The blood, sweat and tears shed while trying to qualify for the Ssangyong National Carriage Driving Championships will prove worthwhile this weekend, as Britain’s combined driving elite set up camp in Windsor Great Park.
Billed as the “ultimate driving experience”, the championships are the biggest carriage driving competition to take place in Britain. During the next three days (16-18 September), some 150 drivers and more than 250 horses and ponies will compete to become the national champion in their chosen class.
The competition caters for the single novice pony driver through to the spectacular four-in-hand horse teams. The driven equivalent of ridden three-day eventing, the drivers are required to coax a beautiful and obedient test of precision and paces from their exceptionally fit equine partners on the first day (Friday).
Saturday heralds the excitement of the marathon, when the fitness, bravery and boldness of the entire turnout, including horses, driver and grooms, is put to the test. The marathon is broken down into five sections, with brief halts between each. There is no such thing as “short-format” in driven eventing.
An active trot section (A) is followed by a cool down walk (B) and the first 10min halt. An even faster trot section (C) is then followed by a second walk (D) and 10min halt before the turnouts head into the excitement of section E, which is home to the obstacles.
Placed on seemingly impossible gradients, with the added challenges of natural hazards, such as water, banks and extremely solid tree trunks, the driver must negotiate numbered pairs of flags in the correct order as quickly as possible.
Section E is where the grooms earn their keep as they fling themselves around “scurry-style” to keep the carriage on four wheels. Carriages tipping over, grooms on the floor and misunderstandings between horse and driver can lead to plenty of entertainment for spectators.
Having survived the efforts of marathon day, calm is restored as the drivers prove their accuracy and ability to cope under pressure in the cones phase on the final day. The driven equivalent of show jumping, it is also the one least enjoyed by most drivers, but it must be faced before the prestigious national titles can be awarded.
In addition to top class combined driving, the event also hosts the Windsor Classic Car Show on Saturday. The main arena entertainment will include show driving as well as sheepdog displays and the famous St Giles horse drawn fire engine. There will also be a shopping village, craft marquee and a play area with bouncy castle and rides for the little ones. Tickets cost £5 each for adults on the gate, with free entry for children. Parking is free. For more information visit: www.windsordriving.co.uk