Driving Marches On

Friday, October 8, 2010
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Since I gave an overview of Vaulting yesterday, I thought today I would focus on Driving.  Luckily my friend, Ann Pringle, editor of The Driving Digest magazine,  was here and helped me to understand this sport.  Ann has been with The Driving Digest for three years now.  Before that she was the Executive Director of ADS, American Driving Society.
Ann's knowledge about driving began when she was in her early 20s while she worked for Bill and Cary Kennedy.  They had hunters and ponies that they were driving and they went on to drive a coach and do four-and-hand driving.   So Ann had a really good opportunity to learn this sport and to drive herself.   Then while she was at ADS, Bill Kennedy was president.  So, here is what I gleaned from Ann.

At WEG it is only 4-in-hand driving, not pairs or singles.  If you look historically at the sport, when the Driving World Championships began it was just for 4s but now the pairs, singles and ponies having a championship.

Like the Eventing, Driving has three parts.  Dressage is just like you would expect in that the judges want to see obedience, training, and skill.  The movements include extensions, collections, shoulder in (which is the newest addition), circles (including some one handed), a five loop serpentine, halt and reinback.

The goal is to get the horses to work well together and often at their most team like moments the legs will sychronize.   In dressage, the drivers are being judged by five judges who are looking for the horses to work together as a unit as well as be obedient to the driver.  

The judges want to see accuracy in the movement, impulsion and relaxation through the back.

Day 2 is marathon, which can be up to 15 kilometers.  The first section is the Roads & Tracks and they have a window of time within which they need to arrive (not before or after).   Section A is just endurance.  Marathon used to be five sections but now it's only three.  B would have been a walk section and C would have been a speed section.  Here they skip right to D which is a walk section and that is followed by a 10 minute rest halt where they go through a veterinary inspection.  

Like Endurance and the cross country phase of Eventing, the grooms can come in to help cool the horses off.  The vets check pulse and respiration, which must come down to a satisfactory level or they can't proceed.

Section E is is the most fascinating as they negotiate obstacles (often called hazards).  There are 8 in all and it is a like a maze that they have to work their way through.  There can be up to 6 gates which they have to negotiate in that order and they can choose their path.  They are timed when they enter.  The object is to go as fast as possible once in the obstacle.  So, their departure time to leave each obstacle is important if they want to win.  
Much like in Eventing, the Dressage score is very important because a lower score (which means less penalty points) gives them that much of a head start.

Within the obstacles they can incur penalties for different things.  If they miss a gate entirely that is elimination.   If they go out of order, they can go back but incur 20 penalties.  If their groom falls off or has to get off for any reason within the hazard boundaries, they accumulate penalty points.  They can't exceed 5 minutes in an obstacle, so they do have to keep moving.

The time that they take in the obstacle is multiplied times .2 and that combined with any penalties in section A or D are added together to give them their marathon score.  The goal at the end of the day is to have the least amount of penalties once combined with the dressage score.

The final day is the Obstacle driving part which is often referred to as the cone competition.  Driving, just like eventing, started out with the cavalry and so the final part is to test strength, obedience, willingness and being fit enough to continue.  They are checked by the vet before they do the cones for soundness.  The drivers have to go through a maximum of 20 sets of cones 20 centimeters wider than the wheel width of the carriage and since the carriages have a standard minimum width  the cones are set the same for everyone.

There is also a time allowed that they have to be within as in show jumping.  Three penalties are given for every cone that is knocked down so the driver has to decide his strategy whether to go fast to make the time allowed and not worry as much about knocking the cones or drive more cautiously to keep the cones up.  Ideally they want to do both - go fast but clear.

They go in reverse order and in the end the cone score is combined with the two previous scores to give their final tally.  There are both team and indivdual competitors.  In fact the U.S. has 9 drivers.  

You could present five horses to the horse inspection.  The host nation is allowed to have three on the team and up to six individuals.  There are now only 25 drivers after we lost David Saunders because two of the five horses he presented did not pass.  You can compete with four horses but not with three.

The countries here in addition to the U.S. include Australia with two, Canada with two.  France with one and The Netherlands with three (who are probably the top team medal contendors with the previous world champion Ijsbrand Chardon).  Sweden has two and Switzerland two.  Poland has one.  Germany has three.  So a team can consist of two or three, but if three one of the scores is dropped in each phase of the competition, but in order for that score to count that driver can not be eliminated in any phase of the competition.

Today the first half of the competitors competed in dressage and at the end of the day both Chester Weber and Isjbrand Chardon were tied for the first place.  Chester had a slight problem when backing his horses.  If not for that he would have won the dressage.

The U.S. team is comprised of Weber, James Fairclough and Tucker Johnson and after half the competitors have gone, the Dutch are first, U.S. second and Germany third.  Casey Zubek, one of the Indivuals competing for the U.S., has only been driving 4-in-hands for two years now. and this will be his first World Championship.  He is driving a young team of 6 year olds.

After his dressage ride Weber talked a bit about the marathon phase noting, "There's nothing for free here.  The challenge with the hills is that you are pushing them going up and supporting them coming down.  It will pay off for the teams that have horses with power left at the end.  We've worked a lot on the marathon recently.  We're going to go out and do our best and see what it all looks like on Sunday afternoon."

We still have three more days left before Sunday,when we'll be able to look back at the good, the unfortunate and the brilliant.  But until then keep following us here at Horsesdaily.  And if you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me at dderosa1@optonline.net.