Driving Hard for Dash and Splash

Friday, March 19, 2010
Posted by Fran Cleland

You could be forgiven for thinking that watching a carriage-driving championship would be as exciting as watching grass grow! But when drivers are tackling the cross-country, also known as the marathon, carriage driving can be pretty exciting stuff.

Combined driving is a three-day event and Australia's Boyd Exell is one of the sport's leading lights on an international level. Carriage horses dress up and do an elegant dressage test on the first day. On the second day, they perform an amazing cross-country test at speed, with twists and turns, water obstacles and ramps. On the third day, they have to speedily negotiate an obstacle course defined by cones, with penalties for knocking cones down.

There are classes for four-in hand, pairs and singles, and height sections for horses and ponies. The event makes for entertaining viewing and should attract far more fans than it does.

On the Labour Day long weekend, the Victorian Carriage Driving Championships threw not only solid competition to the competitors, but the very worst of Victoria's capricious weather.

At the beginning of the event, which was held at Longwood, near Euroa, the dressage arenas were green and good to drive on, with lovely performances from some of the best drivers in the country.

But after the rain the marathon was shortened, due to the weather. However the obstacles were interesting - with the water obstacle, a ramp into the water offered a faster alternative, making it very interesting to drive and great for spectators.

The hard-luck story here was Margie Bowen with her pair of ponies, Roblea Coppelia and Roblea Darcy. After placing second in the dressage, and an excellent cones driving section, Margie missed the entry gate into the water and was eliminated. The third-phase cones had to be moved from the main arena, due to heavy rain.

A dinner and auction was held after the marathon to raise funds for international drivers Michelle Jones and Elizabeth Lawrence, who will travel to Italy for the world singles competition.

The class winners were:

* Novice Pony 91cm-121cm: Kim Filmer, Westwinds Samson.
* Novice Pony 121cm-149cm: Phil Marshall, Athanor Jenny Wren.
* Novice Horse: Melissa Palviainen, Macca.
* Open Pony 91cm -121cm: Vicki Stevenson, Penbayr My Lollipop.
* Open Pony 121cm-149cm: Neil Pollock, Clyde.
* Open Horse: Elizabeth Lawrence, Shepherds Hill Michael.
* Pony Pair: Paula Rhodes, Tya Sequin and Tya Spangles.
* Horse Pair: Andrew Pollock, Wylandra Chloe, Wylandra Poppy and Wylandra Tiki. A driver can use three horses over the three phases, alternating the ones best suited to the phase.
* Pony Team: Karen Rogers, Ripplebrook Meg, Ripplebrook Cobber, Ripplebrook Token, Ripplebrook Cyd and Rosie. The same situation applies, where a driver can use five horses over the three phases.

Photos: Thrills: Kate Wholagan makes a hard left as Liz Hammond holds on tight at the back.
On the move: Ty Nichols goes hard through a turn.
Water work: Liz Lawrence with backstepper John Morton. Pictures: Andrew Marshall