What You Need to Know About Driving

Saturday, August 28, 2010
Posted by Staff Writer

World Champions of eight equestrian sports will be contested at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, and whether you’re a horse enthusiast or someone who has never touched a horse, we can bet you don’t know about every single discipline.
We started with Dressage, and now we’ll give you an in-depth look at Driving and what it takes to compete at the highest level. Don’t forget, there are still tickets available to see all eight disciplines. Click here to get yours now.


Driving is a discipline steeped in history and is the oldest competitive equestrian sport. Once technology eliminated the need for horses to drive carts as a form of transportation or labor, Driving began to evolve as a sport.

At the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Drivers will be competing with four-in-hand teams (four horses pulling one carriage) in Combined Driving. It includes three different phases. The first phase is Dressage, the second phase is Marathon and the third phase is Cones.

What is going on in the carriage?

The carriages are an intricate part of Driving, and they must be just as well maintained and presentable as the horses. The carriage being used also dictates the fashion of the team. The clothing of the driver and the harnesses must match the style of the carriage.

Although the driver is the only one allowed to control the horses with the reins and whip while they are moving, he or she is not the only person in the carriage. Four-in-hand drivers are allowed to be accompanied by two “grooms” in all phases of the competition. The grooms’ presence is most important in the Marathon phase, where one groom helps direct the driver and the other helps balance the carriage. The Marathon phase is the only phase in which a groom can give verbal directions.

In the competition, the same carriage must be used for the Dressage and Cones phases, but a different carriage is typically used for the Marathon phase.

So what is the difference between these phases?

In Driven Dressage, the driver is responsible for taking his or her horses through a Dressage test similar to what a Dressage rider would ride. Also similar to Dressage, drivers will all be performing the same test in a flat, rectangular arena lined with letters. The arena in Driving, however, is 100 x 40 meters, almost twice as large as a ridden Dressage arena.

The Marathon phase of Combined Driving is designed to test the stamina and agility of the horses and the maneuvering skills of the driver. Drivers will take their teams over natural terrain and complete an exciting course of obstacles that include water, hills, sharp turns and more. The object is to complete the course without faults and within the optimum time.drivingcones

The Cones phase of Combined Driving features a tight, challenging course of cones that must be navigated within the time allowed. Tennis-sized balls are placed on top of cones on the course and the drivers must direct the horses around the cones without displacing the balls. At this point, the horses have completed two phases, and it takes exceptional driving skills to be successful at Cones.

How is all of this scored?

Just like regular Dressage, Driven Dressage is judged subjectively. Five judges surround the arena and will score the driver on the accuracy of the test and the effectiveness and style of the driver. The Dressage test will include mandatory movements, figures and pace changes. Movements in Driven Dressage include extended trot, shoulder-in, rein back and more. During these movements, the driver and his or her team is judged on the smoothness of transitions, the obedience of the horses and the harmony between the driver and the team, as well as the harmony among the horses.

Judges will score each movement of the test from zero to 10, with 10 being “excellent.” Drivers can also receive penalties. If they make an error on their test, the first error is five points; the second is 10 and the third results in elimination. Other penalties include incomplete presentation of the vehicle, a horse on the team stepping out of the arena and disobedience of a horse.

For the Marathon phase, the course is divided into different sections. These sections may call for pace changes, specific turns and movements and the completion of obstacles. If the rider exceeds the time allowed for any section of the Marathon phase, the penalty is .2 points per second. Other penalties for Marathon include error of course, incorrect pace during a section and stopping on the course.drivingmarathon

The Cones phase is judged in a similar fashion as the Marathon phase, but in this phase there are no pace requirements and the obstacles are the cones. The cones are set up so that drivers must direct the horses in between two cones. If the balls are knocked off of one or both cones at an obstacle, drivers will receive a three point penalty. Other penalties include knocking down the whole obstacle and disobedience at an obstacle.

And all of this is one competition?

Yep. The final scores for Driving Marathon are calculated by the penalties drivers received from each phase. The judges’ marks in Dressage are calculated and converted into a penalty score, and any penalties incurred in the Marathon and Cones phases are added to this score. The team with the lowest number of penalties after the three phases of competition wins.

Fan Etiquette

Now that you know more about Driving, you may be wondering how much involvement you can have as a fan. Fan etiquette for Driving is similar to that of golf. When golfers are focused on the green, fans are quiet observers. But, as soon as they sink the putt, the crowd goes wild.

It works the same way for Combined Driving. When drivers are maneuvering their horses through complex obstacles, it is important for fans to remain quiet as not to disturb their concentration. Once the driver has completed the obstacle, however, cheering is totally acceptable, and encouraged.

About the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games:
The Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games are the world championships of eight equestrian disciplines recognized by the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI). The Games are held every four years and this will be the first occurrence in the United States. Tickets to the 2010 Games are still available and can be purchased at www.alltechfeigames.com/tickets, at www.ticketmaster.com, through the Ticketmaster hotline at 1-800-745-3000, or at your local Ticketmaster outlet.

The Games will be broadcast on NBC Sports, which marks the largest commitment to network coverage of equestrian sport in U.S. television history. The 2010 Games are expected to have a statewide economic impact of $167 million, and current sponsors include Alltech, Rolex, John Deere, Ariat International, Inc., Meydan, Kentucky Ale and the American Quarter Horse Association. For more information on the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games please visit, www.alltechfeigames.com.