What is Carriage Driving ?

When someone mentions carriage driving many people think of burly Clydesdales pulling tradesmen's vehicles or the Queen in her Stately Coach..... but there is more for the whole family to get involved in. Carriage driving in Australia ranges from the elegance of drivers, their gleaming horses and ponies and traditional vehicles in the show ring to all the action of combined driving and a lot more in between.

Carriage drivers, also know as "whips", range in age from 10 years old to 80 +, some have been , or still are, riders whilst others have not had anything to do with horses but want to get into the action after seeing the sport. You can start out in a basic jogger on motorbike wheels and progress to purpose made combined driving vehicles (2 or 4 wheeled), show vehicles, such as viceroys, or a restored jinker or sulky.

The type of horse or pony which can enjoy driving is vast: miniatures, Welsh Ponies & Cobs, Hackney, Australian Ponies, Shetlands, Friesians, crossbreds; as long as they have the right temperament any breed can do well. Classes/competitions are separated by height, type of vehicle, overall turnout and various others. Any colour is welcome; the only restriction is age for combined driving where the horse or pony must be 4 years old before competing. The life of many a family pony or horse has been extended by taking up carriage driving as they can also enjoy the new challenges driving provides.

Most people would have seen the harness events at their local show; Show driving is where the beautifully turned out horses wearing their meticulously cleaned harness pull their immaculate vehicles. Just as there are many different saddle classes so too are there many different harness classes. The classes are divided according to either Horse/ Pony Height, Breed, Vehicle, Combination - single or multiple, Open or Novice status and Driver. Vehicles frequently seen in the show ring include Viceroys, Buggies and Landaus (4 wheeled), Jinkers or Gigs (2 wheeled). Many are original vehicles painstakingly researched and restored. The Delivery or Tradesman's classes are becoming increasingly popular. Beautifully restored vehicles, pulled by stately Clydesdales, Percherons or Friesians, or derivatives, with bells jangling often generate the most interest, especially amongst the old timers. In a world of virtual reality these are living reminders of our history as it is easy to imagine the streets filled with such vehicles and horses at their work.

Combined driving is carriage driving's answer to eventing. It is comprised of three sections: dressage, the marathon (including roads and tracks and obstacles (in lieu of jumps!)) and cones (the equivalent of showjumping). It can take place over 1, 2 or 3 days and can be outdoors or indoors.

Competition A - Presentation (A1) and Dressage (A2)  In Presentation the whole turnout, horse, vehicle, harness, driver and groom, is judged. Driven Dressage, is similar to ridden dressage, with specific movements performed in an arena. Tests require the driver to display control through voice, whip and reins, and the horses must display obedience, impulsion and correct paces.

Competition B - The Marathon or Cross Country  Many consider this is the most exciting phase of the overall competition. Horses need to be fit to cover the distance of up to 22km in the required time. The course is divided into five timed sections A - E, and includes two walks (Secs. B & D) of approx. 1km and a fast trot section (C). Each height class has different times for each section and time penalties may be incurred. Section E includes up to 8 man-made or natural obstacles (including water) which are gated using letters from A-F and can be driven in various ways, within a set time, as long as the gates are passed through in order.

Competition C - Cone Driving  The Cone Driving is designed to test the fitness, obedience and suppleness of the horse or pony after the rigours of the Marathon along with the skill of the driver.

A Pleasure drive can be simply a drive down a country lane, rail trails, a picnic or campfire shared with like minded company held on one day, a weekend or even for a week in public reserves or private property. A great way to see the countryside.

For those looking for a bit more speed and action, Scurry or Speed Cone driving would be of interest. This involves driving against the clock around a course marked out by cones (witch's hats) on top of which are weighted balls that if knocked off incur penalties. Ponies and horses in singles, pairs, tandems and teams compete in this fast paced competition and are often seen at shows and animal expos.

You can participate in Park or Private drives which give you the opportunity to dress up and enjoy wonderful venues around Victoria at a social outing. These can be described as a "Show on the move". Usually held in scenic surrounds such as Botanical Gardens or historical parks and gardens, a Private drive was originally devised as a gentle competition for "private" vehicles (ie. Non-tradesman). Events may cater for several classes which always include at least one Period Turnout class. Vehicles may vary greatly from original through to the modern and any type of horse from the miniature to Clydesdale may be entered. The event is judged at the halt as a turnout and then entrants set off on a leisurely trot around the grounds for several kilometres. Whilst out on the course more judging takes place, this time including the manners of the horse and the skill of the driver.

Other activities which you can enjoy are dressage, navigation drives, endurance driving and good old fashioned fun days where club members get together for a great social event.

Carriage driving - truly a sport for all the family !!!

Copyright: Australian Carriage Driving Society. All rights reserved.