Dana Diemer The Carolinas Equestrian 02 In 2009, I resigned my position as organizer of horse trials at a major competition facility in the southeast and took up the sport of combined driving.  I inherited a throw-away pony recovering from concussion founder, was lucky enough to be in a community where combined driving is very strong, and nine years later I’m still competing.  My husband, Manny, an adrenaline junkie eventer, navigates for me.  What follows are some fun facts about Combined Driving.

Combined Driving is the sister sport to Combined Training (now called Eventing).  It was created in the mid-1960s by, among other notables, His Royal Highness Prince Phillip.  Like eventing, combined driving has three phases:  dressage, marathon (our cross country) and cones (our stadium).

Combined Driving offers four levels of competition:  Training, Preliminary, Intermediate and Advanced.  The three lower levels come under the aegis of the American Driving Society while Advanced is USEF recognized.  In addition, most advanced competitions are held under FEI regulations complete with jogs and passports.  With six passports you get eggroll, or so I have heard.

CDE equals combined driving event (think long format).  HDT equals horse driving trial (think short format).  ADT is arena driving trial, a hybrid not unlike express eventing.

Hats.  It’s all about hats.  If you love hats, this is your equestrian sport!

A small dressage ring, used for the lower levels, contains the same letters and is exactly twice the size of a small ridden dressage ring.  A large dressage ring used generally at Advanced and for four in hands and tandems is forty meters by one hundred meters.  A really BIG space.

Dana Diemer The Carolinas Equestrian 01 Driven dressage tests are very similar to ridden eventing tests with a few notable exceptions.  There is little to no canter work until Advanced.  Voice is considered an aid.  It’s legal to speak to your horse while in the dressage ring, but this does not mean colorful language carte blanche!  We have a fifth category under the collective marks called presentation.  This score is given for appearance of “driver and grooms, cleanliness, fitness, matching, and condition of horses, harness and vehicle.”  It’s a little like pony club formals.  Presentation is usually evaluated during the dressage test (on the move,) a good thing if you forgot to clean the bit!

Every driven dressage test except the most basic intro test requires a rein back.

At a CDE you can expect to be judged by two to five dressage judges depending on the level.  “Nowhere to run to baby, nowhere to hide ...”

A groom is required for all Advanced competitors during dressage and cones and for all competitors at all levels who are competing a multiple (pair, tandem or four).  Fours require two grooms.  A groom is a carriage appointment and hitching post.  Their dress is determined by the overall look the driver (also called whip) wishes to create, from country casual to formal turnout.  Grooms may not remind the whip they have forgotten the thirty-meter circle at E or that cone #18 is behind and to the left.  Grooms must stay on the carriage, big penalties for spinning your groom off the back as you come down the center line. 

It’s nice to have two carriages, a formal one for dressage and cones and your basic off-road vehicle for marathon, but not necessary.  You can do it all with a marathon carriage at lower levels.  Mostly we like to joke that our ponies take lots of toys to the shows. 

It’s nice to have a leather harness (Oh! the horror of upkeep!) but many competitors use synthetic harness.  You gotta love a sport where tack cleaning for a show involves a pressure washer and Armorall. 

Costs for a weekend of competing are comparable to the average horse trial.  CDEs can’t accommodate as many competitors as a horse trial, ninety is a full house.  We eat better – there are almost always great competitor dinners.  We love our sponsors!  They help driving events break even.

The guy on the back of the carriage in marathon (think cross country) is called the navigator or ‘gator for short.  A good ‘gator is invaluable in getting you around the three phases of marathon and providing ballast to keep all four wheels on the ground.  A good ‘gator can bounce you off a post if you’ve misjudged a turn and augured in.  A good ‘gator juggles two to three stop watches to keep track of time.  A good ‘gator is hard to find (I am SO lucky!!) and you need to get along with them as when we say marathon we mean it.  At my last CDE, at preliminary level, my pony traveled over 14,000 meters.  That’s about seven times the length of an average novice cross country course.  Like cross country this is the adrenalin portion of the sport.  Competitors make their way through 5-7 obstacles also known as hazards which resemble a maze.  The key is to get through each gate (marked with red and white letters) in the correct order as quickly as possible.  The longer you spend in an obstacle the more penalty points you rack up. 

It’s a penalty to drop your whip.  Like-wise a penalty for not having one in the first place. 

Cones require learning where twenty four to twenty eight sets of orange cones with yellow balls on them are.  They are identical.  No sympathy from a combined driver over difficulties in memorizing a show jumping course. 

Driving is all about scribing an arc accurately.  Take up driving and you’ll learn what the outside rein really does. 

Three great resources for Combined Driving are the American Driving Society www.americandrivingsociety.org, United States Equestrian, www.usef.org,  and Driving News www.drivingnews.us

Two of the bigger centers for Combined Driving are in Southern Pines, NC and Aiken, SC.  Both towns have very active local driving clubs and access to international level instruction. 

Photos courtesy of Dana Diemer