Emily Ham’s driving blog: camp is a great learning experience — and lots of fun too

  • Driving is such a friendly sport — everyone helps each other out and nowhere is camaraderie more evident than at driving camp, where socialising and making new friends is an integral part. Also everyone is relaxed about giving their assistance and lending equipment to ensure a good time is had by all.

    Activities on offer will vary hugely depending on the group organising camp. At a British Driving Society camp a key activity might be learning to drive using the traditional coachman’s style of rein handling, with the reins held in the left hand with the right hand assisting. This is unlikely to feature at a camp run by a club affiliated to horse driving trials where improving rein handling skills in obstacle driving is a likely alternative.

    But whatever the group’s focus, you will find camp a great learning experience and your skills will be greatly improved by the opportunities provided.

    Like a 2- or 3-day driving trials, camp allows like-minded people to get together to compare notes. You can find out about  — and try — new equipment or tack, and discuss aspects of feeding, performance, farriery and so on. At camp, without the intensity of competition, the atmosphere is totally relaxed, yet there is a programme of varied and interesting activities to look forward to every day.

    A highlight of the year for our driving group is the camp with James Broome at Cricklands. Last year was the first time Powys Carriage Driving Group had held a camp and it was a resounding success — so popular that this year it has been extended from 2 to 3 days.

    Cones at driving campAs a sports driving club the emphasis is on improving in the 3 phases of dressage, obstacle driving and cones (right). The aim is to improve your aids for schooling — for example to get better transitions and accuracy of shapes, improving the quality of the pony’s paces and long term strategies to help both driver and equine progress successfully through better awareness and understanding.

    A key feature of camp is the set up, which has far better facilities than most of us have at home! Cricklands is wonderful — having acres of flat fields to set up dressage rings and cones courses, obstacles and a water hazard as well as large sand surfaced arenas.

    With willing volunteers to man these areas, there is plenty of driving opportunity in addition to the timetabled sessions with the UKCC coaches. You can plan your driving to suit your needs and you can put into practice what you have learnt straightaway while it’s still fresh in your mind, which is a fast track to learning.

    Watching sessions at driving campAnother advantage of camp is the opportunity to watch others and to learn from their sessions (left). As coaching is always tailored to the needs of the individual there is always something new in the way advice is presented and where the focus of the session lies. As the “why” is as important as the “how”, you can get totally drawn into the session you are watching and hugely improve your own understanding.

    As well as individual lessons with the coach, there are also group sessions. This might focus on driving technique in one of the key phases — for example it often works well to watch a driven dressage test and discuss it together with the coach, or the group session might involve everyone actively participating in the activity itself, rather than only in the discussion.

    At our camp last year there was a practical group session led by James on how to backstep well. This involved everybody taking a turn on the carriage and was very useful. Everyone also had an individual half hour dressage session with James and the opportunity to practise afterwards as well as the chance to drive cones. The day finished off with an evening group session about choosing good obstacle routes and walking the obstacles to try them out and weigh up their merits — all of which was invaluable.

    Driving camp is a sociable occasionBy nightfall we were all sitting round a blazing firepit enjoying a Chinese takeaway, while the ponies were contentedly munching haynets in the stables behind us. It was a wonderful social occasion and the end to a really worthwhile day with the next day’s activities to look forward to…

    Good friendships forged, great progress made in skills for horse, driver and backstepper,  not to forget stewarding skills too, and a thoroughly supportive enjoyable relaxed atmosphere. We can’t wait for the next driving camp! Roll on mid July!


    Emily’s H&H blogs

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