FEATURE: Why carriage driving is a sport for everybody

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When you hear the term ‘carriage driving’, what do you think? Do you imagine teams of four powerful horses pulling a coach down the streets of London?

Maybe you think of a small native pony pulling a rusty, old cart to the local pub. But have you ever imagined a beautiful, majestic animal pulling an elegant carriage?

Carriage driving is an exciting sport that requires elegance, accuracy, speed, stamina – and an element of madness. It consists of three phases: dressage, the marathon and cones.

Dressage, like ridden dressage, is a set of figures and movements that are to be performed to two judges. It is marked on paces – this is how the horse (or horses) moves, and precision – this is how accurately the driver performs the test. The second phase is the marathon – it tests the drivers ability to think quickly and remember routes as well as the fitness and bravery of the horse.

It starts with a trot and walk section, these have to stay within a certain time allowance otherwise penalties are given. The marathon is approximately 15km, which means the horses have to be extremely fit. Then come the obstacles. There are usually eight obstacles, with up to six gates to be driven in the correct order. The driver has to memorise all of the routes with the help of their backstepper. The backstepper (as the name suggests) stands on a step on the back of the carriage. The marathon is the only phase in which they are allowed to speak.

Their role is to navigate the driver as well as leaning to balance the carriage. The obstacles are set elements such as posts or poles that the driver has to steer the horse through and around.

The turns are tight and the horses have to go as fast as they can. This phase is my personal favourite as it is fast and thrilling. The third and final phase is the cones. This is set in an outdoor arena, like the dressage, and consists of approximately 20 pairs of cones with a ball balanced on top of each one. The driver has to steer and control the horse through the cones in the correct order.

If a ball falls off the cone, penalties are awarded.

For a lot of riders, we are content driving one horse or pony. However for some, this isn’t enough. Some people can drive two, three, or even four horses at a time. There’s also indoor driving in the winter, which lasts a day instead of being spread across a weekend. Although slightly different, this is a lot more accessible and is great for beginners .

One of the many advantages of the sport is the fact that almost anybody can do it – young or old, able bodied or disabled, you can still drive.

I am 14 and I go to Spalding High School. I do competition carriage driving and enjoy every minute of it. I drive a Hackney cross Welsh Section C called Ryan. He is 16 and 12.3hh (this means he is a native, quite small pony).

You don’t need a big horsebox with a horse worth thousands of pounds. All you need is a small native pony, a carriage and a trailer.

I got into the sport through my pony and competed with her for three seasons until she retired. I was very nervous at my first competition as I didn’t know anyone and was eleven at the time. But I was pleasantly surprised to discover that everyone is so welcoming – and I now consider some of them to be my best friends.

If you would like to see the sport for yourself, monthly indoor competitions are held at Laughton Manor Equestrian Centre on Sunday, February 17 or Sunday, March 10. Or you could watch the indoor National Championships (April 4-7). Everybody is very friendly and will be happy to answer any questions or tell you a little more about carriage driving in our area.

• For more information visit www.horsedrivingtrials.co.uk, www.indoordriving.co.uk or email Emily at emily@viller.net