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.


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


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


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.


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


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!!!!

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

How far have we come since combined driving started?  Where did we start and where are we now?  Have you ever wondered why we drive the way we do?  My article this month will touch on some of the changes that have come about, not only to improve carriage driving, but to make combined driving easier on the driver as well as the horse.  This is “Then and Now”. 

Why brown gloves?  Then: In the book “On the Box Seat” by Tom Ryder, which was considered the driving guide of the time, states that dog-skin gloves were the best material of the time for driving. Nowhere in his words about gloves does it state any particular color.Now: Brown gloves are the norm for driving.  If you look in the ADS rule book, you will find that the only place brown gloves are mentioned is in the Rules for Pleasure Driving, Article 207.1.We all know that when driving Dressage and Cones, your gloves must be brown. 

Whips and Aprons

Why carry a whip?  Then:  In the beginning, your whip was made of holly, yew of thorn. The whip is held in the right-hand balanced at an angle across the body toward the horses left ear.Now: ADS states the whip should be held in hand at all times. Whip must be of traditional style and the lash must be able to reach all horses.  Whips now-a-days can be made of more modern materials such as graphite. The only mention of the whip being in the right hand is during a salute. 

Driving apron or knee rug?  Then: Originally made of light materials for summer and heavier material for winter.  The main purpose is to protect the clothes from being soiled by the reins or dirt thrown up by the horse’s feet. The heavier winter aprons also help you keep warm on a cold day.Now:  The rules today are pretty much the same that one must have an apron or knee rug.  You rarely see a knee rug! Today, you also need to be sure that your apron matches your carriage and what you are dressed in.   

Now - 2018 CDE in Arizona Eileen driving Pinegrove's Sailor Boy to a 2011 Dominiak Spider
Now – 2018 CDE in Arizona Eileen driving Pinegrove’s Sailor Boy to a 2011 Dominiak Spider

Hats & Overchecks

Hats?  Then:  In the beginning, people in general wore hats when they went out in their carriages.  It was more for protection from the sun and or elements. Men worn top hats or bowler’s, while women’s hats were adorned with flowers and ribbons.

Now: The rules state simply “the driver must wear a hat”, as well as any passenger.  They do discourage floppy hats. Also, in the last twenty years protective helmets being worn in dressage and cones no longer get penalized!

 Sidecheck/Overcheck?  Then: This item was a needed element in the olden days.  Originally it was only meant to keep one’s horse from grazing while traveling down the dirt roads or open fields.  Then it became a way of falsely putting your horse in what might look like a proper frame.

Now: If you are driving your horse in anything but training level, the use of a side or overcheck will result in elimination. 

One or Two Hands

One or two hands?  Then:  Way back in the late 1800’s reins were held in one hand, no matter how many horses you were driving.  This was developed in Germany by Master Achenbach, which is how it got its name.

Now:  Here in the United States, where the wild west met the old school, I think the west won and many more people drive with two hands.  This is quite functional until you get into the advanced level of combined driving where you must drive one handed in the dressage test. 

Two or Four Wheeled Vehicles

Two or four wheels?  Then: There is a really great video put together that is a must see (  In 1985, they were mostly driving two-wheeled vehicles that one would normally go to town in.  A judge drove on each carriage that went out on the marathon in combined driving.  Water was sometimes deeper than the horses going through it.  There were no time limits in hazards.  They were called hazards back then. Most vehicles were made of wood. The weight of a vehicle did not matter in the beginning. 

Now: You see more four wheeled vehicles in marathon, except for small ponies.  The judges now are placed at the obstacles.  Water cannot be any deeper than (50cm) or 19.8 inches. Your time in a hazard is a max of five minutes.  We are now politically correct, and it is now an obstacle not a hazard.  Most vehicles are now made of metal or a combination of wood and metal.  Weight is now specified in the ADS rules for the different sizes of horses.  I think all drivers are more conscious of the weight that their horse must pull. 


As you can see, we have come a long way since 1985 to advance the technology and safety for both humans and horses in the sport of combined driving.  Helmet, body protectors, lighter weight vehicles with brakes, delayed steering, slant seats, hand rails and many other great improvements can be seen.  Hopefully we will continue to improve the sport for all involved.  As with anything, with change comes controversy and we will never all agree 100% of the time.  So, go out and drive your horse, be safe and have fun!

Now: You see more four wheeled vehicles in marathon, except for small ponies.  The judges now are placed at the obstacles.  Water cannot be any deeper than (50cm) or 19.8 inches. Your time in a hazard is a max of five minutes.  We are now politically correct, and it is now an obstacle not a hazard.  Most vehicles are now made of metal or a combination of wood and metal.  Weight is now specified in the ADS rules for the different sizes of horses.  I think all drivers are more conscious of the weight that their horse must pull. 

So, you have brakes, now what and how are you supposed to use them? Unlike a car, brakes on a carriage, and yes, some carts, are not used to stop your horse.

To stop a car, the brakes must suppress the kinetic energy. They do so, by using the force of friction to convert that kinetic energy into heat. When you press your foot down on the brake pedal, a connected lever pushes a piston into the master cylinder, which is filled with hydraulic fluid.

Horse drawn carriages can have either disc or drum brakes:

Drum brakes:

When the brake pedal is applied, two curved brake shoes, which have a friction material lining, are forced by hydraulic wheel cylinders against the inner surface of a rotating brake drum. The result of this contact produces friction which enables the vehicle to slow down or stop.

Disc brakes:

In a disc brake, the brake pads squeeze the rotor, and the force is transmitted hydraulically.  Friction between the pads and the disc slows the disc down.

I am sure you are wondering why you can’t stop a horse by using the brakes? First, the brakes are not connected to the horse.  The horse does not know you want him to stop when you press the brakes.  The only way he knows this is by your voice and reins.  We all have a que that we use to slow our horses down and to stop them all together.

You have brakes, but what exactly is the sequence when you go to stop your horse.

When stopping your car, the first thing you do is take your foot off the gas and then apply your foot to the brake.

When you want to stop you horse the first thing you need to do is ask through your hands and voice for your horse to slow down. Once he starts to slow, you will see his back breeching start to tighten around his butt.  It is at this point that you start to apply pressure to the brake in your carriage.  This slows down the carriage only, and you will see the breeching loosen. As your horse slows even more, you will apply more brake, this will keep the weight of the carriage from pushing your horse.  If you are asking your horse to slow and stop, but the carriage is still pushing him forward, it is a mixed message to him. Continue doing this until you are stopped.

Yes, brakes are good for other things when you are driving your horse!

Brakes are a great help when you are going downhill.  When you have a hill that is slight and short in length, a tap of the brake to keep the carriage from pushing on your horses’ butt as you go down is helpful. This just slows the carriage down, not the horse.

Now, if your trotting down a long steep hill that is when the brakes can really help.  By applying the brakes equally, if you have front and back brakes, you can hold the cart off your horses’ butt, which keeps the carriage from pushing your horse faster down the hill. If you only have back brakes then you will need to apply and release, apply and release, that way you will slow the carriage down but not cause the front to slide sideways.

Front and back brakes?

Since I just mentioned front and back brakes, I should explain that most carriages that have brakes on all four wheels, they will have two pedals.  One for the front brakes and one for the back brakes. This way, you can use them together or independently. Never apply the front brakes first!  Doing that can cause the carriage to tip or slide sideways.  Yes, it is ok to use two feet to apply the brakes, left foot on the front pedal and right foot on the back pedal.

Applying the back brake only, if the horse is in a hard stop, the weight of the carriage and the passengers can be thrown forward bringing the back wheels off the ground, making the brakes useless.  This is also why if you only have back brakes, you need to remember to press and release the pedal to slow or stop in an emergency.

Drum Brake for the back of a carriage

Another good way to use your brakes is during dressage.  Say, you are coming to a halt at “X”, and you want to slow the carriage down at the same time you are asking your horse with a half halt, apply your brake each time you half halt.  This will help stop the carriage at the same time the horse stops.  You are more likely to land at “X”!

Using Your Brakes

In dressage, when you are making that last corner turning into the long diagonal, where you are going to ask for that extended trot, is another spot to apply some brake, as you ask for that half halt of your horse. This makes your corner look better and tells your horse that there is a different movement coming. Slowing your horse and carriage down before doing the extended trot sets up the movement.

Disc Brake on a Kuhnle that has brakes on all four wheels

When doing dressage, be sure that your brakes are clean, and your brake fluid is full.  The last thing you want is for the judge to hear a squeal every time that you apply your brakes. Use your brakes only when they are needed!

During a marathon course there will be times when brakes come in real handy. Those tight turns in obstacles where you want to slide the back of your carriage to get around the post quicker.

During cones, when you want to canter the long distances between cones, and then slow down again to get through the center of the next set of cones.  Just another example of when to use your brakes!

Learning how to properly use your brakes in conjunction with your commands to your horse through voice and reins is a learning experience.  Start at a walk in the learning process, then when you have it down go to a trot.  Have fun and be safe, because it will take awhile to get it down smooth!

I know that right now you are wondering why I am talking about how to fall.  We all think that you can only fall off a horse while we are riding it.  But take my word for it, you should also learn to fall out of a carriage or cart when you are driving.

No one ever wants to fall off a horse or out of their carriage.  We all know, that whenever you are playing with horses in any manner, there is always a chance that you can fall.

Have you ever been walking with your horse beside you on the way back to the barn and something startles him, and he jumps your way?  The next thing you know you are sitting on the ground!

We all know that falling off your horse can and will happen at least once in your lifetime, if you are an avid rider!

Have you been driving your horse down a peaceful dirt road and suddenly that scary deer jumps out and your horse jumps sideways and turns back the other way, and your carriage cannot go under itself to do that U-turn, and the next thing you know you come rolling out of your carriage!

These are all real possibilities, that can and will happen!  So why not learn how to fall properly, so when that time comes, you are prepared to receive the least amount of trauma as possible!

You are probably thinking that falling out of a cart or carriage is different than falling off a horse, but it isn’t.  No matter how or when you fall you still need to know how to fall properly.

Quite a few years ago, I was able to do a clinic with Gawani Pony Boy, where I was able to learn how to fall.  Since that clinic I have had one time when I had to bail off a horse I was riding.  I have used his technique and I came away with no injuries at all.

I have also used his technique for falling when my carriage tipped in an obstacle while competing in New Jersey.

So, what is the best way to fall!

To start with, you need to realize that jumping from a moving cart should not be your first choice of what to do.  Horses can run from 14 mph to 43 mph.  Most horses can only do this for a short period of time, but even at a trot they can go 8 mph to 12 mph.  If your think about deliberately jumping out of a carriage, leave it to the stuntmen!

There are times however, as when my carriage tipped, that one has no choice but to fall out so knowing how, is a good thing.

When you realize that you are going to come out of your carriage you need to try and stay as relaxed as possible.  Do not try to use your arms to stop yourself from hitting the ground.  Arms straight out will not stop the weight of the rest of your body without breaking.  You want to become like a rolling ball.

First thing you do, is to hug yourself with your arms as you feel yourself starting to roll out of the carriage.  Start to bend your left knee if your coming out the left side of your carriage and push away from the carriage, as you do, you will feel your left hip following your left knee, and then your left buttock to the ground. When your left buttock is on the ground you want to roll over onto your right butt cheek.  This will keep you further away from the rolling carriage. You will then continue your roll with your right shoulder.  By this time, your momentum will have slowed down, and you will be sitting there wondering what just happened.

Remember to let go of the reins or you will be dragged! 

Practice falling and rolling at home on a nice soft carpet. You can also place pillows on the left side to even give you a safer place to land while practicing.  Seat yourself on a dinner chair in the middle of the carpet.  Now hug yourself and proceed to lean to the left as if you are rolling out of your carriage. As you start to go down, bend your left knee and push with your foot and knee away from the chair.  Your hip follows and your left buttock gets to the floor, transfer your weight to your right buttock and roll onto your right shoulder.

As with any new skill you are trying to learn, start slow, have someone with you if that makes you more comfortable.  Remember, this is a learning process and once your muscles and your brain learn the routine it will still come naturally when you need it.  Once you have learned how to fall to your left, then practice the same routine to the right.

Just like driving your car, you run through your mind all the scenarios needed if a deer runs out in front of you, or you’re hit from behind by another car. If you do the same with falling from your carriage, it will come to you naturally.  You always need a plan just in case the unexpected happens.

Remember, that in 99% of all falls, you do not land on your feet, so be prepared to hug and roll.

A Mini Horse Club Gymkhana was hosted by the Saguaros State Miniature & Shetland Pony Club at the Davis Ranch on Sunday the 30th of April.  Twenty two members showed up, bringing with them about ten miniature horses and ponies.  It turned out to be a beautiful day with no wind, rain or snow to spoil the atmosphere!

The morning was taken up with in hand gymkhana games including an egg balancing race that all had fun doing.  I think that a  few of us older adults found running with our mini’s was harder than when we were younger.  There was a lot of huffing and puffing going on.  By 11:15 all were tired so we broke for lunch and our horses had earned a drink of water and a snack.

After lunch those who had horses that drove proceeded to get hitched up for the driving games.  Those that had proficient driving horses did some cantering which shows that these little horses can get there fast if need be!  Others with newer driving horses kept to a trot or walk and all went well without any mishaps.

When all was said and done this Mini Horse Club Gymkhana will go down in the history book as a success.  I think everyone received a prize and the horses got mint snacks!  A few of the drivers checked out the bridge  and water crossing as well as the hazards that are on the property.


I was asked to do a Participation Clinic at Verde Valley Equine Festival on Sunday April 23, 2017.  The day started out sunny with a temperatures in the mid eighties.  I arrived at the venue in Cottonwood Arizona at 8:30 to find people and horses already milling around the fair grounds.  The driving participation clinic started at 9:30 with two drivers signed up to participate.

The first driver had a well seasoned draft mare she was driving and the second driver had a Morgan mare that has been driving about two years with a new driver.  Both horses were well behaved and the drivers were proficient equal with their level of driving.

Many of the spectators that arrived were there to watch and learn about driving and how much fun that it can be.  It was really good to see the interest in the sport of driving as we need to bring more people into this sport so that it will live on for many years.

This Participation Clinic at Verde Valley Equine Festival was proof that people can get excited about this very old form of transportation and how it has transformed into a fun way to use ones horse.

Harnessing Clinic

After a brief break I then did a talk on harness and harnessing.  Even though the wind decided to show it’s ugly head there was a good turnout of people wanting to learn!  I brought along my miniature horse “Snoopy” as a demonstration horse to show how to fit and put on the harness an hitch to a cart.

While I was answering questions I had any of the attendees who wanted to try and put together a harness to do so.  I supplied a horse size harness with 29 parts that were disassembled for them to put together.  When it was assembled I gave them one of my “Harnessing & Saddling A Step By Step Guide” as a prize.  There is nothing better than hands on experience to teach a student how to do something!

Fitting your harness to your horse might seem to be a simple thing to do.   But in reality, it is an ever evolving process. 

The first time you will fit your harness to your horse is when you are training him to drive.  Most new horses to driving have never had a harness on them, so the process of dressing the horse must be slow and methodical.

The first part of the harness to be put on your horse is the saddle, with the girth, back strap, crupper and breeching attached.  As when you saddle a riding horse, the first thing to do is place the saddle on the horse.  The saddle should set about two to three inch behind the withers.  As you place the saddle, let the back strap and breeching drop down over the horses butt. Now, cinch the saddle in place so that it will not fall off.  This does not need to be gut wrenching at this time. Be sure that the back strap is flat and down the center of your horses back, and the breeching is even on both sides of the horse.  Now carefully lift the horses tail so that the breeching is under the tail and touching his butt.  If your horse has never had a crupper strap on, than now is the time to be careful and proceed with gentleness.  Gently hold the dock of his tail up just a couple of inches and slip the crupper strap under and around the tail, then gently put his tail back down.  If he is okay with this, then buckle the crupper loosely,  at this point you don’t want to give him a wedgie.

The other part of the harness that you need to put on your horse, when you are training him is the bridle.  First thing to do is put on a bit that your horse is used to.  Most driving horses are started in a drop cheek snaffle. If you ride your horse, then match the driving bridle to his riding bridle to get the bit at about the right length.  Undo the nose band and put the bridle on just as if it were your riding bridle.  Take it slow as the blinders will be a new item for the horse.  If your horse is okay with his driving bridle, then adjust the blinders so that his eye is at the center of the blind.  You can adjust the side straps, as well as the crown buckle, to do this. Now adjust the bit so it sits properly in his mouth.  Then buckle the nose band leaving enough space for two fingers between his skin and the band.

You are now ready to start your horses ground driving in preparation of him eventually pulling a carriage.  As the days go by and your horse gets comfortable with his new tack,  you will be able to buckle the crupper tighter along with the girth.

For the horse that is an accomplished driver, the process of dressing him when you as the new owner go to hitch up the first time is easier.  If your harness is new, be sure it is totally put together ahead of time.

Again you start your process with placing the saddle with the back strap and breeching attached over the back of the horse with the saddle two to three inches behind the withers.  With the trained driving horse, you will start by placing the crupper under the horses tail and buckling it.  Then you will adjust the saddle to the appropriate place and adjust the back strap so that it is straight and not floppy.  Adjust the breeching so that it sits at the level of your horses stifle.

Next comes the breast collar with the false martingale and neck straps attached.  Holding the breast collar on one side of the horse, toss the neck strap over the wither and attach it to the breast collar.  The breast collar should sit about two inches below where the horses neck connects to his body.  If to high it will interfere with the horses breathing.  Toss the traces over the back of the horse so he will not step on them.  Bring the false martingale between the legs and run the girth through the loop on the end, then buckle the girth.

Now, put the bridle on the horse and buckle the nose band and the throat latch.  The throat latch needs to be tight enough that the horse will not be able to catch it on anything and remove his bridle, but not so tight that he can’t move his head properly.  Lastly, run the reins back through the terrets on both the shoulder straps and the saddle, then buckle the reins together.

You are now ready to hitch your horse to your carriage. Have a helper head your horse and you bring the carriage up to the horse.  Remember to talk to your horse while doing this, as he can not see you when you are to the side or behind him. Place the shafts in the tugs.  The shafts should not extend past the horses shoulder.  Bring the traces back and connect to the singletree.  The traces should be taunt and not droop when the horse is pulling.  If they are to long then adjust to fit properly.  Buckle in traces make it easier to fit the horse.

Run the breeching wrap straps through the D-ring on the shaft, wrap around the shaft one to three times and then buckle.  After you do this on each side the same, there should be enough room for your fist to fit between the breeching and the butt of the horse.  Too tight and it would be like you riding the brake and too loose would be like having no brakes.

Buckle the tug down with the strap if you have French tugs, or wrap the wrap straps if you have traditional tugs. On a four wheeled carriage, they need to be just tight enough to keep the shafts in place at the sides of the horse.  On a two wheeled cart they will need to be tighter as to hold the entire cart down.  If too loose when you enter the cart and sit down the shafts will rise up and the cart could tip “they must be snug”.  You are now ready to get in and drive your horse.

I have always had a harness for each of my horses.  The reason for this is that it is much easier than trying to readjust the harness every time it is put on a different horse.  Even with each horse having his own harness, it does not mean that it will always fit the same.  Over time your horses shape will change as he grows, and his conditioning will change how his body looks.  Because of this, you will always need to adjust as the time goes by.  One example is with synthetic harness, it will stretch over time and you will need to adjust for that stretch. This happened with my Friesians bridle to the tune of one inch longer on the bit straps. 

I have always told my students that when they are at a show to never change their harness even if the judge, TD, or other competitor or trainer says it should be a different way. Always show just as you practiced at home because that is what the horse is used to.  If you want to experiment with adjustments the place to do that is at home not a competition.  So just tell the helpful people that you will take it under consideration.

The  other thing you will see is that many drivers harness in many different ways.  For example, some will wrap the too long traces around the shafts and others you will see them bring the back breeching straps and put them through the loop at the end of marathon shafts.  These are the worst things one could do.  The wrapped traces take the play out of them, making pulling the carriage harder for the horse because they are not pulling off of the singletree that does move.  When you run the breeching straps through the loops on the end of the shafts, you are basically making an enclosed box that the horse now is confined in. The distance from the front of the shaft to the butt of the horse is all the horse has to work with.  So his body and legs are confined to that space.  This is not a good scenario for doing Dressage.  Every time you ask the horse to go forward, the breeching hits against the horses butt and brakes the carriage, so you are telling the horse to go and stop at the same time.

Harnessing is the major component for connecting your horse to your carriage or cart so it needs to be correct and safe for both the horse and you.

Gator, no, it is not an Alligator?  When it comes to driving a horse and carriage gator is short for navigator.  Now, I’m sure that really cleared the whole thing up for you. No, that is not the person that helps the pilot fly an airplane but you are getting closer.  The navigator is the person that helps the driver of the horse and carriage navigate through the marathon portion of a combined driving event.

Okay, lets start at the beginning.  As you know, if you have been following my articles that the first day of a combined driving event is Dressage, if it is a three day event or it can be Dressage and Cones, if it is a two day event.  Now, if you are driving at advanced you are required by the rules to have a second person or (Gator) on your carriage with you during your drive.

I always drive with a gator with my horses from training all the way through advanced, and here is why:

1) Your horse might as well get used to the extra weight from the very beginning.

2) It never hurts to have an extra pair of hands around in an emergency.

3) It is better that your gator knows from the beginning how you work  and deal with your horse, so that way you are both on the same page.

4) This gives you and your gator time to discuss what to do, and not to do in emergencies, if they do arise, and they will arise.

5) Your gator will get to know your horse and your horse will get to know your gator, and this can be invaluable in an emergency.

If you are driving training, preliminary or intermediate you will only need your gator for the marathon day of the event.  Now, a lot of drivers will arrive at the competition and put a notice up on the office bulletin board with a note that they are looking for a gator for the marathon.  You can probably find a gator this way, but I would not suggest this for the following reasons:

1) What does this person know about the sport of Combined Driving?

2) Are they qualified to do the job at hand?

2) Have they ever been a gator before?

3) Do they know the front of a horse from the back?

4) Are they going to be able to be of help to you on the course?

5) Do they understand that once they get on the carriage they cannot get off until the end no matter what?

These are just a few of the things to consider when picking up a gator at an event.

Finding someone to just sit and look pretty and occupy the seat during Dressage and Cones is one thing, but finding someone to do what is needed during marathon is another.

During marathon your gator is responsible for helping the driver stay on the right track on the course.  The gator will have a stop watch to help keep the driver on the proper pace while driving the course.  The gator needs to be strong enough to be able to jump the carriage if it becomes wedged on a post.  The gator needs to be able to hang over the side of the carriage to weigh it down, so the carriage does not tip over while turning corners on hills. The gator has to be agile and quick enough to be able to jump off the back of the carriage and run to the horses head in under 10 seconds in case of an emergency. The gator is the one who yells out the competitors number as the driver speeds into each obstacle.  You never want them to yell the wrong number!  Your gator is the person who will be cooling down your horse at the vet box at the end of the walk section and the end of the marathon when the veterinarian gives his final OK.  Believe me, you want your gator to know what he is doing!

I will give you one example of a driver who picked up a gator at an event. Driver puts notice on board for a gator, and a person volunteers and they set out on the marathon.  Said chosen gator gets scared going through one of the obstacles and jumps off of the carriage and in doing so, it changes the weight and angle the carriage is going and the driver is impaled on a tree limb and died.  Yes, this is a true story.

So, how do you find a good gator to take to a competition with you?  In my case, my husband has served as my main gator for many years and it has worked out quite well.  He is around most of the time so he is able to practice with me and with my horses over the years, and he knows them almost as well as I do.  When I drive my pony, I have two friends that are horse lovers that come and work with me and the pony and that has worked out well over the years and has been lots of fun for both them and me.  Of course, you have to treat them well and appreciate them for all of the help that they do for you, both in practice ahead of time and during a competition.  You pick up all of the expenses to get them to and from the competition and while they are at the competition, and it is well worth it for your peace of mind, that they know what they are doing and that they know your horse.

One example, one of my friends came as a groom with me when I was competing with my Morgan for the US Singles Driving Team on the east coast, and we had a tip over in an obstacle and my horse continued through the out gate while I and my husband were on the ground.  My friend who came as my groom was watching and when she saw what had happened, she immediately called out my horses name, he stopped, turned, and ran to her because he knew her, which saved a monumental amount of time and injury in to the horse.

So don’t be shy, ask your other half, even if they are not a big horsey person, because in the beginning my husband was not, if they will gator for you.  Ask a friend who loves horses but can’t afford to have one who might just love to help you out and be your gator.  Ask that young mother down the street that used to have a horse as a kid, but does not have one now because she has a young child, she just might jump at the chance to lend a hand.

Once you find someone supply them with a helmet to protect their head and a vest to protect their chest that way they know that you are concern about them and keeping them safe.  When you start out with them on the back of your carriage don’t go galloping and scare the scrap out of them, because you can almost bet this is the first time they have ever been on the back of a carriage.  Start slow and easy and you will find that they will probably fall in love with the sport as much as you are.

How do I get it there?

How do I get it all to a show, is the really big question that everyone asks.  Now most people who own a horse also own a trailer, but when one gets into driving their horse it can become a logistics nightmare on getting all of your equipment, the horse, the carriage and the people to an event.

If you are like most newbie’s to the carriage driving family, you will try to achieve this with what you have on hand.  I know that over forty years ago that is what I did, so I will give you a brief history of my progression through the years.

Starting Out

In the beginning, I had a two horse straight load trailer that I loaded my horse into and that I pulled with my truck.  Then I purchased a 16′ flat bed trailer with a folding ramp on the back, which we pushed the cart up onto that we towed with our car that we had at the time.  This worked well at the time if we were doing just local  shows and events, but for anything very far away it was cost prohibited.

When I decided that I wanted to start doing events farther away from home, I traded in the two horse trailer for a four horse slant with a tack room.  We pulled this trailer with our motor home that we had at the time which gave us a place to stay, as trying to stay at motels that were never anywhere close to most venues was a logistics nightmare.  This worked quite well for a number of years while I was competing with my Arabian and my pair of Miniature horses, as their carriages were smaller and lighter weight.  I made ramps to run the carriages up into the trailer and there was an escape door so in an emergency you could get your horse out of the trailer, as you had to put the horse in first.

Lessons Learned

After being blown across the highway several times into oncoming traffic, I finally decided I needed to do something different if I wanted to keep competing, and be safe getting there.  At this point, I purchased a used Sundowner trailer, four horse slant, with living quarters.  This turned out to be my best choice to this point for getting everything I needed to a show with driving only one vehicle and not having to stay at a hotel away from the show grounds.

This whole process over the years showed me all of the things that I liked about the different trailers and their layouts and those items I did not like at all.  So, I started a list of the does and don’ts for the ultimate trailer that I would eventually purchase.

What Not To Do:

  • Never put carriage on top of horse trailer, aside from being very difficult to get up there, low bridges can be hazardous, “oops”.
  • Never put your horse in first if there is no escape door.
  • Always have a pass through door from living quarters or tack room to horse area, especially if horse goes in first.
  • Never get a trailer heavier than your truck can safely pull when loaded.
  • Never unload horse at a rest stop on any road or freeway, even if the sign says you can.  Trucks run faster than horses!
  • Never put anything on top of trailer that you need to get to in a hurry, especially if you are stopped on the edge of a highway, such as a spare tire or extra water for horses.
  • Never put anything on top of your trailer if you are the least bit afraid of heights.
  • Oven for baking, I don’t think so!
  • Never put you carriage in the back of your truck, as it will pick up every piece of road dirt between your house and the show venue, and every bug that is in it’s path will be smashed onto it and it will look   much like your windshield.

What To Do:

  • Ramps to get carriages into trailer.
  • Winch to pull carriages, especially four wheeled, up ramps.
  • Tie downs in floor of trailer for securing carriages.
  • Maximum trailer width of eight (8) feet, makes for easier fit of carriages.  They will actually fit across the trailer thereby taking up less room.
  • Gate between carriage and tack area and the horse area, that way the horses are safe and the equipment is not eaten.
  • At least two stalls that can be made into one pen in case your stuck overnight, your horse can have a place to lay down and rest.
  • Insulation in the walls and ceiling.  Unless you live in the perfect world, you will either have excessive heat or cold somewhere you will be showing.  Your horse will thank you!
  • Outside water faucet on your trailer that you can fill your horse water bucket, this will save you countless steps.
  • Plenty of windows and overhead vents for proper air circulation, your horse will also thank you for this!
  • Plenty of inside and outside lighting because you will always either arrive late or leave early.  It also makes that early morning feeding a lot easier.

About now, you are thinking that you will have to spend your retirement account to be able to find a trailer to fit all of these needs.  You need to figure out which of the items are the most important to you and which will fit the horse and carriages that you have.  If you drive a pony that is 14 hands or under in a two wheeled cart and you like staying in a motel, than a three horse slant will probably do you just fine.  If your plan is to stay in training and preliminary divisions in combined driving, or in local fun and training arena driving shows, then smaller trailers that will hold your single horse and your cart, will work just fine.

Building My Trailer!

In my situation, I was working for a slot on the US Singles Driving Team, so I needed a trailer that would fit two carriages, my horse and all the tack for both carriages, along with living space for myself and my husband who is my navigator.  The trailer also needed to be able to make it back and forth across the country several times so I could compete at the required events.

Keeping this in mind, I had my trailer custom made by the Silverado Trailer Company. The trailer specifications were as follows:

  • Total size 8′ x 34′ on the floor with 7′ gooseneck
  • 11′ living space
  • 12′ carriage space with electric wench
  • 11′ horse space which makes, 2 single stalls or one 8 x 11 stall
  • 66′ side ramp for carriages
  • 7′ 6″ tall
  • Total trailer insulated
  • Carriage tie downs for two carriages
  • Extra windows and vents

As you can see, the living quarters is the least amount of space because for the most of the time at a horse event you are outside.  The mandatory items needed are a bathroom with toilet, sink and shower.  Some sort of sleeping arrangement and some way to prepare food.  I chose to have a small refrigerator, a two burner stove top and a microwave, and I refused the oven, because I never saw myself baking at all in the trailer.