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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So is there a difference between Driven Dressage and Ridden dressage?

The biggest difference is the fact that in driven dressage your horse has to do everything that a ridden dressage horse has to with a carriage attached to his body.  The extra weight that the driven horse has to pull while doing all of the elements of dressage can be overwhelming, to say the least.

Lately, there has been a lot of conversation about moving up through the levels and how long it takes one to be proficient at a level before moving up. Let me try to break it down for you!

In ridden dressage you work your way through levels:

  • Introductory – Walk, trot, canter, rein change
  • Training – move more freely, shallow loop canter, stretch circle trot, canter to trot diagonal
  • First Level – use of hind end, 10m circle trot, 15m circle canter, lengthen stride at trot and canter, leg yield, counter canter
  • Second  Level – more power in the hind end, collection, medium paces, Travers, simple changes, 10m canter circle, half turn on haunches
  • Third Level – horse has established uphill balance, transitions at collected medium and extended gaits, flying changes, half pass trot, Renvers, half pass canter
  • Fourth Level – suppleness, power, precision, collected canter, walk pirouettes, multiple flying changes, tempi changes, partial pirouette canter
  • Prix St-George, Intermediate I & II, Grand Prix – these are the USEF levels so when you get here you need to know it all.

In driven dressage which was based originally on ridden dressage, there are fewer levels to get through but it is just as hard to get there!

  • Training – working trot, working walk, walk stretching, 40m circle trot, 20m half circle
  • Preliminary – working trot, working walk, lengthen walk and trot, 30m circle trot, 3 loop serpentine, 20m half circle
  • Intermediate – working walk and trot, lengthened walk, collected and medium trot, 20m circle at a trot and collected trot, 10m deviation, 2 loop serpentine, 40m canter circle, 20m deviation, 30m circle collected
  • CAI1, CAI2, CAI3 – these are the USEF levels

Now that you have an idea of what your horse has to learn at each level, let’s consider what it will take you to get your horse there!

If you buy an already trained horse that has been trained to the intermediate level, that’s great!  But if you have never done any dressage you will need to learn before you can properly ask your horse to do what he knows.  If you don’t know how to ask the horse to do an extended trot then he won’t do it even if he knows how.

On the other side of the coin, if you are proficient in dressage and your horse is not trained in it, then when you ask your horse to do that extended trot he will not know what you are talking about.

Whether you are doing driven dressage or ridden, you both need to know what you are doing to be able to do that extended trot.

Most horses need to be at least five to be able to physically and mentally do any dressage above training level. For example, I drove my Friesian Sporthorse in his first ADT at the age of five.  At this point, he still lacked focus and patience to be able to do a complete dressage test. After returning home I decided that I would wait another year before I would try another event.  He needed the time for his mind to catch up with his body.

For those of you who have a good dressage background then you are ahead if you purchase an already trained driving horse that is driving at the upper level.  Those of you who have never done dressage before will need to have lessons to learn.  Blind leading the blind is not a good idea when you are driving a horse!

How long does it take to train an upper-level driven dressage horse?  This all depends on the horse and what his ability is.  Like in any horse modality some horses are more proficient than others.  A lot of a horse’s ability has to do with their body type and how they are put together. For example, Quarter horses make the best cow horses because that is what they are bred for.  The most sought-after combined driving horses are Dutch Harness Horse, Welsh Ponies, Morgans, Haflingers, Hackney, and German Riding Ponies.  These are all great breeds but remember each horse is an individual, so each needs to be assessed for their ability to do dressage.

Now that you have the basics as to what’s involved in getting your horse trained in dressage I will talk about timetables in which to go from one level to the next.

“There is no set timetable!”

As with us humans, we do not all learn at the same pace and neither do the horses.  When I train a horse it is always at the pace of the horse I am working with.  Your horse will only learn as fast as he is capable. Some of the horses get the lesson faster than others so you need to train at the horses’ pace.

The same goes for the humans involved in this sport.  It is not a race to move from one level to the next. For those who are just getting into the sport, an event can be overwhelming, to say the least!  The five or six tests in each level are there to help walk you through the levels.  If you and your horse cannot do all of the tests at one level, getting an above-average score, then you are not ready to move up. When you are driving a proficient horse that does great in dressage but you are having problems in marathons and cones, then don’t let anyone tell you, you have to move up.  If they have a problem because you place first in dressage, then it is their problem.  

It means that they need to work harder!

There are three parts to combined driving, it is not just dressage so your horse and you need to learn all three parts to be successful in the sport.

I have seen too many drivers over-facing their horse, as well as the horse over-facing the driver. If you are just out to have fun and want to stay at a level that is comfortable for you then do that!

Three of my driving horses I have taken to the top of their driving careers. My current horse, Pinegrove’s Sailor Boy, took six years of training and competing up the levels to reach FEI (Federation Equestrian International) level. 

You need to have patience, time, and knowledge to get a talented horse to the top!

Microchipping your horse is the easiest way to locate your horse in an emergency!

In 2020 the United States experienced twenty-two weather disaster events with a total of one billion dollars of loss.  The events are broken down as follows:

          1 drought event

          13 severe storm events

          7 tropical cyclone events

          1 wildfire event

With this many disasters happening in one year, it gives you even more incentive to get your horses microchipped. For all of us here in Arizona we escaped these disasters this year.

For those of us who have lived in Arizona for a long time, we can remember the Rodeo-Chediski fire in 2002, Cave Creek Fire in 2005, Schultz Fire in 2010, and the Doce Fire in 2013 (this was in my back year) just to name a few. 

These are the types of disasters when you need to have your horses microchipped.  When you are in an emergency and you are given only minutes to evacuate you do not have time to paint your phone number on your horse, you are only concerned about getting somewhere safe.

Microchipping your horse is now a requirement for many of the equine associations.  The FEI (Federation Equestrian International) was one of the first organizations to require microchipping.  They were joined by The Jockey Club, USEF (United States Equestrian Federation), the US Hunter Jumper Association, and the Retired Racehorse Project.  I am sure there will be many more to follow as equine owners realize the value and peace of mind that having their horse microchipped brings.

Microchipping of horses is also being used for the tracking of infectious diseases when there is a breakout.

Microchipping your horse also helps during a disaster if your horse has to be left behind during evacuation or runs off during a fire and winds up at an emergency holding area for lost pets and livestock.  We have all seen this on television after a hurricane or fire.  If your horse is microchipped and is at one of these facilities just think how much faster, you can be reunited with your favorite equine!

Yes, this does include all of us that drive our horses! 

There are those times at show grounds when your horse unties himself and wanders around and you are in a state of panic!

This happened at the rodeo grounds in Oregon while my son was stationed there during the fires.  The other side of the rodeo grounds was being used for a horse show and one of the horses untied himself and took off.  He wound up on the opposite side where the firefighters were camping. My son was able to get control of the horse, and eventually, the owner showed up. If they had not and if the horse was microchipped, they would have been able to get in touch with the owner.

I think all of us drivers have seen the proverbial runaway horse and carriage!  They can run faster than us and can be gone in a nano-second.  Having them microchipped will help to get them returned to their owner.

The other runaway horse and carriage is if you are trail driving and your horse gets scared and runs off, wouldn’t it be nice to know that a “Good Samaritan” who stops your horse, can have a veterinarian scan him, and be able to get him back to you?

Microchipping your horse

So, what is involved in microchipping your horse?  First, you need to have your veterinarian come out equipped with the chip and scanner.  Microchipping is safe, simple, and inexpensive!  The cost is about $75, and they stay functioning for 25 years or longer. The chip is a lot smaller than the chip in a computer.  It is about the size of a grain of rice, after all, it must fit into a needle! 

The veterinarian will implant (inject) the chip halfway between the poll and withers, in the nuchal ligament on the left side.

The microchip is encapsulated in a glass with a unique one-of-a-kind number.  This number can be read by the scanner and it will be the number you will put on your horses’ papers.

The chip then needs to be registered:

Without it being in the Equine Protection Registry it will just be a chip in your horse.  So you need to go online and register.  If you need to check a chip number there is a universal pet microchip lookup site https://equinemicrochiplookup.org/  or  https://www.horselookup.org/ set up by the American Horse Council or https://www.petmicrochiplookup.org/ set up by The American Animal Hospital Association just to name a few.

To sum up the reasons for microchipping your horse:

  1. A permanent and effective way to identify your horse.
  2. When you can compete again and decide to go to an FEI/USEF show you will be ahead of the curve.
  3. It can prevent the dishonest seller from portraying the wrong horse.
  4. Microchipping is easier to read than a tattoo, especially in older thoroughbreds.
  5. Stollen horses can be identified quicker, to be able to get them back to their owners.
  6. Microchipping is invaluable during a natural disaster especially if the best thing for the horse is to let him free.

My horses have been microchipped for many years before it was the right thing to do. I have been at shows where horses have been taken, along with harnesses and if your horse is microchipped you have a real chance of getting him back.

We all think that the proverbial bad thing will not happen to us but unfortunately, it can, so be prepared and Microchip Your Horse. 

Keeping your driving horse in shape during the winter can be a challenge.  But then factor in the current pandemic and the coming flu season it can be overwhelming, to say the least. 

Whether you are driving a hazard, pulling a sleigh through snow, driving down a parade route, or just going down the road your horse needs to be in his best condition possible. Keeping your driving horse in shape is no different than that of a typical sport horse that does dressage, jumping, reining, or! 

First, you need to be sure your horse is getting the basic care that all horses need. 

  1. Vaccinations as needed (normally spring and fall) 
  1. Deworming as need by fecal sample review 
  1. Dental exams at least once a year for most horses (a bit hitting a bad tooth is not appreciated by your horse) 
  1. Basic regular hoof care whether you go barefoot or require shoes 
  1. Chiropractic, massage, equine bodywork is great when needed 
  1. The best feed that you can afford for the level of work your horse is doing 

Some of the more common ailments that are seen in driving horses are hock and stifle injuries. Our driving horses and also develop arthritis just due to the wear and tear on their bodies.  Some of the breeds such as Morgans and Saddlebreds can be more prone to ringbone. Because we are asking our horses to pull us around in carriages their injuries are more likely to be in their hind-end and legs due to the weight being pulled. 

One of the more common injuries that I have seen has been in the horse’s back, due to the drivers asking their horse to pull a carriage that is too heavy for them or a carriage full of people that is way too heavy. 

This is when the conditioning at home comes into play to keep this from happening. 

When keeping your horse in shape you need to always be concerned about the footing where you are driving your horse.  Your horse can injure himself on loose footing in an obstacle. It can also be dirt that has been turned into sand after fifty drivers have gone through before you. You can be driving on a grass dressage arena first thing in the morning before the sun has dried up the dew!  One also must be aware that constant driving on blacktop is very concussive to the horse’s body. Conditioning your horse is your best preventative medicine for this! 

Make sure that you use a farrier that has experience with trimming and shoeing driving horses.  Many driving horses will overreach when they are put too. It takes a good farrier to adjust the feet and shoes ever so slightly to solve this problem. Your horses constantly striking his front heel with his back shoe, is somewhat like us walking with a pebble in our shoe! 

Annoying and it hurts! 

Studs are a common way to give your horse more traction in bad footing, but beware!  If you are going to use studs make sure you practice ahead of time so that your horse gets used to the feel of them.  The studs might help the traction but if the horse is not used to them, they can come up sore! 

There are several types of studs: mud, grass, road, bullet, and spike to name a few. Explain to your farrier what your horse is going to be doing and get his opinion of the type. 

Boots are commonly used to help protect the legs of the horse but be sure to read the rules for the type of event you are going to (ADS, FEI, USET) to be sure what parts of the event you can use leg wraps or boots.   

You don’t want to be eliminated if your horse is not in shape! 

Remember to keep your horse mentally conditioned!  This means to change up what you are doing with them in their training.  If your driving horse is also rideable then ride him at least once a week.  If you have a pony or miniature horse that one cannot ride due to their size then lounging can be a good alternative activity. 

Lounging them up and down the length of an arena is a great exercise for both you and your horse no matter the size. I use the Paseo Training System when lounging my horse and I find it keeps my horse focused on what he is doing. 

Driving horses can stay active for many more years than riding horses.  But you need to keep them conditioned and in good health.  You can consult your veterinarian, farrier, body works person and I am also available to consult with you on these issues. There is no cookie-cutter recipe for every horse.  As with people, they are all different. Different sizes, mindsets, breeds, shapes, and sizes.  You have to come up with a plan that fits your horse and the type of driving that you are doing. 

Keeping your driving horse in shape is a full-time job so treat it as one, and just have fun doing it. 

Get out there and drive! 

Keeping your sanity with the help of your horses is probably the best use of your time right now.  I know there are a lot of people that are not working right now and it feels as though the world will never be right again.

Our country “America” has been through a lot of trials and tribulations:

  • 1906 Yellow Fever
  • 1916 Polio
  • 1917 Spanish Flu
  • 1949 Polio
  • 1957 Asian Flu
  • 2007 HIV
  • 2009 Swine Flu

We have also survived:

  • WW I
  • WWII
  • Korean War
  • Vietnam War
  • Gulf War
  • Afghanistan War

History tells us that with each of these we have learned from the past the things we need to do to survive the ones in the future.  We are now even better prepared to survive this latest trial.

We who own horses probably understand the quartine aspect of a disease outbreak better than most.  I know in my lifetime, there have been many outbreaks of equine infections that I have gone through.

Horse Quartine!

We need to treat this latest pandemic the same way we would if it were an outbreak of Eastern Equine Encephalitis in horses.  All of the quarantine procedures that we have used with our horses need to be applied to all of us humans.

So most of us are staying home on our properties and when we do go out we are all staying six feet away from each other.  We did this same thing during an equine quarantine. We kept our horses apart so they could not touch noses or snort on each other. If they snorted on us, we did not enter another horse stall without wiping ourselves down or changing shirts (hand sanitizer).  We did not let our horses eat or drink out of the same buckets.

During dryland distemper, we never walked from one pen to another without first stepping in a pan of bleach. So, disinfecting out hands and what we touch is no different.

So what can we do with ourselves to keep us active with our four-legged friends?

First of all, it is shedding time for our horses, so we can get a lot of upper body conditioning while we help our horses shed. When your done brushing, you can move onto the mane and tails, which after all the rain and mud can use a good shampoo, conditioning and comb out. Think how soft your hands will be after working the conditioner in!

Now, for some lower body work out, you can pick the caked-in mud out of your horses’ hooves. With my five horses, that means twenty hooves which add up to a lot of back and leg stretching!

Relaxation

When your equine friend is all clean you can take him for a ride or walk around your property. For me, that is five times around my property, which is probably a total of one and three-quarter miles since I am on five acres!

By the time you have done all that, think how relaxed you will be!  With all of the tension in the world around us, being relaxed is a good way to keep from becoming one of the statistical numbers.

If you are boarding your horse, then you will need to try and walk your horses away from any other humans that are also trying to do the same thing.

Take A Walk!

If you can walk your horse down a road outside of the boarding facility, you will probably meet fewer people. If you pass another human walking their horse, then put your horse between you and them, that will make up most of the six-foot safe zone.

If you get stressed about the whole situation, then just take a seat in your horses’ stall.  The saying by Winston Churchill, “There is nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse” is something to consider right now.

So, sit there and say nothing, sit there and have a good cry (no one is judging) sit there and just talk to your horse or just hug him!

I know from experience that during hard times in one’s life, having a horse as a friend has helped me many times. My miniature horse Snoopy, has helped many kids and elderly feel better about life in general.

If you get ambitious, take your whole family out to the barn and make it a family affair, you will all feel better!

So, what has happened to the marathon over the past twenty years?  There are a lot of drivers scratching their heads and wondering if the American Driving Society (ADS) has lost their minds!

As with any sport rules and ways of doing things and playing the game has changed for many reasons:

  • Football – to help save the players brains for the future.
  • Gymnastics – so that the young gymnasts have a safe environment.
  • Baseball – so that fowl balls do not hit the spectators.

I am sure there are many other examples that you can think of.

In the driving world we have seen helmets and safety vests arrive and the walk section of the marathon disappear.  We have seen a drop in the number of drivers go down but has risen again by the inclusion of miniature horses.  The American Driving Society, and many other horse groups, have given up a lot of their control, and United States Equestrian has gobbled us all up.

Due to fewer drivers and fewer volunteers, we have seen the three-day Combined Driving Event be sent to the background and the one- and two-day events take over the calendar.  In doing so, we have watched most three and five phase marathons be replaced by the two-section marathon. 

This new two-phase marathon has a lot of advantages:

  • You need less property.
  • You need fewer volunteers.
  • Less signage along the course.
  • Fewer timers.
  • We all get to go home sooner.

For those of us who are west of the Mississippi river, where there are fewer events, it is hard to justify driving 500-1500 miles for just a one- or two-day event. For me personally, the closest ADS events are a hard-two-day drive, at minimum, for me and my horse.  Some can be three days of driving. That is just one direction!  I must drive that same amount of days to get back home.

When you are living in a densely populated area, say on the east coast, you can be to an event in less than a day’s drive.  The west is so much more spread out that we don’t have that advantage.  Don’t get me wrong, I love where I live, and I wouldn’t move for all the tea in China.

Now, as for the marathon and where it has evolved over the years.  There is no longer a “walk” section, the “Transfer” has replaced it.  The time to do the transfer is set by the technical delegate. The transfer has no set pace so you can walk, trot or canter at will, if you make your time. This is just for the three-section marathon.  Transfer section is now 800-1500 meters.

Eileen driving SBF Shrimp Scampi at Ram Tap CDE, CA and she was going HC
Eileen driving SBF Shrimp Scampi at Ram Tap CDE, CA and she was going HC

The two-section marathon (A & B), now is done at a slower speed so the competitor can choose when to walk, trot or canter.  There is no transfer section.  You can also just stop and stand still if you want.  On a 6km section A, you could trot the first 5km and then just walk the last 1km. That way your horse will supposedly come in more relaxed.  The compulsory vet box is still ten minutes.

Basically, they are saying that on the two-section marathon, it is up to the driver to decide if they want to walk their horse before they get to the vet box.  The speeds for section-A have been lowered, so competitors don’t feel as rushed to get there.

Section-B has stayed pretty much the same. The entire section can be done at whatever pace you want (walk, trot, canter) except for training, they can only walk or trot.

ADS verses FEI

If you happen to be at an event that is ADS and Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), then you need to know which rules are being used for the event.  There might be lower levels using ADS rules, and advanced level using FEI rules, or everyone will be using FEI rules.  The last option seems to be what is normally happening when there are advanced competitors. 

If you are attending a Driving Trail that is ADS, then only section-B is used, but beware, this section can now be up to 10km.  In the two or three section marathons, the maximum length of section-B is:

  • 4 km for training going 13 kph
  • 5 km for preliminary going 14 kph
  • 7 km for intermediate going 14 kph

So, having a 10 km section-B you better be sure that your horse is conditioned to do that length without any rest.  Remember this is the section where the obstacles are, and we all know that we want to do them as fast as possible.

My suggestion is that if you are going to any ADS or FEI events, you need to read the ADS rule book on combined driving (which is the yellow section) or the FEI rulebook.  Whichever one of the two that is going to b used at your chosen event.

The last thing we ever want to happen is to be eliminated, because we were unsure of the rulebook being used for the specific event. 

Now if you are only going for the fun of the event then just go HC (hors concours) and relax and enjoy yourself.  HC means that you are not competing for a placing or prize. 

Remember, most of us just want to go and have fun!

        

      

It was a pleasure to be invited by the High Country Carriage Driving Club to be one of their two clinicians at their 4th Annual Driving Bonanza in Calgary Canada. The event was held June 24 to 27, 2019 at the Fish Creek Ranch in Bragg Creek, Alberta. Due to inclement weather it was moved to a nearby fairgrounds. The lovely facility with a new covered inside arena had plenty of room for two clinicians to work students at the same time.

Enclosed arena at the Fairgrounds

The hosts of the event Susan and Doug did a great job keeping everything running, even with the change of venue. Monday and Thursday were wet days but the students took it with a grain of salt. They all showed up on time at the arena for their scheduled lesson.

There wide range of horses that here presented included singles, and pairs of all sizes. The breeds that were being driven included:

  • Andalusian
  • Fjord Mix
  • Miniature
  • Standardbred
  • Shire
  • Mule
  • Welsh Cob
  • Haflinger

and I’m sure I have probably missed one or two breeds.

Eileen Teaching at the HCCDC Driving Bonanza in Alberta Canada
Eileen Teaching at the HCCDC Driving Bonanza in Alberta Canada

Eight lessons were taught each day with different drivers and sometimes the same drivers with different horses. Some students had a lesson with me each day. It was nice to see the progress that they had made by the last day.

The 4th Annual Driving Bonanza ran smoothly despite the rain and cold. The two sunny days I taught most of the students outside. They were able to practice cones as well as drive in an area that was flat enough to do a dressage test.

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!