Emily Ham’s driving blog: how to dress… and how to show a shoe

  • Last week I touched on the vast range of classes available in the grass roots ring and I am hoping that everyday drivers have been encouraged that there is something there for them to enjoy with their exercise vehicle.

    For those of you who have asked about how to dress and present your turnout for showing in exercise classes, the key principle in the grass roots ring is workmanlike… smart and subtle and harmonious! Also, scrupulously clean and tidy.

    The groom and driver should wear brown leather gloves. Brown is considered the correct colour as traditionally driving reins are brown, even if the rest of the harness is black.

    Both driver and groom should wear a hat. It is sensible to wear smart hard hats (as for riding) with a novice horse at its first show and any child under the age of 14 years has to wear one on the carriage and if acting as a groom for any British Driving Society class. Hard hats are perfectly acceptable and often seen in the grass roots ring.

    Driving exercise outfitOther options for hats are wool or felt — the trilby or cloth cap in colours to match the jackets of driver and groom. The aim is to be coordinated and subtle. Bright velvets are not appropriate nor are the larger brimmed hats with flamboyant feathers or the top hats that can be seen in private driving classes. I like to wear simple styled felt or melton wool hats with perhaps a band with a bow. Sometimes a man wearing a plain dark bowler hat suits a very smart turnout. E-bay and charity shops are great sources of outfits especially hats and jackets for driven showing!

    The driver should wear a driving apron. The driver’s apron should cover the knees so beyond mid calf is a tidy length. Often people use melton wool aprons which might have a waterproof lining to help keep the driver protected from the elements. Most people choose a plain colour to pick up detail from their outfit or the colour on the carriage. I use black as it matches the black harness I use and doesn’t attract the eye away from the rest of the turnout.

    Grassy wheelsSmart appearance with jackets done up, a tie for the groom (and driver if male) and hair tidy is important. It’s easy to arrive at the event with clean polished shoes only to find you have mown grass coating them and your carriage wheels (right) before you’ve even put to! A cloth is necessary. A cloth is also useful for a quick wipe over in the line-up as it’s surprising how dust, or, as is more usually the case, rain spots, settles from nowhere on your beautifully clean pony and harness!

    Equine should be well groomed and hoofs picked out and gleaming. It is possible to go barefoot in driving classes, but judges prefer to see good shoes suitable for road driving. Do make sure your groom understands how to lift your horse’s leg to show the shoes — my dad at our first show, when asked to show a shoe, was very bemused and after some thought raised the leg of his trousers to reveal his own size 9s!

    You need to carry a spares kit which you may have to take out to show the judge its contents and that everything in it is clean and functional. In private driving people tend to buy a patent spares kit with the basic contents already inside and you can do the same — opting for a less flamboyant plain leather version in black or brown. A number holder is also very useful and looks smart as it hangs under the carriage, but lamps are not necessary if you do not have lamp brackets.

    Do check when you clean your harness that you have taken it apart and really cleaned it thoroughly so there is no dirt, grease or hair under the buckles or in the recesses under straps. The bit should be clean again no grease or grass marks — but I only use water for this job. A good quality stainless bit cleans up very easily.

    Classes are entered and the big day has arrived! Allow plenty of time to pack everything — there is not just your tack and grooming kit, but all the cleaning equipment for your carriage as well as the spares kit, driving whip, and outfits for driver and groom. It’s easier if you can to load the carriage the day before. Don’t forget to put the necessary paperwork in such as the schedule, your number — if sent in advance — and horse passport.

    At the showground be sure to find out which ring you are in and how the horses and carriages access the ring. Not every show has a collecting ring. The ring steward will want to let competitors out before the next class goes in so it is essential to allow plenty of space. Usually grooms enter on foot accompanying the turnout at the horse’s head to ensure they are best placed to assist in the case of a problem.

    It seems like a lot to sort out, but really it’s so easy to find the equipment you need and doesn’t have to be expensive. Classes are very reasonable to enter — starting at about £5 — and provide a great day out for you and your family!

    Next week’s blog will look at work you can do at home on bombproofing your horse ready for an outing at a show and driving in the rings.


    Emily’s H&H blogs

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