What is the Equestrian Sport of Combined Driving?

Combined Driving Team on the Marathon Course

The equestrian sport of combined driving is similar to the ridden equestrian sport of eventing. Sometimes called the horse driving trials, combined driving is a carriage driven sport that is drawn by a single horse, a pair of horses, or a team of four horses in harness.   The sport, like with eventing, contains three phases: dressage, cross-country marathon, and obstacle cone driving. In the following article, the three phases will be described.


Dressage:  The dressage phase is divided into two sections: the presentation and dressage. The presentation section is judged on the safety, condition of the horses, cleanliness, tack, vehicle, the matching of the horses or ponies, and the dress of the driver and groom or grooms. This phase is judged at the lower levels at the halt. At these levels, presentation is mainly concerned with safety. At the higher levels presentation is judged on the move during the dressage.This section carries a maximum of 10 penalties. The dressage test is similar to a dressage test performed under saddle. The test is conducted in a 40 by 80 or 40 by 100 meter arena with letter markers. These letter markers help the driver in the pattern know when to produce certain transitions. The judge will score these movements from 0-10; 10 being the highest. The dressage test increases in difficultly as one proceeds up the levels. At lower levels, there is one judge who sits at the letter C. At the higher level 3 judges may be used. At International competitions, up to 5 judges can be used. When more than one judge is present, the final score for the driver and team is the average of all the separate scores. The dressage pattern includes movements such as circles, figure eights, and diagonals. These movements will be carried out in the walk, working trot, collected trot, extended trot, canter, halt and rein back. Horses are judged on harmony, conformation, action, and movement. The ideal test will look effortless. 



Cross-Country Marathon: The phase of combined driving is similar to cross-country phase of eventing. This phase tests the fitness and stamina of the horses. The driver must pace through a 10-22 km course in an optimum time. This course can be divided into 3-5 sections. In the FEI rulebook, there are 3 sections:  section A, Transfer, and Section E. Sections A and E may be driven at any pace. The Transfer section is to get the driver from Section A to Section E, this may also be driven at any pace, but enough time is given for this to be completed at a walk. There is a rest halt at the end of the Transfer section, which includes a vet-check. Each Section has a maximum and minimum time allowed to complete. If a driver is outside the time windows, then penalty points are awarded. A driver may also receive penalty points for not driving a section at the required pace. Section E includes up to 8 obstacles or hazards. In lower level competition Section E may be the only section performed. These hazards include trees, slopes, posts and rails. It takes a lot of practice to ensure that both horse and driver can complete the hazards correctly at speed. 


Obstacle Cone Driving: The final phase of combined driving is a test of speed and accuracy.This phase is similar to the stadium jumping phase of eventing. Drivers must navigate a course of up to 20 cones, each cone has a ball balanced on top. The cones are only a few centimeters wider than the cart. Driver must proceed through the course of cones without knocking the balls off the cones. If a ball is knocked off the cone, then 3 penalty points are awarded. The course may include raised rails or a wooden bridge.The cones phase is timed and drivers that go over time are penalized. 


After all three phase are complete the scores are tallied. Scores are converted into penalty points, thus the driver and horse team with the lowest score wins. If you are looking for an exciting sport in the world of driving you have found it in combined driving.