Horses were driven long before they were ridden and, as such, Driving is the oldest competitive equestrian sport yet it continues to thrive in the 21st century. Drivers sit on a vehicle drawn by a single horse, pair or a team of four and they face three trials – dressage, marathon and obstacle driving.
The dressage arena used for driving is larger than that used for ridden dressage measuring 100 x 40 meters. Dressage involves performing a sequence of compulsory movements – which must be executed from memory.
Each movement is awarded marks out of 10. At the end, all points are added and the total is subtracted from 150 (maximum score) to give the final mark. The competitor with the lowest mark is therefore the winner of the dressage phase.
Further penalties may be added for errors of course or dismounting of grooms. All turnouts must carry a groom (two grooms for teams of horses) who must remain seated throughout the test.
The marathon is a spectacular time trial run over a course including natural hazards such as sharp turns, water and steep hills, and artificial hazards ones such as labyrinths. It tests the horses’ fitness and stamina and the driver’s judgment of pace and horse control.
The marathon phase of the driving trials consists of three sections (A, D and B) with compulsory halts in between. Some sections can be driven at any pace, others must be driven at a prescribed pace (e.g. walk). Penalties will be given if this pace is not maintained. The total distance of the marathon phase shall not exceed 22 kilometres.
All sections have a maximum time allowed and penalties are awarded if this is exceeded. The time allowed is calculated according to the distance. There may be a number of compulsory gates on the course, denoted by red and white flags. Competitors failing to drive through these gates in the correct order shall be eliminated.
A veterinary examination will be carried out during the halts, where horses will be checked for pulse rate, respiration, dehydration or injuries and any which are deemed to be unfit shall not be allowed to continue.
Section B of the marathon course includes up to 8 obstacles, which are designed to test the driver’s speed and accuracy and his ability to negotiate tight turns and difficult manoeuvres. The obstacles are constructed using a variety of natural terrain and man-made materials and each obstacle will include up to 6 gates, flagged A to F. There are also start and finish gates for each obstacle. The object is to drive through the gates in sequence (and in the correct direction) in the shortest possible time. Penalty points are awarded for each second spent in the obstacle and further penalties can be added for dismounting of the groom.
Obstacle driving – or cones – tests the fitness, obedience and suppleness of the horses after the marathon, as well as the skill and competence of the driver who must weave cleanly through a narrow track outlined by cones with balls balanced on top.
A course of up to 20 gates, consisting of pairs of cones, has to be driven within the time allowed. The course is between 500 and 800 meters in distance and the cones are numbered and have to be driven in sequence. Penalties are awarded for exceeding the allowed time or for dislodging any of the balls. Further penalties will be given for errors of course or for the groom dismounting. If a driver manages to drive the course within the allocated time and without hitting any cones, he will have driven a “double clear” and will incur no penalties. The spacing between the two cones is 20 cm (8 in) greater that the wheel width of the vehicle – that’s a clearance of only 10 cm (4 in) on each side. A ball is placed on top of each cone, which will fall easily if the cone is hit by the horse or the carriage wheel.
Driving was acknowledged in 1970 by the FEI (Fédération Equestre Internationale) thanks to the efforts of His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, former president of the FEI. He organised a meeting in 1969, which resulted in the first rules.