As this is my first blog for Horse & Hound I’d better introduce myself. My name is Emily Ham. I am 22 years old and have always been passionate about horses.
From the age of 2 ponies have been the centre of my life and a growing herd at home of outgrowns and veterans testifies to a happy childhood and misspent youth enjoying Pony Club, Riding Club and carriage driving.
What I love about carriage driving is how I can still enjoy ponies who are too small for me to ride. In fact, outgrown Pony Club ponies excel at the sport of driving trials. This is the fast-paced driving equivalent of eventing and provides a real adrenalin buzz.
Driven dressage can look extremely elegant at national and international events where presentation vehicles and best harness are used. Drivers, grooms and horses are immaculately turned out. It requires skill to drive the carriage accurately with the horses working correctly at the different paces — which includes canter at advanced level.
The excitement of the speed and power of hurtling on your 4 wheels behind your horse on the marathon across country, with up to 8 gated obstacles to drive, often with water, is indescribable. This phase is very popular with spectators, especially when the pairs and teams thread their way skilfully between trees and posts and thunder out through the finish gate.
The final phase of cones is the test of precision as you complete a driven course between pairs of cones with only centimetres to spare either side of the wheels… 1 rub and down falls a ball to rack up 5 penalty points! It is very easy to pick up time-faults too.
The Pony World Championships is taking place at Pau in France this week, with Team GB represented by 2 teams, 2 pairs and 2 single pony turnouts. Ideally I would be there supporting the team, but university commitments have kept me here in Wales.
Sadly these amazing World Championship events are not really televised, but if there’s a chance to watch any I will be glued to my TV! I think driving trials should be an Olympic Sport and it is now being marketed as British Carriagedriving or BC, in line with British Dressage (BD), British Showjumping (BS) and British Eventing (BE). When you look at recent “sports” that have been added to the Games, I feel we should have a strong case!
The parent body has an excellent record of supporting young drivers like myself through their young drivers programme, which offers top quality training at twice yearly camps. I am also extremely lucky to have James Broome as my trainer at home in Wales.
I’m lucky to have been selected for all the international events that the young drivers have competed in — representing Wales at the Junior World Trophy in Austria in 2008 and Hungary in 2010, as well as the Channel Cup in 2009. In 2012 the young drivers went to the World Trophy in Austria as Team GB instead of as separate nations and they won the gold trophy — many using their retrained Pony Club ponies.
I was one of the older drivers at the event taking part in the inaugural FEI European Youth Championships with my lovely Welsh section C cob Crossfield Glory, aka Mr J. He is a very talented driving pony and extremely versatile. We have developed a very special partnership over the 6 years we have been together, enjoying successes not only in national and international driving trials, but also driven Trec, scurry, show demos, attelage and all the categories of driven showing, as well as pure pleasure driving.
When Horse & Hound rate carriage driving as one of the top 36 horsey things to try before you die, I totally agree! There is so much to enjoy and I would really recommend you give it a go.
If you are interested in finding out more about my carriage driving and ponies there are photographs and video clips on my Facebook page: Emily Ham British Carriage Driver.
Report from Pony World Championships in H&H magazine (14 November issue)