Equine Diversity “Reins” in Competitive Driving

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.


  • Click through the slideshow and learn about Competitive Driving. 1 of 15
    Competitive Driving
  • Proper attire is required. 2 of 15
    Cart and Pony

    The driver must wear brown gloves, a hat, neat clothing, and a lap blanket. The equine's harness should match the cart or carriage, and the buckles and hardware should all be coordinated.

    (Photo by Johi Kokjohn-Wagner)

  • The Cones course. 3 of 15

    This Miniature Horse and driver are navigating the Cones course. Notice how their focus is in exactly the same direction; they are in sync and working well together.

    (Photo by Johi Kokjohn-Wagner)


  • The Dressage event. 4 of 15

    This Mini and driver compete in the Dressage event while looking smart with their red accents.

    (Photo by Johi Kokjohn-Wagner)

  • The versatile Morgan. 5 of 15
    Black Morgan

    This driver was competing for the first time with her Morgan horse, Poco. I thought this duo was particularly sharp.  Poco had some "go" in her; she could definitely get you to church on time.

    (Photo by Johi Kokjohn-Wagner)

  • Building relationships with your animal. 6 of 15
    Cat and Roberta

    Roberta and her beautiful 8 year old Arabo-Friesian, Cadillac Cat, have developed a wonderful relationship built on trust. Competitive Driving is an excellent way to showcase the beautiful dynamic between human and horse, as is a well-placed horse kiss.

    (Photo by Johi Kokjohn-Wagner)


  • Fun for all ages. 7 of 15
    Ellis and Cooper

    Nine year old Ellis and his Mini, Cooper, are just getting to know one another. While Cooper did not compete, simply having the Mini around the action of the driving show was a wonderful way to expose him to unfamiliar surroundings; a basic desensitization that will help immensely with building trust between the two of them.

    (Photo by Johi Kokjohn-Wagner)

  • Driving is joyful. 8 of 15
    Karla and RoseMarie

    Karla Porter and RoseMarie enjoyed their warm-up session. Judges of Competitive Driving love to see smiles from their drivers!

    (Photo by Johi Kokjohn-Wagner)

  • Movie stars love driving, too. 9 of 15

    Claudia Wilson poses with her 14'2 hand Morgan mare, Valentine, who recently had the opportunity to appear in the upcoming movie, The Earth is Flat. Valentine played the role of an Amish carriage horse.

    (Photo by Johi Kokjohn-Wagner)

  • Pre-show snacks. 10 of 15
    Cleveland Brown

    This pair of Cleveland Bays munched on some hay prior to performing. This is a rare breed, with only 500 purebreds in the world.

    (Photo by Johi Kokjohn-Wagner)

  • Polished from ear to hoof. 11 of 15
    Black Hooves

    The horses are well-groomed prior to entering the show ring. This horse, Cat, is literally polished! Her owner, Roberta, blackened her hooves with shoe polish.

    (Johi Kokjohn-Wagner)

  • Even cowboys enjoy driving. 12 of 15
    Phil and Tater

    In the past, Phil Porter spent most of his time with horses competing in Team Penning and Team Sorting. Now he spends most of his time with his adorable Mini, Tater, driving a cart.

    (Photo by Johi Kokjohn-Wagner)

  • Groom and Navigators. 13 of 15

    Grooms play an important role in Competitive Driving, particularly in the Marathon event. They help the driver stay on course, keep track of time, and direct the driver through the obstacles. The groom also helps with balance in the carriage on sharp turns.

    (Photo by Johi Kokjohn-Wagner)

  • Driving pairs. 14 of 15

    Here is an example of a pair of ponies in the Dressage event of Competitive Driving. The groom is not allowed to speak in the Dressage or Cones, but may accompany the driver.

    (Photo by Johi Kokjohn-Wagner)

  • Everyone loves a carriage ride. 15 of 15

    My boys were thrilled to ride on Claudia's beautiful carriage. It was the highlight of their day!

    (Photo by Johi Kokjohn-Wagner)


Read more of Johi’s writing at Confessions of a Corn Fed Girl.

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Article Posted 3 years Ago

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