After spending the night in Lindale, Texas we headed out this morning for Ralph, Alabama and by 6:30 pm we drove into our next overnight boarding facility the  “ 4 R Farm”.  We were met by a very lovely gentleman who helped us get settled in.  After 477 miles Sailor was ready to stop and stretch his legs.  After having dinner for both us and the two, two-legged member of this party I went to give Sailor some exercise.  I felt he needed it after working as hard as he did yesterday morning and then balancing for over 700 miles.

He was happy to go along with the program and after a good brush out I put him into my Pessoa Training System surcingle for lunging.  We did about 20 minutes, 10 going each way, and he was able to loosen his muscles and stretch them out.  I think he was happy to get out and just move around.

Tomorrow we head for Canton, Georgia.

After a good night’s sleep we awoke to the smell of bacon and eggs, what a surprise that was.  We spent a leisurely morning sipping coffee and catching up. About 10:30 am I got Sailor out to drive but he was having nothing to do with it.  All he wanted to do was talk to his new girlfriend.  So after 30 minutes of ground driving I switched to my Passeo Training Surcingle to try to get his mind back on me.  At first he was not real keen on that either but I just had patience with him and by the end of about another 30 minutes he was finally listening to me and doing what was asked of him.  By not pushing him, but letting him make the choice of weather to keep fighting or listen to me was definitely the right choice.  After another 10 minutes of good work and him staying round and on the bit on his own I ended the session which was followed by a shower for him and for me.

Combined Driving is modeled after ridden three-day eventing, but with the extra challenge generated by the addition of the carriage. Horses and ponies, without benefit of a rider’s aids, must exhibit the highest level of training and willingness to perform by voice command and reins along with just a touch of the whip instead of your leg.

Whips must first present their horses or ponies in the dressage arena to demonstrate obedience, suppleness and the skill of the whip. Judges take into consideration standards expected at each level and score accordingly. The dressage test, while it is the most nerve-wracking for the competitor, it is the foundation for the rest of the sport.

The marathon, is the equivalent to the ridden cross-country phase, it is the phase that draws many participants to the sport and provides the most excitement for competitors and spectators alike. It is on the marathon that the whip must be able to gauge speed and pace in order to finish each section within the time allowed. In the second section, whips must complete a series of hazards negotiating up to six gates in each. Competitors approach the hazards, often at a gallop, threading their way through gates with inches to spare. It’s the hazards that give the sport its thrill/chill factor.

The final phase, the cones, tests the ability of the whip to clear a course of up to 20 gates at the required pace without incurring penalties. Combined driving cones are wedge-shaped, with hollow tops, on which are placed balls. The slightest touch is enough to cause a knock-down and a three-point penalty. As whips work up the divisions, the clearance between cones becomes narrower and narrower, testing the mettle of even top professionals. Like three-day eventing, combined driving is scored by a system of penalty points with the winner earning the lowest score.

Combined driving has its roots in England. In 1970, His Royal Highness Prince Philip, established the first set of international rules that were implemented at the Royal Windsor Horse Show. A great competitor, first with a four-in-hand of horses and later with Fell ponies, Prince Philip remains a strong supporter of the sport.


Now that you have the horse, carriage and harness it is time to put it all together.  Probably the easiest way would be to enlist the help of a seasoned professional to help you with this.  If that is not possible I will explain the basics of the process.

Gather up your horse and prepare him much as you would if you were going to ride him.  Brush and clean him off, check his hoofs,  make sure all of the goobers are out of his eyes and braid his forelock which will help when putting the bridle on.

Next make sure that your harness is put together.  If you purchased a new harness, they generally will come in pieces so you will need to put it together.  If you purchased a used harness then it is probably already together, but you should check to be sure that there are no breaks in the leather and that there are no pieces missing.

Now start harnessing the horse.  First put the saddle on and loosely buckle the girth. Next put the crupper around the horses tail making sure not to catch any hair from his tail and buckle it. Put the breast collar on by buckling the neck strap over the withers, and lay the traces over the back of the horse so they are not dragging on the ground. Then undo the girth and run it through the false martingale and buckle the girth tight.  Finally put the bridle on being sure not to bump the blinkers against the horses eyes.  Fasten the throat latch and the caveson.  Attach the reins to the bit then run them through the terrets on the neck strap and the saddle, fold and lay across the horses back.

It is now time to put the horse to the carriage.  This is when a second person comes in real handy to head the horse while you are hitching.  Bring the carriage up from behind putting a shaft on each side of the horse and slipping the end of the shaft through the shaft tugs, or if you have quick release tugs bring them around the shaft and buckle, all the way to the tug stops on the shaft.  Next working one side at a time bring the trace back to the carriage an slip the large buttonhole over the single tree ends, or if you have quick releases then connect to them. Attached the breeching strap through the footman loop, wrap, then buckle back to itself catching the trace in the loop that you have made.  Then buckle the tug strap to the overgirth strap to hold the tug in place.  Repeat this process on the other side of the horse.  Lastly bring the reins back and buckle them being sure that they are not twisted, get in and have a safe and pleasant drive.

Remember there are many styles of harness and different makes are built with little differences.  Using quick releases to connect your traces, breeching straps and shaft tugs onto your horse is a good idea for in an emergency you are able to get your horse out of the carriage quicker then unbuckling every buckle, because an emergency is just that and the quicker you get unhitched the better. Although quick releases are a great help they to can become stressed to the point that they will not release so always carry a knife on your person.  Replacing some harness pieces is a whole lot cheaper than loosing a horse or injuring a person.

Now that you have your horse and carriage you need a harness to connect your horse to the carriage.  As you start surfing the web and getting suggestions as to the type of harness to get for your horse you again are confused and amazed at the many type there are.

First and oldest harness is one that is made from all leather with either solid brass or chrome fittings.  The harness itself can be black or russet leather.  Russet harness is generally used when your vehicle is of natural wood.

Black harness is generally used when your cart or carriage is painted.

In some show settings the color of the fittings (chrome or brass) have to match the color on your carriage fittings such as the whip holder, ends of the singles trees, etc.

You will find that harnesses are made in several different sizes:

  • Mini A (under 34″)
  • Mini B (34″- 38″)
  • Small Pony (38″- 42″)
  • Medium Pony (42″- 46″)
  • Large Pony (46″- 51″)
  • Cob (13 to 14.3 hands or 700-975 lbs)
  • Horse (15 to 16.3 hands or 1000-1250 lbs)
  • Warmblood (1250-1400 lbs)
  • Draft (1450-1600 lbs)
  • Large Draft (1650-2000 lbs)

Although these are the sizes that  you can get, many manufacturers only make several of the above and the others would be custom made at generally a custom price.

There are also different styles of harness to choose from, the breast collar type or the full collar and hames.  For most pleasure driving classes and for fun just coming down the road the breast collar type is just fine.  The breast collar type is made in several weights from fine harness to a substantial weight which serves well in Combined Driving events.  Breast collar type is also much easier to put on the horse than the collar and hames.

There is a Gig harness which is used for a two wheel gig cart.  Then there are several types of draft horse harness including show and logging & farming harness in several weights depending on what your draft is going to pull.

Most harness can have color added at places such as the nose band, brow band and even on the saddle.

The best known makers of leather driving harness is Smucker’s Harness Shop which has been around since 1867 and Freedman Harness which has been around since the early 1800’s.

The newest type of harness to come along in the past fifteen years or so are those made with synthetic material.  The best advantage of the synthetic harnesses is that they are much easier to clean as they can be hosed off when you hose off your horse. Some are made with some leather connections so that they will break if you have an accident and the horse goes down or he runs away.  I feel the worst thing about the synthetic is that it does not break under extreme stress where leather will generally break at a certain point.

Zilco Harness out of Australia was the first to come out with the synthetic harness and I still have my original one but since they started manufacturing them in Vietnam I don’t feel they are as well made.  The other company is Ideal Harness from the Netherlands and their quality is very good and stands up well.

Whatever make or material of harness you buy, you need to be sure that it fits your horse and cart or carriage so that you are safe when you go driving.

In the many years that I have been driving and teaching students to drive one of the most costly mistake that new drivers make is to purchase the cart before they even have a horse to pull it.  There are many reasons to have the horse first and I will cover several of them in this article.

If you have the cart first then you are pretty much stuck with trying to find a horse that will fit the cart or carriage or you will probably have to sell the cart and purchase another for the horse you choose. This might sound simple but it is not.  This also dictates the size and type of horse you now are looking for which makes your choices even fewer especially if you want to buy an already trained horse.

If you have a horse that is not even started his driving training then you don’t even know if he will take to driving at all so then again you have a cart that possibly will not be used.

Some  things to consider when looking for a cart or carriage for your horse are:

  • What sort of driving are you planning to be doing? Combined Driving, show ring driving, Heritage classes or pleasure driving just for you, your family and friends.
  • Are you going to be driving a single, pair or team? Only single horses can be driven safely in a two wheel vehicle.  Pairs and teams must be hitched to four wheeled vehicles.
  • What size is your horse: mini, pony, small horse, horse, warmblood or draft?
  • What do you want the vehicle to be made out of: wood vehicles need to be kept inside because wood is always shrinking so a constant temperature and humidity will help slow this process down.  Steel or any other metal is much more durable but they can be heavier.
  • You must consider the weight of the vehicle not only for the sake of the horses but also for you. A 400 pound carriage is easy to push around on the flat my yourself but in dirt and going up any small grade not so.

The following weight assumptions are for a horse who is in top physical and training condition pulling mostly flat terrain with occasional heavy pull and short rests:

  • Horse pulling on flat roads 1:3 ratio (1000 lb horse pulling 3000 lbs).
  • Horse pulling on bad or hilly roads 1:2 ratio (1000 lb horse pulling 2000 lb).
  • Horse pulling on very bad roads, sand, mountains, fields 1:1 ration (1000 lb horse pulling 1000 lb).
  • Horse doing a Combined Driving marathon course 1/2 to 3 times body weight (1000 lb horse pulling 500-3000 lbs).

When choosing a carriage the equation would be:

Cart weight + Passenger weight + Conditions of road surfaces + type of work to be done = Total weight your horse will be pulling.

Miniature horses were bred for pulling carts in the coal mines therefore pound for pound pulling is skewed.  Under normal conditions a well conditioned and trained mini can pull 1 1/5 times its own weight (200 lb mini pulling up to 300 lb). There have been mini who have been able to pull 10 times their weight but I would not ask a mini to do that.

Ultimately it is up to the driver to make a well educated estimate of the weight his horse can pull taking into consideration the above information.

Once you have figured out the type of carriage you need to buy then you have two options:

  • Buy a new carriage that is the correct size and weight that you horse will need for his chosen job. Two wheeled cart starts at about $500 up to about $4000.  The more options and extras you add the price goes up.  Two wheeled antique or reproductions can be even more.

Four wheeled carriages start even higher, you can expect to pay anywhere from $5000 and up.

  • The other choice is to buy a used cart or carriage. Although you might pay a bit less for one, for the most part I have found that carriages do hold their value very well. If you decide on a used one make sure you ask all the right questions:

How old is it?

How long has the present owner owned it?

How many owners has it had?

Has it ever been in any accidents?

How much does it weight?

Are the shafts adjustable?

What type of wheels are on the cart?

If it has brakes have they been properly taken care of just like on a car.

When was the last time it was hitched to a horse?

             Who is the maker?

If I were to suggest anything you should absolute do if you are new to driving is to take a knowledgeable driving person with you to look at your chosen cart or carriage.

So your thinking about buying your first driving horse? What makes up that perfect horse?  The first thing you have to do is decide what size horse you want to be driving.  There are miniature horses, ponies which are over 38″ all the way to 14.2 hands and then there is the HORSE which is anything over 14.2 hands.  If you have never driven before or are new to the horse world than maybe one of the smaller equine would be a good place to start.

My personal favorite to stat with is the 12 hand pony.  They are generally compact, strong and flashy and are able to pull a cart with two adults with no issues. They are also less threatening to the new driver because of their size.

If you are an accomplished equestrian and have had some driving experience than maybe a full size horse will be for you.

There are breed that are more traditional in the driving venue such as Morgans, Friesians, Hackneys and most draft breeds.  That is not to say that any horse of any breed can be taught to drive.

The attitude of the individual horse will help one decide if they will be a willing partner in your driving adventures.  Finding a horse that has the conformation to do the type of driving you want to do is of more value than their size, color, breed or even sex.

You are hunting for a horse that has size and substance, with good shoulders and hindquarters, good depth of girth and well sprung ribs to give him the strength to pull a carriage with passengers for a good length of time and rate of speed. They must have good feet for today a lot of driving is on pavement.  Driving horses are much freer to find their own balance than a ridden horse for he does not have to compensate for the weight of the rider but on the other hand he is encumbered with the weight, length and width of the carriage.

The perfect driving horse is a blend of conformation, temperament, training and the willingness to please is owner.  The connection between the horse and driver is most important in driving as you only have your voice, reins and whip to help you communicate with your horse.  If you have one great driving horse in your lifetime feel privileged for it is a rarity.  Mine was a Morgan gelding “Daniel Dawson” who took me to the top in singles combined driving.

The disposition of the horse is also very important. Making a beautiful horse a driving horse just because he is beautiful does not work well if he is also nervous, shy, spoiled or vicious. He becomes a danger to you, the general public and to himself.

Finally when you are looking for that perfect driving horse consider what type of driving you want to do and get a horse that is traditionally used for the type of driving. The last thing you want to do is to go through three, four, five or more horses to find the right one that suit you and your goals.

If your purchasing an untrained horse then take a professional driver with you to help evaluate the prospective driving horse.

If you are looking at an already trained driving horse then you need to be sure the current owner will hitch the horse up and drive the horse for you to see.  Many times horses that are being sold as driving have not been hitched up in many years or they are owned by someone that bought the horse for say a broodmare and was told that the horse was driven in the past by a previous owner.  If the seller will not hitch the horse and drive it then I suggest that you say thanks and move on.

Over the years of competing I have found that the majority of Combined Driving Events will definitely have a water obstacle and some sort of a wooden bridge.

At the event in North Carolina last year there was a very memorable bridge.  I was camped close to the stable where Sailor was at.  For the first couple of days every time a car went by there was this loud banging within ear shot.  It was not until we walked the marathon course that we realized, that I would be driving my horse over that noisy bridge.

It was at that moment that I realized how much I loved my bridge that I had built on our Combined Driving course.

In 2012 we contracted with a good friend,  to design and build a bridge over the wash on our property.  Now the wash is probably 24 feet wide and 12 feet deep.  This wash carries about 1200 cubic feet per second of water when we get a major storm, that a lot of water!  This area on the property is part of my marathon course.  I had been driving down into the wash ever since we bought the property, but when it was full of water and soggy one could not driven there at all.  I decided to put the bridge in as a way to get across the wash.  I also use the bridge for training my horses and student horses to walk over a bridge.

Horses do not readily want to cross a bridge as the echoing of their hooves on the wood can be quite upsetting for them.  Being able to work with the horses in a calm environment makes it easier to get them to cross.

Watch the video below and get an idea of what it takes to build a custom bridge that is sturdy and safe enough for a horse and carriage to go over.


Combined Driving Event, or CDE as those involved in the sport call it, is a true test of a horse’s overall agility, grace and endurance. Combined driving had its roots across the ocean in Europe and is a relatively young sport. Avid drivers who wanted something more to do with their horses on the same level as three-day eventing with jumping/dressage horses, got together to try and formulate a plan. Great Britain learned of what they were doing with combined driving from His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. He was asked by the International Equestrian Federation to help develop a set of rules for them in the 1960’s.

Combined Driving Is Born!

It would not be until 1969 that the Federation Equestrian International would sit down and draw up a set of rules for international driving competitions. Sir Michael Ansell would be the one asked to formulate this set of rules. He based these rules on the ridden three-day event. About this time, this new sport spread to Australia and the United States. The first competition using this set of rules was in 1970 at Lucerne, Switzerland. The following year England held its first competition in conjunction with the Windsor Horse Show. The United States also held its first driving competition in New Jersey.  Also, in 1971 the first European Driving Championships were held in Budapest, Hungary. Attending the event were four-in-hand teams from seven different countries.  Following the same rules in 1972, the first World Driving Championships were held in Münster, Germany.  It would not be until 1975 that the rule book would be reviewed and updated to what we have today.

Since 1972 the World Driving Championships have been held every other year and the European Championships are held in the off year.  Four-in-hand teams of horses were all that were allowed at these international competitions.  It would not be until years later that pairs and singles would be able to compete. The competitions for singles, pairs, and tandems have now been added to the rule book.  Events for these competitors are very popular nationally and regionally.

Combined driving is the ultimate harness sport.  There are three parts to a combined driving event. The presentation and dressage, marathon, and obstacle driving. The three phases are usually done in that order during a three-day event. The shorter versions, which is a two-day event, are used as training events, for both competitors and organizers, in preparation for a three-day event.  Normally the obstacle driving is right after the dressage and the marathon uses shorter distances.  The still shorter version is a one-day event, which is called a “driving trail”.  This is done in the usual order but the marathon is only one section with a maximum of 10 km.

Day One:

On the first day the dressage test now includes presentation on the move.  In presentation you are judged on the overall cleanliness, condition and impression of horse, driver, vehicle and harness. The appearance of the driver, groom and any passengers are scored on their position in the carriage, attire, holding of the whip and the handling of the horse. The dressage test is a pre-described pattern that the driver and the horse must go through.

The test can be from four and a half to nine minutes long depending on what level you are competing at. This pattern is performed in an arena which is either 40 m x 80 m or 40 m x 100 m in size.  For the very small equines the arena is 20 m x 40 m or 20 m x 60 m in size.  Letters mark the area, providing the driver with reference points which enable him to execute the proper movements.

During the dressage test the horse is judged on his freedom and regularity of paces. It is also judged on lightness and ease of movement, as it develops through the pattern. The horse is also judged on how he finds agility on his forehand and the strength of engagement in his hindquarters resulting in a lively but not animated impulsion. He must also accept the bit without resistance or tenseness of his body.

Day Two:

On the second day of competition the marathon is driven. This consists of to three sections.  Section A, transition and section B.  Section A is done at a trot and can be 1 – 7 km depending on size of equine and level you are competing at.  Transition is done at a walk and is 800 m – 1 km.  Section B is at a trot and is 1-9 km, again depending on your driving level. This is the section where one encounters the obstacles that are either natural or man-made. There can be from 3 to 8 hazards with anywhere from 3 to 7 gates at each. The marathon day is the most lively for the spectators because of the speed and danger involved.  The overall objective is to test the fitness, stamina and training of the horse along with the skill and horsemanship and timing of the competitor.

Day Three:

On the third day the horse and driver are required to drive an obstacle course that is 500 m to 800 m long. The course consists of up to 20 gates laid out in a 70 m x 120 m area. The gates are numbered and must be completed in order in a specified amount of time. The gates are set from 20 cm to 50 cm wider than the wheel width of the carriage depending on your level of competition.

This is a true test of the horses fitness,  suppleness and obedience after the rigors of the marathon the day before.

The horses used in combined driving can be of any breed as long as they are sound and broke to drive. The only restrictions on horses that can enter a competition is that they must be at least four years of age.  It was not until the last decade that ponies and very small equine (miniature horses) have been allowed to compete. There have been horses from many breeds including Arabian, Thoroughbred, Morgan, Friesian and some draft breeds just to mention a few.

The combined driving horse needs to be sound, of good conformation, and mentally and physically able to handle the stress of the three-day event. The horse needs to have “heart” as well as “scope”.  They needs to have eye-catching motion and the ability to move quickly in tight spaces. They need to be well trained to work off of the bit and flow from place to place at a steady even pace.

This relatively new horse sport of combined driving has opened many doors for horse lovers who no longer can ride or want something more to do with their pleasure horses. To solve the problem of boredom with arena show driving one might think about combined driving as an alternative.  This is also a great place for that ex-racehorse whether it is harness racing or thoroughbred racing.