Combined Driving, modeled after ridden three-day eventing, has an extra challenge generated by the addition of the carriage. Horses and ponies, without benefit of a rider’s aids, must exhibit the highest level of training and willingness to perform by voice command and reins alone, with just a touch of the whip instead of leg.
Drivers first present their horses or ponies in the dressage arena to demonstrate obedience, suppleness and the skill of the handler. Judges take into consideration standards expected at each level and score accordingly. The dressage test, while it is the most nerve-wracking for the competitor, is the foundation for the rest of the sport.
The marathon, equivalent to ridden cross-country, is the phase that draws many participants to the sport and provides the most excitement for competitors and spectators. It is on the marathon that the driver must be able to gauge speed and pace in order to finish each section within the time allowed. In the last section, drivers must complete a series of hazards, negotiating up to six gates in each. Competitors approach the hazards, often at a gallop, threading their way through gates with inches to spare. It’s the hazards that give the sport its thrill/chill factor.
The final phase, the cones, tests the ability of the driver to clear a course of up to 20 gates at the required pace without incurring penalties. Combined driving cones are wedge-shaped, with hollow tops, on which are placed balls. The merest touch is enough to cause a knock-down and a five-point penalty. As drivers work up the divisions, the clearance between cones becomes narrower and narrower, testing the mettle of even top professionals. Like three-day eventing, combined driving is scored by a system of penalty points with the winner earning the lowest score.
Combined driving has its roots in England. In 1970, His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, established the first set of international rules that were implemented at the Royal Windsor Horse Show. A great competitor, first with a four-in-hand of horses and later with Fell ponies, Prince Philip remains a strong supporter of the sport.
Discipline Association: American Driving Society
Information provided by U.S. Equestrian Federation