Emily Ham’s driving blog: how to plan a season of competition

  • About this time of year as a break from the stress of revising and taking important university exams, I enjoy daydreaming and making plans for the busy year ahead. I am often asked, especially by those new to driving and keen to get out and about, what is available and where to look to search out the information about driving events.

    Using the British Carriagedriving (BC) website events section I can pinpoint when all the important national and regional driving trials are taking place and put them all in the diary. Since nationals are 3-day events and I live in mid-Wales, far from motorway links, going to a national is often a full 5 days spent away — more if you want a day for the horse to settle in before competing.

    For the events in Scotland it may mean planning an overnight stop on the journey so my long suffering dad, who drives our lorry, can have a break. Carriage driving is a truly friendly sport and we have generously been offered overnight stays, including a stable, by fellow competitors who have since become good friends.

    Following a new ruling by the governing body for horse driving trials, it is now possible to move up to advanced level with 3 dressage scores of 60 or less in open classes during the previous season. This is not a step to be taken lightly! Alfie achieved this last year in his first year of open competition, so I have some serious contemplating to do.

    There are excellent 2-day events run by clubs across the country that provide good schooling opportunities and practice for the nationals. I would like to get to more of these with Alfie and, if possible, take Mr J too. These can all also be found on the British Carriagedriving events calendar and the clubs are all listed separately too on the website links page.

    There are also the indoor driving events, listed on the Indoor Carriagedriving website, leading up to the national championships at Keysoe in the first week of April, plus there is the British Young Drivers Easter Camp at the Unicorn Trust in mid April too. This is split into 2 groups with young drivers who are competing at club or national novice level for the first 3 days, followed by the national young drivers competing at intermediate level and above over the Easter weekend.

    The camp is generously part-sponsored by Baileys Horse Feeds, which enables the drivers to have training from the top national coaches as well as workshops and lectures. Details can be found on the main BC website. All young drivers are welcomed, even without a turnout, with special reduced rates for those on foot.

    Crossfield Glory put to a Ladies Phaeton (photo by Ann Ham)The British Driving Society (BDS) yearbook is out soon and lists all the shows that have driving classes, along with the qualifiers for the Victoria Foods Championship and Osborne National Championships. I enjoy driven showing and Crossfield Glory (Mr J ) adores the opportunity to strut his stuff — especially his extended trot (pictured right in his Phaeton at Three Counties Show private driving class).

    Last year between university commitments and driving trials, I didn’t get to many shows — just the Royal Welsh and Brecon County — and then taking part in demonstrations to promote driving trials with fellow Powys Carriage Driving Group club members at Llanynidr, Brecon and Sennybridge Shows. These are always enjoyable as the public throng the ringside and come over to meet the pony and chat about driving when the demo is over.

    September is a very busy month with the Victoria Food Championships for all types of driven showing in the 2nd week, the National Horse Driving Trials Championships the week after (Alfie is pictured above in the dressage at Lowther last year) and the BDS Championships for driven showing on the last weekend. There are also other events like Trec competitions, which in Wales have qualifiers for the BDS Wales Championships, planned for the first weekend of October at Pembrey, close to the beach.

    This year I will be busy working on my dissertation through the summer so will have to balance competing with my studies even more than usual.

    Next week I will be bringing Alfie back up to Aberystwyth to begin fitness training ready for the summer season, as he has enjoyed an 8-week break at home while I have focused on the first batch of my MSc exams.

    I am drafting an individualised diary of fitness work and schooling for each of the ponies working up to the specific competitions and driving events I have chosen. There are so many opportunities it’s very difficult to make decisions, but very enjoyable to take the time to look through the lists and schedules — especially while the rain lashes down !


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