Carriage Driving is most of fun by Sabine Dröge
The sport of carriage driving has become more and more popular throughout the last years for an increasing number of people has been looking for a leisure time activity with horses apart from riding. Considering horse riding to be an individual sport, driving will be just the opposite. It is simply not possible to prepare a turnout without any help of volunteers. So if you like to start with driving, make sure that there will be some help of your friends or family. Team work is a vital part of the preparation and the competition itself.
Connemara ponies have proven to be very suited for driving as their versatility is proverbial. Fourin-hand-teams are presented at some bigger shows and a team of grey Connemara stallions as it was on display at the French anniversary show means an impressive sight for many horse lovers.
Watching a beautiful turnout pleases the eye, but leading the reins yourself is even more fun. Therefore it doesnt matter whether you are going just for leisure driving or competing at a trial of combined driving. It will always be a very natural experience. Carriage drivers are exposed to rain and storm but they also enjoy the sunshine and gentle breeze of comfortable weather conditions as well as their horses. Driving offers plenty of options showing traditional, recreational and competitive aspects or simply the joy of working with a horse. I would like to encourage those of you who feel familiar with this kind of horse training to get in touch with it. Visiting a performance show and just asking one of the drivers there to give you a ride might be a first step. As I mentioned before, driving needs people who are able to co-operate with others so usually the driver will be delighted by anyone who shows some interest.
In almost every country that has been conquered by the Connemara Pony there have been turnouts of them entering the competitive arena with considerable success:
- Jan Martens and his team have competed for Holland in the
- Monsieur Weber showed his pair of grey Connemaras internationally for France
- in the United States Lorraine Tilney and her grey gelding Dun Laddin gained
great skill forming a single team
At the 1998s Carra performance show in Ireland a team of matching dun geldings was presented by Michael Hanlon. A year before the stallion Drumclounish Davog pulled a historical cart over nearly 300 km from Donegal to the Clifden Show Ground demonstrating the capacity of the breed for his owner Clive Evans.
In Germany we have two four-in-hand teams competing at high level. The Glaskopf Stud team driven by Kurt Hillnhuetter and the team of the Droege family with my father Franz Josef and me at the reins. England is the home country of traditional driving and so they have various perfectly presented Connemara turnouts and many occasions to compete with each other at numerous driving events. These activities are regularly reported in the English Chronicle.
The Droege team with Sabine at the reins
at the last stage of a cross country competition
Carriage Driving has much appeal for drivers, not at least that people of almost any age can compete on equal terms with equal success. Pleasure driving puts up priorities to the traditional turnout. Combined driving comprises it all: Tradition, athletics and velocity, so a driving trial consists of three phases.
Dressage is very much like ridden dressage with turns and circles, halt and rein back although of course the dressage arena is a little larger than that for riding. Obedience and lightness called submission in ridden dressage is an assessment of the horses ready acceptance of all three aids of driving: reins, voice and sometimes whip. A mark is also given for overall impression of presentation while the dressage test is being driven. The judge determines whether the horses are well groomed, the cart and the harness are clean and properly maintained and the people concerned are decently and appropriately dressed. This emphasis goes back to the great history of carriage driving and its traditions.
The cross-country phase requires a tough modern vehicle with disk brakes and a stronger harness. Driver and grooms are obliged to wear helmets and the horses are well booted up for protection on narrow turns and rough grounds. There are up to five stages in the cross country which can be a few kilometres or 27 kilometres depending on the level of competition. These stages are timed and vary in pace. The first stage in trot will be followed by a section of walk . Then a stage of fast trot will be taken over by another phase of walk. Veterinary checks are compulsory before the last obstacle phase. A course that is interrupted by hazards constructed among trees serving as gates, water splashes, barrels, hay bales or just anything you can imagine to negotiate with a carriage. These hazards with numbered gates have to be managed subsequently as fast as possible whereas the rest of this phase should be driven in trot and faults of paces are punished with penalty points. Not always an easy task if your horse gets a little hot within the obstacles.
The final phase usually is the obstacle driving test which is a course of pairs of cones with balls on the top. The distance between the cones depends on the width of your carriage wheel track and (again) on the competing level. It can range from 50 to 20 centimetres smaller at advanced levels. Careful driving is required here as every knocked down ball costs five penalty points and for the course has to be managed in a limited time you have to drive fast and immensely concentrated.
To get a first hand experience of all this, join a driving trial as a spectator, you might feel the tense and grace of these equestrian sports and perhaps you like to make an effort yourself. Believe me, it is all worth it!
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