Combined Carriage Driving

Combined driving (also known as horse driving trials) is an exciting and one of the fastest growing equestrian sports. In this discipline, the driver sits on a vehicle drawn by a single horse, a pair or a team of four.

The sport has three phases:

  • Dressage;
  • Cross-country marathon and,
  • Obstacle cone driving.

It is one of the ten international equestrian sport horse disciplines recognized by the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI); combined driving became a FEI discipline in 1970.

Phase A1 : Presentation

The judge grades on the turnout, safety, cleanliness, general condition and impression of the horses, tack, and vehicle, the matching of the horses or ponies, and the dress of the driver and groom(s). The judging is done at the halt. Pre-novice and novice drivers are judged primarily on safety and fit of the harness and vehicle and a three-phase or marathon vehicle and harness is acceptable. Presentation is judged on the move during the dressage test for more advanced drivers. Presentation carries a maximum of ten penalties.

Phase A2 : Dressage

The dressage test is somewhat similar to dressage under saddle. The test is performed in a 40 by 80 or 40 by 100 metre arena with letter markers, where transitions in speed and gait are to take place. The judge scores each movement on a scale of 0–10, with a 10 being the highest mark possible. The difficulty of the test increases with each subsequent level of competition. At the lower levels, only one judge will normally be positioned at C (the centre of the short side of the arena) and the Test may have 16 movements. At higher levels, 3 judges may be used and at International competitions and World Championships there may be up to 5 judges, with the Championship Test having 25 movements.

The judges’ marks are averaged (added together and divided by the number of judges). Dressage movements may include circles, figures of eight, and crossing the diagonal and all paces – walk, working trot, collected trot, extended trot, canter, a halt, and a rein back. Multiple horses are judged on ability to move in harmony and ideally will have similar conformation, action, and movement. Horses are to remain on the bit throughout the test, maintaining impulsion, elasticity, rhythm, and forward movement. The goal is to make the test look effortless, and an obedient and responsive horse is essential for a good dressage test. Unlike a ridden dressage test, a driven test allows the use of the voice as an aid. At international level, dressage tests are prepared by the Fédération Equestre Internationale (F.E.I.) which is the governing body of competitive carriage driving.

Phase B : Marathon

The marathon is similar to the second phase of eventing, the speed and endurance. It tests the fitness and stamina of the horses, as well as the driver’s knowledge of pace, over a 10–22 km course, divided into 2 sections. The marathon is the most thrilling phase to watch, and often draws the largest crowds.

Section “B” of the marathon is similar to the cross-country phase of eventing. It has obstacles or “hazards” throughout the course to test the speed and agility of the horses, and the driving ability of the driver. Obstacles may include water, tight twists through trees or man-made obstacles, steep hills, or fences and pens. Drivers are scored on how quickly they can negotiate the obstacle, and must find the fastest route through each. Penalty points are given if too much time is spent in an obstacle, or if the team comes in off the optimum time for the whole course.

Driving any horse or pony and carriage around an obstacle at speed requires practice and a rapport between driver, animal(s) and groom(s). Timing starts as the horse’s nose crosses the start line and ends when his nose crosses the finish line, frequently the same markers. The speed within the hazards can be very fast and nerve-racking – both for competitors and spectators alike.

Phase C : Obstacle Cone Driving

The obstacle cone driving phase is a test of accuracy, speed and obedience, equivalent to the show jumping phase of eventing. Competitors walk the cones course before they drive it. The driver negotiates a course of up to 20 pairs of cones, each cone having a ball balanced on top. The cones are only a few centimetres wider than the wheels of the carriage, depending on the level of the class and the type of turnout (from 50 cm at the lower levels, to only 22 cm at the advanced singles level). Knocking over one or both of a pair of cones adds three penalties to the driver’s score. The course may also include obstacles made of raised rails in a U or right angle, and a wooden bridge. The cones section is timed and going over the time set for the driver’s class leads to penalties. Circling before an obstacle and refusals are also awarded penalty points. This part of the competition would be similar to the show-jumping of eventing.

The current World Champion is Boyd Exell, who is also the most successful driver of all time having consecutively defended his outdoor title 4 times and his indoor title 7 times based on results at the end of 2019.