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.


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!

Horses and Smoke do not go well together.  The obvious signs of smoke from the Tinder fire should be a reminder to everyone about how quickly a fire can start from just a campfire being in an unauthorized area and being left unattended.

It also brings back the memory of the Rodeo-Chediski fire in June 2002 and the Dose fire in June of 2013. The Dose fire I remember well, being I live at the base of Granite Mountain.  My son called from Orleans, California to tell me that the Doce fire was heading our way and if it comes over the pass, we need to get out.  My son is a career wildland fire fighter with the US Forest Service and was stationed here in Prescott.

Extremely Tense Days

I watched many horse owners try to figure out what to do if they had to evacuate.  A good friend of mine who lives on Mint Creek had to evacuate and she called me to help with her horses and miniature donkeys.

There was much that went wrong that week, as well as much that went right.  When trying to get up Williamson Valley Road, I had to dodge look-e-loos parked on the road taking pictures!  Then, there were those that were unable to get their horses into trailers at all.  When the officials finally set up road blocks at both ends of Williamson Valley Road, evacuation then became easier.

As you can see Eileen’s trailer is large enough to hold all six of her horses.

As you can see Eileen's trailer is large enough to hold all six of her horses so when you have a fire horses and smoke do not mix

You are probably wondering where this is all going too?

It just so happened that my Hackney pony mare was in foal at this time. I consulted my veterinarian for the best thing to do with her and the rest of my horses during the fire.

Because my pony was older, my vet suggested that I keep her as quiet, and in no way exercise her!

The smoke has a drastic effect on horses to start with, but her being pregnant, it would be even worse.

This study from the University of California Davis proves that horses and smoke do not go together. Smoke is an unhealthy combination of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, soot, hydrocarbons, and other organic substances.   Smoke is a mixture of solid and liquid particles that are in the air. They can irritate your horse’s eyes and respiratory tract, which then hampers their breathing.  All horses should have very limited activity whenever smoke is visible.  Even a human has eye and breathing problems during a forest fire.

Remember horses and smoke do not go well together.

If you have a scheduled event in an area that is smoked filled due to a fire, it is always better to cancel and be safe then it is to go! Several years ago, the organizers of the Tevis Cup canceled the race because of the amount of smoke in the area.

Now, if you must evacuate then you are faced with the problem of getting your horse or horses out to a safe area.  In my situation during the Dose fire, we were on stand by evacuation for a week, as the fire management had no way of knowing which way the fire was going to go.  Fires can be very unpredictable!

I had my large trailer hooked up and ready to leave at a moment’s notice.  I can get all six of my horses into my trailer at one time. There were many people who had to evacuate and did not have trailers big enough to get all of their horses into.  Many people need to take several trips to get all of their horses out.

The worst thing that happens when you are told to evacuate is getting your horse into a trailer. Here are some tips on how to get them in:

  • Everybody stay calm!! If you’re not calm your horses will not be calm.  Act as if there is nothing special about this trailer ride.
  • Always be sure that your horse is trained to get in your trailer.  When it’s time to evacuate, it is not the time to train your horse!
  • Load your horse like you would at any other time.  If you use leg wraps, then put them on. If you use a different halter, then use it now.  The horse needs to think that this is just like any other ordinary trailer ride.
  • Don’t be in a hurry.  If you are, your horse will think there is something wrong.
  • If you normally load your horses by yourself, then do it by yourself.  I know it is tempting for friends and neighbors, that may or may not know anything about horses to volunteer their help. Graciously, refuse their help.
  • If you have multiple horses, load them in the same order that you would if going to a show or trail ride.
  • Give your horse time to think if he needs it to get into the trailer. My Friesian Sporthorse will always stand and look into the trailer for maybe up to sixty seconds before getting in.  This is his normal.  You don’t want to change your horses’ normal routine of how he gets into his trailer.

You Can Smell The Fire In The Air!

Most evacuations, especially with fires, we are all able to see and smell them well before the actual notice.  This is the time in which you need to get together any special medication that your horse will need along with a copy of his registration papers to have in your truck.  All of the other stuff you might want to bring like feed, tack, buckets, blankets, etc. are just material items that your horse can do without during an emergency. Your horses will survive on whatever food and water is at the stable of facility you are evacuating too.

The most important thing is to save your life and the life of your horse!

Sailor having fun at the ADT in Prescott this last weekend.  It was the first event that my Husband, Allan, has gatored for me since his by-pass surgery last year.  This was my trail event to make sure that all was good before we plan a trip later in the year to Colorado and possibly Texas for CDE’s.

The day started off calm and quiet with the weather but by noon the breezes started to come.  Our go time for dressage was 12:26 and yes we were the last to go.  By this time the ground in both the dressage arena and the cones was more like powder than dirt.

We did okay in dressage and Sailor was having fun just trying to make out the letters on the concrete bricks.  After dressage we headed for the cones course, by now the breeze was a lot stronger, so the cones and numbers were hard to see.

We went through the starting gate and then through the first set of cones and as I turned left towards the second set of cones the letters were so full of dirt there were no numbers, and then with the cloud of dust I had to make a second circle just to be able to see the numbers.  The rest of the course was like the blind leading the blind.  We managed not to knock any of the balls down for a clean round.

After lunch Sailor was hoping to have more fun but, by now the dirt was in constant clouds floating across the grounds.  We ran the four obstacles in good time and we were very glad to be done!

Overall Sailor having fun, and Allan being able to be there with me as my gator was worth eating dirt and being sand pitted!

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.


In my last two articles, I have covered how to drive a dressage test and a cones course.  This last article will cover driving a hazard. Most hazards will be found in the marathon section of a Combined Driving Event.  What is not readily known is that pleasure shows can have a Pleasure Driving Marathon class.  So learning to properly drive a hazard is important to both Show Ring drivers, as well as those doing Combined Driving.

So you are heading out on the marathon course to, what we call, walk the hazards, and when you get there all the other drivers are walking and sometimes jogging through the hazard.  To a first timer this can be a bit confusing, as everyone has a different route that they are taking.  Here are a few basics things to remember when you get to the hazard:

             1) Do not ask for help unless it is from your coach.

            2) There will be drivers from all four levels in the hazard.

            3) There will be drivers of minis, ponies and horses in the hazard.

            4) There will be drivers of singles, pairs and four-in-hand in the hazard.

            5) There will be drivers of inexperienced horses.

            6) There will be drivers that are inexperience.

            7) The map you are given looks great but what is actually in the hazard is what you use. 

                Maps can be wrong!

When you get to the first hazard (I like to walk my hazards in the order that I will be driving them 1, 2, 3, etc.)  stop at the entrance gate and find all of the gates that pertain to you and your level.

          Training level gates A, B, C

          Preliminary level gates A, B, C, D

          Intermediate level gates A, B, C, D, E

          Advanced or FEI level gates A, B, C, D, E, F

If you are in training then you just need to locate gates A, B, & C, all of the other gates are like they don’t exist.  The same for preliminary and intermediate.

Map of an obstacle that would be used in a Combined Driving event during the marathon course

Once you know where the gates are at, then from the in gate, choose the shortest and the safest way for you and your horse to get to gate A.  Stop in the center of gate A, and now find the shortest and safest route to gate B.  Stop in the center of gate B, and now find the shortest and safest route to gate C. Stop in the center of gate C, and find the shortest and safest way to the out gate.  Remember in Training level you can only walk or trot your horse in the hazard.  In the other levels, you can canter inside the hazard if you feel safe with doing that.

You can see that I emphasize the shortest and safest way a lot. Training level is where new drivers and green horses learn how to safely maneuver a hazard in a slower and more methodical way than those in the other three levels. In training level, your penalty points for time spent in a hazard are not added to your overall time in the marathon like they are in the other three levels. Training level is just that, it is the level where new drivers and green horses can learn the techniques needed to maneuver a hazard without the pressure of having to go fast.

When you walk your hazards you will find that there are several ways you can go to get to each individual gate.  One route may be a bit shorter but have tighter turns.  One route might be all right turns, but if your horse is not as agile turning to the right, this might not be the route for you. One route might make the turns very narrow which might not be good if you are driving a big horse.  My Friesian Sporthorse is a good example of this. The real close together and tight turns are hard for him because the length of his body combined with the length of his carriage is such that he cannot make a tight U-turn.

The above routes show why when you walk the hazards you have to tune out everyone around you and what they are doing, so that you pick the best route for you and your horse.

Looking at the hazard example, a training level driver is able to go through A make a right turn and make a big circle to B and then go back through A and make a left turn to circle through C.  You will notice that when you add D and E, the route becomes more complicated and a lot of tighter turns will need to be made to get through the hazard. Then, when you add cantering to the equations, it is even harder to maneuver. When you canter your horse in a hazard everything comes at you faster, so you as the driver must concentrate on what you are doing so that you safely make all the turns you need to make.  The time it takes for your signal to get to your horses brain is about three seconds.  You don’t want to be late on the command or you might find yourself straddling a pole, or worse.

I will usually walk all of the hazards about six times to get my chosen route etched into my brain.  You need to be able to close your eyes and run the hazard in your head just the way you will be driving them.  If you can’t see it in your minds eye, then walk it again until you can.  When your sitting at night in your trailer or hotel room, you need to be able to remember them all, in order, in your mind.

We all know that the marathon course with the hazards is the fun part of a Combined Driving Event.  Here are a few more pointers that will help you stay safe and have fun:

1) Never let anyone try to pressure you to move up a level if you are not comfortable with the level you are    currently in.

2) Always wear a helmet.

3) Always wear a safety vest.

4) Always wear an emergency medical card on your arm or leg.

5) Always have a halter and lead rope on your carriage.

6) Always carry a spare whip (they can get caught on trees).

7) Always carry a sharp knife (the cost to replace a cut harness is so much less than the cost to replace your horse).

8) Always have a gator that has worked with you and your horse.

9) Always put your safety and your horses safety first before a colored ribbon, there will always be another event.

10) Remember to have fun because that is what this is all about!