Combined Driving Basics

To test the versatility of horse and driver, combined driving -- held at Training, Preliminary, Intermediate, and Advanced level, for Singles, Pairs, and Four-in-Hand divisions -- blends three competitions. Written by Sandra Cooke for Practical Horseman.

Dressage — Horses are judged on forwardness, responsiveness, elasticity, and grace while executing a set pattern of movements in a 40- by 100- meter arena. Rhythmic cadence, quality of movement, and precision of transitions all contribute to the score, as do the elegance and appropriateness of the overall turnout.


Marathon — Adrenalin surges during the Hazards section of this phase, where six complicated obstacles requiring advance planning plus split-second reactions test horses’ obedience, courage, and agility — and drivers’ judgment and skill. Competitors are scored on speed through the hazards (the faster the better), but they must complete other portions of the marathon course — such as the 15 mph trot phase — within an optimum time.


Cones — Many a CDE (combined-driving event) is won or lost on the cones course, a test of precision driving against the clock through a pattern of narrow “gates” defined by pairs of traffic cones with tennis balls balanced on top. Each dislodged ball adds 5 penalty points to the score. With the between-cones distance only 10 inches greater than the carriage’s wheel-to-wheel width, executing the course within the time allowed while leaving all the balls in place is a tough challenge for drivers and indicates how well the horses have rebounded from Marathon Day’s physical and mental demands.