From the wagons and carriages of TV period dramas to the exhilaration of competitive scurry driving, there’s something very compelling about carriage driving. The discipline involves vehicles being pulled by a either single horse, a pair (two horses, side-by-side), a tandem (two horses, one behind the other) or four-in-hand (four horses in two pairs). While you’ll need either a lot of experience or a lot of expert help to break your own horse(s) to harness, many driving societies run ‘taster days’ when you can find out for yourself how it feels to hold the reins.
Jo Broadbent (pictured) of Fenix carriage and driving centre is a former open single horse British national champion and started driving around 25 years ago.
“I was involved with horses from a young age and had regular riding lessons as a child before becoming involved with driving by helping a friend who needed a passenger,” she says. “I soon became hooked on the driving rather than the riding and would spend all of my spare time helping and learning about the sport. I absolutely love it. Every day you learn something new, the challenges are endless and the sense of achievement with competitive driving can be huge, especially when you and your team are focused and on form.”
If you’re already a rider, then you have a head start when it comes to trying driving. Angela Flanagan has represented Britain at the World Carriage Driving Championships with both singles and pairs, and is currently a member of the British Carriage Driving Council.
“In my experience as a coach, those who have ridden tend to find the transition to driving easier than a non-rider, as they have a basic understanding of rein handling and also understand how the horse or pony is likely to react to certain situations,” she says.
Jo adds: “In my opinion, the bond you have with a driving horse is just as strong as with a riding horse. The only connection with your driving equine is your voice and the rein. Riders can take their seat for granted sometimes and underestimate the connection and feel you have through it. As drivers we have to have the confidence and trust without that connection. Driving horses, especially team/tandem leaders are a long way from the driver so a mutual trust and respect is essential.”
If you’re keen to try driving, both Jo and Angela recommend trying a taster session first, then a course of several lessons to learn safe practice.
“If you get hooked, then your coach or trainer will be able to advise how best to proceed from there,” says Jo. “Breaking or buying your own driving horse or pony and investing in equipment for driving can be expensive, so take your time and get advice. Remember that cheap harness and bargain internet buy carriages are almost always a false economy, and can even be dangerous. Good quality second-hand equipment can be an economical way to get started but again, but do get advice on correct fit and suitability. There are starter kits out there, but take your time to decide which type of driving you want to get involved with before buying kit that might not be suitable for what you want to do. If you don’t want to own your own turnout, regular lessons with a driving centre’s turnout can be very rewarding without the cost of owning.
“The beauty of driving is that there are lots of ways of being involved without the cost and ties of owning — for example, back stepping or grooming can be great fun and rewarding. There are plenty of drivers looking for help, and joining a local British Driving Society area or driving trials group will be a good way of meeting drivers and learning about what’s involved.”
“All of our British Carriage Driving clubs run their own training clinics, some of which are specifically for beginners,” adds Angela. “It’s always a good idea to go along to a club event to watch and learn about the discipline and meet and get to know people. Driving is a very sociable activity and you’ll soon find yourself getting involved.
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To find details of events in your area, visit the British Carriage Driving website or search for carriage driving club Facebook pages in your local area. British Carriage Driving are planning to run a nationwide series of taster days in 2019, keep an eye on the website for details.
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