Emily Ham’s driving blog: helping others take up the reins

  • Last week I talked about driven dressage and how writing for British Dressage ridden competitions was mutually beneficial — in giving my services as an enthusiastic volunteer I learnt a tremendous amount from the judge’s comments.

    I would urge everyone horsey to consider volunteering as the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) considers volunteers “vital to equestrian sport”, with thousands of hours willingly given to support the whole range of activities, including the Riding for the Disabled Association.

    The BEF undoubtably benefits from the help given freely, but the volunteer gets so much back in return and, as well as new insights into the sport, has the tremendous satisfaction of enabling others to progress and enjoy their activity. It is very sociable and a great way to make new friends — human and equine!

    There are numerous young equestrians involved in Pony Club and riding activities, as well as a growing group of young drivers, and the BEF has a scheme to encourage us all to volunteer regularly within the BEF disciplines. This is the Young Equestrian Leaders Award scheme (YELA ), which offers 13-25-year-olds the opportunity to have their volunteering recognised by bronze, silver and gold awards.

    There is such variety of opportunity, with 18 recognised disciplines and an infinite number of ways of helping within each of these. Details can be found on their website (www.yela.org.uk).

    I am completing the final stages of my silver award with the volunteering hours now completed in 2 disciplines. Much of my volunteering has been helping out an affiliated driving club where my experience and driving qualifications have been put to good use. The picture above shows me helping out at driving camp with Jack Kedward, 10, and his mum, Vicky.

    Of course, non-BEF organisations too are also very grateful for volunteers. I support the British Driving Society whenever I can and have been especially busy helping organise and run junior training and introduction to driving days in Wales. Initiatives like this are proving hugely successful in attracting new drivers of all ages.

    Juniors have taken up the driving reins as well as pensioners  — with people of all ages and walks of life in between! Our youngest local recruit is 4 years old, our oldest in their 70s.

    The driving equivalent of lead-rein is dual reins, with one set (on a soft snaffle setting)  to the beginner driver and the other (from the lower stronger bit setting) to the experienced one sitting alongside. The 2nd set of reins only come into play as necessary… but is a brilliant safety device, enabling the youngest drivers to actually steer independently from the start.

    Whether lured in by sports or pleasure driving at events you will see all ages, as well as all ages and types of horse, competing as equals.

    Driving is also truly inclusive for people with disabilities and even those in wheelchairs can drive as the carriage seat provides perfect support. Driving is very popular with riders who no longer find it comfortable in the saddle — due to increasing stiffness or injury. Furthermore it is truly a family sport with groom or backstepper a vital part of the outfit and often room for passengers too.

    I find the driving community are a friendly group — happy to lend a hand or a spare piece of equipment, even at competitive events when doing so is assisting a rival in their class. Everyone involved in driving is generous with their time in helping others and this is especially true of helping newcomers into the sport.

    Qualified carriage driving instructors are spread more thinly than riding instructors, with Level 2 and 3 UKCC coaches listed on the British Carriagedriving website and the LHHI (Light Harness Horse Instructors) listed on the British Driving Society pages. Well worth looking into — a lesson would make a great Christmas present !


    Emily Ham’s blogs for H&H

    Read about a former rider who took up driving due to a degenerative joint diesease in H&H magazine’s reader issue, out 19 December.

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