakes that I see with new astride to behind drivers:

  • When asking the horse to speed up they want to squeeze their knees together.
  • There is the death grip on the reins.
  • And on the opposite end, is the student that just gives the reins away
  • The student wants the horse to go right or left, they move their arms and hands to the right or left.
  • There is the slapping of the reins on the horses’ butt to speed them up. This only happens in the western movies!
  • Once the horse is going where and how the student wants them to go, they keep playing with the reins.
  • The student that leans forward to try and get the horse to move forward!
  • The student that is stiff in the body and they can’t seem to relax. 

The astride to behind driver can be a difficult transition but with some patience, time and practice you can become a proficient driver.  Remember it is all about having fun with your horse whether you are astride or behind your horse! f.set(b

January 26th found us rising earlier than normal to make a trip down to Apache Junction for our first Arena Driving Trial of the year. Pinegrove’s Sailor Boy is going advance for the first time in about eight years. During training I found that he was getting very bored with the Intermediate tests as was I, so I decided to move back up to advance.

It was a sunny and warm day, at least in my opinion, as we woke up to 22 degrees. Pinegrove’s Sailor Boy finished his breakfast, while I walked the cones course and checked out the dressage arena. Then after a hot cup of coffee and a Danish Allan, my husband and navigator, and I walked the obstacles. There were four obstacles in an Arena Driving Trial, and they were very well laid out.

Eileen driving Pinegrove's Sailor Boy warming up for the obstacles.
Eileen driving Pinegrove’s Sailor Boy warming up for the obstacles.

When our go time finally came around Pinegrove’s Sailor Boy was ready, as was I. We had a good go of it in dressage and I was appreciative of the judges comments. Afterwards we headed for the cones course where Pinegrove’s Sailor Boy was a bit too excited and we knocked down two cones and we accrued some time penalties.

An hour later we hitched up for our turn at the obstacles. Pinegrove’s Sailor Boy was happy to be able to canter through the obstacles and we had the best overall time in our division.

For our first Arena Driving Trial for the year I was happy with Pinegrove’s Sailor Boy performance!

I know you are asking yourself what does Eileen mean by the four “F’s” in combined driving

Years ago, a good friend and business acquaintance told me his theory behind the Four “F’s” as they pertain to any of us in the business world.

They are:

Friendly—– Fair —–Firm—– Forget It

This is how one deals with their clients.  Once your have done the first three with your clients and things are not going well, then you use the last one “Forget It”.  One always hopes that by the time you get to the third “F” Firm that you have worked out all the issues that are keeping you from achieving your goals.

I have found that these four “F’s” can and do apply to the training of your horse. So, let’s start at the beginning!

Friendly

Friendly: being kind and pleasant, amiable, cordial, warm, doing something in a friendly manner.

When I start a young horse, who has not had a harness on them, I try to keep the training at a very friendly, favorable level.  Everything I do or say is in a very calm and quiet voice. The horse responds to the lower voice and quiet movements better than if I were raising my voice or moving around the horse in a fast pace.

The young horse has no idea of what is happening, so you need to keep him in a calm state of mind. Most horses do want to be friendly!

I work the same way with any new horse that I acquire.  When I meet a new student’s horse being calm and quiet is also the way to go.  After all, the horse doesn’t know me, and I don’t know him.  If I were to approach the new horse running around and talking loudly, I’m pretty sure the horse would feel threatened and would not work at his best.

Fair

Fair: being fair-minded, reasonable, acceptable, without cheating or trying to achieve unjust advantage.

So, you’ve been working with you horse and his attention seems to not be on you and what you are doing, then you need to step up how you are working with your horse.

This is the time when you get that strong, but not angry, mothers voice that makes the horse stop and go “I think I made mother upset?”   It’s like that sudden knock on the door that makes you jump when you were concentrating on something else.

You are basically getting your horses attention back on the lesson at hand. 

My two-year-old pony is just learning to be harnessed and as I was working with him the other day, he suddenly decided that backing up to get loose was better than just standing quietly.  All it took was one sharp “Stand” from me and he planted all four feet. I let him just stand for a couple of minutes before continuing with the lesson, this is “Fair”. 

It was “fair” for me as my correction was just the right amount and letting him just stand for those couple of minutes was “fair” for him.

Firm

Firm: in a resolute and determined manner, unyielding, solid.

Yes, there are times in training a horse that one does have to be firm for both the safety of the horse and the person. 

I worked with a horse once that had a very bad habit of rearing.  Now, I never knew when he was going to do this, he would be good for several months then suddenly up he would go.

One time I was leading him out to the round pen when suddenly the lead got tight and there he was up on his hind legs.  This is a situation where “Firm” comes into play. I turned and pulled as hard as I could down on the lead rope to throw him off balance, and the tone of my voice for the “No” was most definitely “Firm”.

In a situation like this, your voice and facial expression needs to be “Firm”, believe me your horse can tell the difference.

If you have ever watched a mare and foal interact with each other, then you have seen how the mare’s expression with her eyes, ears and even body can tell the foal what not to do!

A moment when you need to be Firm with your instruction so you do not get run over as your horse goes through the gate.
A moment when you need to be Firm with your instruction so you do not get run over as your horse goes through the gate.

Forget It

Forget It: you’ll never understand, hopeless, overwhelming, impassable are just a few meanings.

There are times in training a horse that you get to a point where you know that the horse is just not ever going to get it.  If it is a horse that is mature, you might not ever figure out what has caused the horse to be at the Forget It point.

I had a three-year-old gelding given to me once and he had good pedigree and all, but his learning ability was always as a beginning horse.

For six months, I worked with him everyday and everyday we had to start at square one.  I would walk into his stall and he would back away, when I would go to put his halter on. Once I finally got him haltered, he could not remember how to walk on the lead with me, or even how to walk out the gate. His learning ability was zero, a Forget It for good moment!

I have also had horses that I have worked with and I would get to a certain point and it would be like the horse was stuck.  This is a “Forget It” moment when you just stop what your doing and go onto something totally different. I find that after several weeks of not doing that one thing that the horse seemed to be stuck on and I go back to it,


I suddenly see the light go on in the horse as if to say, “so that’s what you wanted”.

When a horse and trainer get to the “Forget It” point the trainer needs to back off and let the horse have his space.

 Horses that you buy when they are over five years old, there is no telling what bad baggage you will run into.

As we all know, there are many kinds of trainers out there and unfortunately not all of them are kind or good.  Learn to listen to your horse, read his body language, look at his eyes and ears, all this can tell you a lot about what’s going on inside your horse’s mind.

Don’t stop driving in the cold, your horse will thank you for it!  Your horse adjusts just fine to the change of temperature.  How you exercise your horse will need to be changed, but you are able to keep him conditioned in cold weather.

Depending on where one lives, there are options to consider as you come into the days of winter.  There are those that have second homes in warmer areas that they go to. Some of those in the colder areas have access to inside arenas.  Then, all the rest of us must brave the cold temperatures in order to train and exercise our horses.

According to veterinarians, horses are much more adaptable to driving in the cold weather than us humans. If you were a horse, you could within temperatures up to a negative 40 degrees.  Of course, your horse has a much thicker coat, so he can adjust to the various temperatures.

One advantage for continuing your driving and training during the winter is that your horse will be less likely to colic.


Feed and water must be accessible in the proper amounts and temperatures.

When you work your driving horse you will not be running a marathon every time that you take them out.  The winter training schedule will be a much calmer and quieter type of work. 

You need to take your time during your warm-up and cool down.  The time doing this will be longer than in the warmer times of the year.  I know that with my Friesian Sporthorse, it takes me about twenty minutes in warm weather to get his muscles warmed up. So it stands to reason that driving in cold weather I need to add another five to ten minutes to it.  Taking this extra time for your warmup will help prevent injuries to your horse.

When you are done with your training session you will need ten to fifteen minutes of walking your horse to cool him down.  Then, after unhitching, you will probably need another ten to fifteen minutes of brushing and walking your horse to help him get dried off.  You need to feel through the hair down to the skin to make sure his skin is dry.  The hair itself will take a bit longer to dry, but it is the skin you are concerned about.

Now that you have some sort of idea about what it takes to keep your horse comfortable during the winter let’s talk about what type of training you can work with your horse in the cold.

A few of the things I do to keep my horses fit during the winter are:

  1. If time is short and you can’t hitch, then ground driving your horse around your property or in your arena.  The horse will get exercise and so will you.
  2. If you want to do just ground driving but want to make it more interesting, then add ground poles to your bag of tricks.  You can do the same exercises that you would do if you were riding your horse while ground driving.  The book by Sigrid Schope called “Training and Riding with Cones and Poles” has a lot of good ideas.
  3. When you are going to drive your horse one thing that I do is I walk the obstacles that I have set up on my property.  You would be surprised at how hard it is to just walk your horse.  If your horse is anything like mine, he sees the obstacle and immediately wants to run.
  4. You can do the same walking of a cones course.  When walking, you and your horse must concentrate a lot harder to be able to get through the cones without hitting them.  Your horse needs to walk at a good “working walk” and stay focused to do the cones at a walk.
  5. If you don’t want to bother with the harness or the cart, then you can just hand walk your horse down the street, on a trail, up and down a short incline or just around the arena.  He will have just as much fun and you will have some one-on-one time with your best friend.

Best time of day to drive in the cold

When is the best time of day to drive your horse in the winter?  You could drive them at any time, but we also must think about us humans and what we can take as far as the cold.

For myself, I get cold easily, so I generally work my horses between the hours of eleven am and three pm.  By eleven am, the sun is up high in the sky and we are reaching towards the high temperature of the day.  Then, by three pm, the sun is getting low and one starts to feel the chill in the air. 

You need to find the time of the day that you can best deal with the cold to be able to work functionally with your horse.  If you get to cold, then your horse won’t know if you are giving him a que or just shaking from being too cold. Besides, this should be fun for you and your horse, not a torture session! Oh, and by the way, it is okay to skip a day or two if the weather is just intolerable!

“Horses are not an animal that hibernates in the winter so keep them active”.