There is one equine sport where everything from adorable Miniature Horses to majestic Friesians can perform the same task: driving. The governing body of Competitive Driving is The American Driving Society, Inc.. Within that society, there are multiple regional chapters. Last Sunday, I visited my local area’s Rocky Mountain Carriage Club’s 8th Annual Fall Follies Event. The horses were competition ready and the drivers were adorned in tailored attire, complete with hats and brown gloves. Harnesses and hooves were polished and the well-oiled carriages gleamed in the sun. It was all quite spectacular and impressive. Never have I witnessed a more diverse group of equines. I admired Cleveland Bays, Arabo-Friesians, Morgans, multiple pony breeds, and Miniature Horses. While photographing the horses, I spoke with the friendly competitors about the sport.
Roberta, the owner of a striking Arabo-Friesian, said, “I’ve been a rider all of my life and what I enjoy the most about my horse is the one-on-one relationship. Driving has magnified the importance of that relationship. With two equally skilled drivers, the horse will do better with the driver with whom he/she has a relationship.” Roberta continued, “Driving is more dangerous [than riding], but also more challenging and gratifying.”
At the 8th Annual Fall Follies, the horses competed in multiple classes which were broken into the categories of VSE (Very Small Equine), Ponies, and Horses. Each of those either entered in Single, Pairs, or Multiples. Every competitor was required to enter all three events. The first course was Dressage, which emphasized judging the horse on a set pattern of movements. The competitors then moved onto the Cones, which is a scored course completed at a trot and based on time and penalties. Finally, the last course of the event was Hazards, which consists of maneuvering your horse and cart (or carriage) through prescribed gates in a maze. In each of the events, the horses are scored on pace and control, with the latter events adding the element of time. Some Competitive Drives also offer Marathon, a road and track course which equines are required to navigate at a prescribed time and pace.
Among the competitors were Phil and Karla Porter. Phil drove “Tater”, a Miniature Horse in the VSE division, which he won. Karla placed second overall with her 7 year old, Type A Welsh named “Rose Marie” in the Pony Division. I spoke with them about their experience with driving. I also gave them beets from my garden, because they happen to be my neighbors.
Karla said, “We had driven horses before, but not in competition. In the olden days we hooked up whatever we had to a cart and drove off. When you go for Competitive Driving, it’s about the hardest thing I’ve ever done with horses. The basis is Dressage. It’s quite complex.”
Phil and Karla started to take an interest in Competitive Driving when they took some ponies off the hands of an aging neighbor who was unable to properly care for them. Karla said, “Driving was a good way to utilize the ponies. I would recommend it to anyone who is fairly competitive. It also appeals to older people who don’t ride as much anymore.”
Whether you choose to sit in the carriage seat or watch from the bleachers, Competitive Driving offers action, cadenced rhythm, and beauty. The horses are well groomed, the drivers are handsomely attired, the carriages are works of art, and the courses are challenging and exciting. Karla said, “You are never competing against others; you are competing against a standard and trying to improve your own skills.”
As is the case with any activity involving horses, the more you learn, the more you realize how much you didn’t know.
Meet the beautiful horses and drivers of the Rocky Mountain Carriage Club.
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