Emily Ham’s driving blog: festive fun in the driving arena

  • Christmas is a time when driving features everywhere! There’s the magical image of Santa delivering his presents from his airborne sleigh powered by a team of 8 reindeer and, back on terra firma at the Christmas show at Olympia, extreme driving.

    This involves teams of 4 horses galloping round a twisty course of cones and obstacles. World champion Boyd Exell is likely to turn in a lightning fast time, though not at the supersonic speeds it is estimated for Santa’s Christmas delivery round!

    Alison and Tony DascombeEveryday horse drivers bring a lot of pleasure to their communities at this season, dressing up as Christmas puddings, elves and other magical figures and delivering Santa to Christmas parties and parades, horses transformed by antlers and sometimes a red nose too!

    Not to be outdone, driving events allow fancy dress or even hold themed fun days to celebrate Christmas.

    Every year our driving club holds themed fancy dress fun days for Halloween and Christmas, where the drivers can choose their own music to present their fancy dress finery to best effect. Driver, passenger, horse and carriage can all be transformed.

    The stipulation that safety must not be compromised means hard hats to the current specification must be worn by everyone on the carriage, but a creative array of headcoverings conceal them. Items must be well secured as you would not want anything to get caught in the wheels or between the pony’s legs. It is also obviously vital that nothing gets in the way of the long driving reins to affect control.

    Santas and elves, snowmen, penguins, Christmas puddings, crackers and characters from the Nativity, Disney and Scrooge take up the reins, with the carriages offering plenty of space for effective well-secured props and even battery powered lights! Though the majority of props are stripped from the carriage for those activities requiring more speed.

    Grooms’ outfits are carefully chosen so that outer layers suitable for standing still on the backstep for dressage and cones can be judiciously peeled off to allow full movement for the obstacle driving phase when they must lean out and focus on balancing the 4 wheelers at speed and possibly physically bump round the carriage if it gets close to a post.

    The obstacles and arena are decorated, with no limit to the imagination except that care must be taken that nothing is used that could shatter or get tangled up. Stewards and organisers and even the judges enter into the spirit of the occasion by dressing up .The arena is lit up with twinkling lights and loud Christmas music adds to the festive atmosphere. 

    Clubs may hold Christmas shows with a huge array of classes, including long reining activities, which allow those horses that are not yet at the stage of pulling a carriage to join in. There are fun themed activities and light-hearted games. These events are a lot of fun for everybody and the horses seem to enjoy the atmosphere too.

    Young and old and all ages come together to enjoy friendly competition and feast on the refreshments members kindly bring — mince pies, Christmas cake, sausage rolls. It’s a time to enjoy a bit of indulgence and great fun!

    I hope you all, like me, have a very merry Christmas!


    Full report on the driving from Olympia in H&H, out next Saturday, 28 December.

    All Emily Ham’s blogs

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