Horse Driving Trials
A Horse Driving Trial, especially one approved by the American Driving Society, is a good event for the new competitor's foray into the sport of combined driving. An HDT is a simplified Combined Driving Event, taking place on one day instead of a CDEs usual three days. Combined Driving is a versatility test, with each of the three Competitions having it's own objective. "Dressage tests the regularity of paces, impulsion, lightness and ease of movement of the equine, the Marathon tests the stamina, fitness and training of the equine and the judgment of paces and horsemanship of the competitor and finally Cones tests the obedience, fitness and suppleness of the equine after completing the Marathon and the skill and competence of the competitor"(1). Competitors compete more against themselves and the various courses than against each other. HDTs are conducted under the Rules for Combined Driving (yellow pages) in the ADS Handbook with special attention paid to Article 936, General Conditions for Horse Driving Trials. It would be beneficial for all competitors to read and be familiar with the entire CDE (yellow) section, however, that can be a daunting task, especially for the new competitor. The Articles competitors should read are listed in the Appendix of this primer. In addition to the yellow pages listed in the Appendix, new competitors should also read the blue pages (pages 1 - 9) in the ADS Handbook. These are the General Rules for All ADS Competitions and they apply to all participants at ADS approved competitions unless superseded by a specific rule for a specific competition. These rules may seem confusing as first, but they will become more familiar as the new competitor gains experience.
Participation in a Horse Driving Trial does not require you to go out and buy the most expensive gear available on the market; however, there are a few requirements that must be met. You will need a sound horse or pony, at least 4 years old, physically and mentally conditioned for competition and capable of trotting for a 4 - 10 kilometer marathon, a harness in good condition (with a throatlatch and noseband or caveson on the bridle) and a solid vehicle (with brakes if the harness has no breeching). You may use the same vehicle for all three Competitions if you like, but you must use the same vehicle for Dressage and Cones. A spares kit must be carried on the vehicle during all three Competitions, it should contain a spare rein or a rein splice and a hole punch, and a spare trace or a trace splice and a hole punch. It is recommended that a halter and lead rope also be carried. For Dressage and Cones competitors are required to be conservatively attired, wear a hat, driving apron and gloves and carry a whip in hand. The required dressage test should be practiced and memorized, but a reader is allowed for Training Level if you cannot remember the test. (If you plan to use a reader, you must bring your own and should practice driving your test with your reader beforehand.) Overcheck reins, side reins, leg wraps and brushing boots are not permitted in Dressage. Side check reins are permitted at this level. Rear (red) reflectors are required on your vehicle, lamps are required only if your vehicle has lamp brackets and some events may also require a slow-moving-vehicle sign be attached to the rear of your vehicle during the Marathon. You will need a stop watch or two and are required to carry a Navigator, who is at least 10 years old and who is capable of rendering assistance in an emergency on the Marathon. During the Marathon, you may wear casual clothing (which should be neat in appearance) and helmets are encouraged for both of you. No apron or gloves are required, but a whip must be carried in hand while in a Hazard and at least on the carriage during the rest of the Marathon.
Read thru the ADS Omnibus to select an appropriate HDT. All the information pertinent to each event is listed here. An event that includes Training Level is the place to begin, and one that encourages new competitors is even better. Take special note of which Dressage test is being used, the length and terrain of the Marathon and any stabling fees. Don't be afraid to call the event secretary and ask questions to see if this event is right for you and your horse or pony. Be sure you fill out the correct entry form in the ADS Omnibus. This will be the form with "ADS" boldly printed thru the middle and "American Driving Society Combined Driving Event Entry Form" printed at the bottom. (Do not use the AHSA form or the Pleasure Driving Entry Form.) This form is self explanatory, but it must be completely filled out and signed on BOTH sides by anyone (or their guardian) who will ride on your vehicle. Check thru the event's Omnibus listing for any social functions (such as dinners), clinics and stabling fees. Mail your entry to the secretary of the event along with all applicable fees and any health certificate requirements as soon after the date listed as the day "Entries Open" as possible, otherwise you may end up on a "Waiting List".
The day before the HDT, competitors must call the event secretary to request their dressage times. You must present yourself to the dressage arena, prepared to perform the test by that exact time. There also may (or may not) be a marathon course walk and briefing the day before the event. If one is scheduled, plan to attend. Some events will allow both courses (Marathon with Hazards and Cones) to be examined ("walked") the day before the event and at other events you may only walk the courses on the day of the event. Make sure you are aware of which circumstance pertains to your particular event and arrive on the grounds early enough to familiarize yourself with the grounds, the Officials, the Dressage arena, the Marathon course with it's Hazards and the Cones Course.
When you arrive at the show grounds, report to the event secretary, set your watch to the official time and pick up your packet. The packet will include your number, course maps, your starting times for Dressage, Marathon and Cones, dinner tickets, etc.. Locate the "Official Board". This is where the organizer will post all course maps, time schedules, allowed times and event changes. All competitors must check this board on a regular basis to keep abreast of any changes during the event. You are responsible to report to the appropriate course at your assigned time. Dressage is always first, but check the schedule to see if it will be the Marathon or the Cones that follows Dressage. Some events will send you directly from Dressage to Cones and you need to be prepared. Be sure you have time to walk (do not bring your horse or pony onto any course or into any hazard) the Cones course before you drive it. Be sure to smile and thank the many volunteers you will encounter during the course of the day, without them, there would be no Horse Driving Trials.
In addition to the event secretary, event manager and their staff, at an ADS approved Horse Driving Trial, there will be two ADS licensed officials. One will be, of course, the Judge or the President of the Jury (another name for the Judge). The other, less familiar official, is the Technical Delegate or TD. The TD is probably the busiest person at an HDT. It is the TD's job to make sure the entire event is being run in accordance with the directives of the ADS. If you encounter any problems at the event, you can turn to the TD to help you resolve them. Carriage driving competitors are very helpful and friendly folks. As a new competitor you will find the more experienced competitors more than willing to answer your questions and give you guidance, however, for an serious question, it is essential that you receive an "official" answer. An unofficial answer to a serious question, though well intentioned, may turn out to be incorrect and could possibly cost you penalty points or even an elimination. If you have an important question, or have any problems or objections regarding the competition, locate the TD and ask for the "official" answer. Do not be afraid to ask questions. The ADS officials at an HDT, expect competitors to ask questions, especially new competitors.
Competition A Dressage: You have your assigned time and you have memorized your test. Warm-up your horse and report to the Gate Steward 4 or 5 minutes before your assigned time, listen to any instructions and wait for the competitor before you to finish. When he has saluted the Judge at the end of his test, you may drive around the outside of the arena (if space allows) to familiarize your horse with the various sights. The Judge will ring the bell, when he is ready for you, and you will have 90 seconds to enter the dressage arena. Enter thru the opening in the arena at A and salute the Judge at the location dictated by the test. If you make an error during the test, the Judge may blow the whistle. Stop and wait for direction from the Judge. If you make an error and the whistle does not sound, correct it if you are able and continue the rest of your test. Don't forget to breathe. You are having fun, remember? Your score and the Judge's remarks will be recorded on a dressage score sheet, which should be available to you, from the secretary, at the end of the event. Be sure to read the comments written by the Judge and use them to make improvements on your next test. Your dressage score will be converted to penalty points using the formula shown at the bottom of the sheet and posted on the official board. The penalty points you receive in the Marathon and in Cones will be added to this score for a total score. Receiving the fewest penalty points is the objective at an HDT.
Competition B Marathon: The Marathon is probably the most complicated of the Competitions for new competitor to understand. Horse Driving Trial Marathons consist of only one section; Section E with the Hazards, thus shortening the list of rules you will need to remember. A distance, speed and a time allowed will be posted on the official board. At Training Level, the time spent in the Hazards is not scored, however the time spent in the Hazards is included in the overall time on course. The Training Level competitor does receive penalty points for any errors committed in the Hazards the same as any other Level. If possible, walk the entire course and all the Hazards. Remember red is always kept to the right and white is kept to the left. A bicycle may be ridden and some events will allow motorbikes on the cross-country section of the Marathon. While walking the course, be aware of the Start and Finish Gates, the kilometer markers, the pairs of red and white mandatory gates along the course and, of course, the Hazards. The mandatory gates should be numbered and must be driven in order. They are posted to keep competitors on the required "track" (course). When inspecting a Hazard, inspect it on foot. It is forbidden to use a motorized vehicle to ride thru a hazard and is considered "bad form" to ride thru any Hazard on any type of vehicle (such as a bicycle) during these inspections. The Hazards may be walked as often as time allows. Although there are many rules for the Hazards (most will be learned by reading the rules and with experience), the new competitor must remember; "In Gate", "A, B, C" "Out Gate". Done any other way, you could incur penalties or elimination. If there are D and E gates in the Hazards, ignore them as they are for another Level. If you make a mistake in a Hazard, it may be corrected; i.e., if after going thru the In Gate, the competitor passes thru the B gate before going thru the A gate, the mistake may be corrected by going thru the A gate, B again, then C to the Out Gate. Penalty points will still be awarded, but if the mistake is properly corrected, you will not be eliminated. (The hazard penalties are listed on page 133, Article 927 12.)
Present yourself to the Starter 4 or 5 minutes before your assigned time. (Be on time! It's posted on the "Official Board" remember?) The Starter will give you direction and tell you how much time you have left, generally by stating, "You have 2 minutes.", then, "You have 1 minute.", followed by, "You have 30 seconds.", and finally you will be counted down from "10, 9, 8 ... to ... 1 Go.". Start from a standing start, not a running start. If you horse will not stand, move away from the starting gate. (It's OK; you don't need to have his nose pressed up against the starting line.) If you pass the Start Gate before "Go" you will be eliminated. The cross-country phase of the Marathon must be driven at the trot, but you may walk, trot, canter or even stop in the Hazards. The time allowed for a Training Level Marathon is calculated at 14 kph (kilometers per hour) for horses and 13 kph for ponies. This breaks down to approximately 4 minutes 17 seconds per kilometer for horses and 4 minutes 40 seconds per kilometer for ponies. The overall time allowed for a 5 km Marathon would be 21 minutes 25 seconds for horses and 23 minutes 20 seconds for ponies. This may be adjusted higher (but not lower) by the officials if course conditions warrant it. There is a 3 minute window under the time allowed. (This means you are allowed to finish 3 minutes faster than the allowed time.) With pen and paper calculate your window for arrival at each kilometer marker; i.e., the horse calculations would be: 1st km arrive between 4min 17sec (time allowed) and 1min 17 sec (3 min under); 2nd km arrive between 8min 34 sec (time allowed) and 5min 34 sec (3 min under); 3rd km arrive between 12 min 51 sec (time allowed) and 9 min 51 sec (3 min under) and so forth. (Fear not, you'll catch on to this in time.) To finish within the time allowed window, it is best to remain within the window during the entire Marathon. If you finish after the time allowed or more than three minutes before the time allowed, you will receive penalty points. An optimal finish time is approximately 30 seconds before the time allowed. The new competitor should not be upset if he receives time penalties for finishing late, for although the goal is to finish within the time allowed window, good horsemanship dictates the welfare of the equine takes precedence. There will be a Veterinarian waiting at the end of the course to check your horse's or pony's pulse, respiration and general condition. Water should be available nearby. If you leave a bucket and sponges in this area before you start out on the Marathon, they will be readily available when you return for cooling out your horse or pony.
Competition C Cones: Before driving the Cones Course, it must be inspected on foot in the same fashion as the Hazards. The Cones Course consists of a Start Gate, up to 20 Obstacles (some of them multiples) made up of cones, balls, posts and rails, and a Finish Gate. Again, red is always kept to the right and white is always kept to the left. During your inspection, closely examine any multiples, as they have a specific path marked with A, B, C and maybe D and must be driven as marked. If the Course contains a Serpentine Obstacle (4 posts in a row), it is perfectly permissible to cross thru the middle of this multiple for any reason. A time allowed will be posted, calculated at 180 mpm (meters per minute) for all Training Level competitors. There are no penalties for completing the course before (faster than) the time allowed, but there are time penalties for going over the time allowed. There are also penalties for various infractions (a complete list is on pages 139 and 140, Article 933), but most competitors incur penalties for finishing after the time allowed and for dislodging elements of an Obstacle. Any gate (walk, trot or canter) is allowed, but this is not a race. Strive for accuracy before speed. A good solid trot is the best approach.
Again, present yourself to the Gate Steward a few minutes before your assigned time. The Gate Steward will, again, give you direction. When the Judge is ready, present yourself to the Judge and salute. Failure to salute the Judge will cause you to be eliminated in Cones. The Judge will (after the salute) ring the bell (or blow a whistle) and you will have 60 seconds to go thru the Start Gate. Proceed around the course passing thru each obstacle in sequence and don't look back. If the Judge blows the whistle while you are on course, stop and wait for direction from the Judge. You may have committed an error on course, knocked down a multiple obstacle or there could be a problem with the course itself. If you have made an error on course, such as driving thru the Cones out of sequence, you will not be allowed to finish. Thank the Judge and graciously leave the course. If during an attempt to drive thru a multiple obstacle, your horse or pony breaks out of the multiple and knocks it apart, the Judge will blow the whistle, time will stop and the obstacle will be rebuilt. The whistle will be blown a second time, time will start again, and you will retake the obstacle (from its beginning) and continue on thru the rest of the course. If the reason for the whistle is a problem with the course itself (such as a child or animal on course), wait for the course to be cleared and the whistle to blow again. You may get a running start at the point you were originally stopped and then continue on thru the rest of the course. Enjoy the ride, Cones are great fun!
Your Dressage score has been converted to penalty points and your Marathon time penalties, Hazard penalties and Cones penalties have all been calculated. All of these penalty points will be added together and posted on the official board along with the Final Standings. As these are penalty points, the competitors with fewer penalty points will place higher in the final standings. If you were eliminated in any of the Competitions, you will not place in the Final Standings. Almost every competitor incurs an elimination at one time or another. If you are eliminated, take it in stride and learn from your mistake. I can guarantee that once you make a mistake that causes you to be eliminated, you will never make that same mistake again. As a competitor, it is your responsibility to check the scoreboard to see if your score makes sense. If you have a question or think there is an error with your score, locate the TD (or have the event secretary locate the TD) and politely explain the situation. This must be done within one half hour after the scores are official (posted). The TD will investigate your complaint. The resolution may or may not be in your favor. Regardless of the outcome, accept the results graciously and thank the TD for his effort on your behalf. Above all, enjoy yourself and the camaraderie of the other competitors. Sportsmanship is the hallmark of carriage driving and we will all be looking forward to seeing you on course!
Written by Dorothy A. Billington, firstname.lastname@example.org, edited by Tricia Haertlein.
(1) quoted from the ADS Handbook