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“Carriage Driving Competition Guidelines”
by Dorothy A. Billington
please read our copyright notice

The Classes of Pleasure Driving Shows: Part One

As popular as the sport of Combined Driving has become, Pleasure Driving is still alive and well in the United States. Many competitors actually prefer Pleasure Driving Shows to Combined Driving Events, and often competitors will excel in both sports. For the newer competitor, this series of articles will attempt to explain the classes a competitor may encounter at Pleasure Driving Shows. This will not be a listing of rules, but more of a primer to give newer competitors an idea of what may be expected at a Pleasure Driving Show.

It is recommended that serious competitors consider joining the American Driving Society, P.O. Box 160, Metamora, MI 48455. Membership in this organization provides competitors with the ADS Handbook; the complete rules and regulations for all ADS sanctioned competitions. Pleasure Driving competitors should read and be familiar with all the blue and green pages in this Handbook.


In all classes at a Pleasure Driving Show, the driver must wear a hat, gloves, and apron and carry a whip in hand under penalty of elimination. Attire should be conservative in design and appropriate to the vehicle driven; i.e., formal attire with formal vehicles, country attire with country vehicles. Horses should also conform to the vehicle type; i.e., it would be expected to see a more flashy horse with a more formal vehicle and a more ground covering horse with a country vehicle. The whip should be carried within the frame of the carriage, near the horse and not stick out to the side where it would be rendered useless. The wheels on the sides, the front of the horse and the rear of the carriage define the frame of the carriage. Upon arriving at a Pleasure Driving Show, and after completely filling out and signing the entry form, the competitor will be issued a number. This number is for one particular driver, one particular vehicle and one particular horse. If the competitor changes any of the above, a new number must be issued.

Pleasure Classes

There are many classes and combinations of classes offered at Pleasure Driving Shows, some divided into Singles, Pairs, Ladies, Gents and Juniors, but the basic classes are: Working, Reinsmanship, Turnout, Ride and Drive, Scurry Obstacle, Double Jeopardy, Pick Your Route, Fault and Out, Progressive Obstacles, Gambler's Choice, Cross Country Obstacles, and Pleasure Marathons. A lot of different rules to remember! Join the ADS and get your Handbook, it is invaluable to competitors at any level.

We will start with the most commonly found ring class; Working. (The specific rules for this class are covered in Article 36 in the ADS Handbook.) The Working class is judged primarily on the working ability of the horse (70%); a horse that is a pleasure to drive, calm, confident and obedient. The horse should be on the bit and, as the class is called, "working". The remaining 30% is divided between the condition and fit of harness and vehicle (20%) and appropriate (for the vehicle) attire (10%). This class will be about 20 minutes in length and all horses entering this class should be in a physical condition that will allow them to trot for that period of time.

The competitor should enter the ring with confidence, at a working trot and in a counter clockwise direction. Remember, this is the first opportunity to make an impression on the judge. Enter the ring as if you own it. When all the competitors are in the ring, the judge will declare the class complete and the gate will be closed. During the course of the class, the judge will ask for a Walk, Slow Trot, Working Trot, Strong Trot (or Trot On), and a Halt on the Rail. (This is the only class in which the Halt on the Rail is required.) These gaits will not be asked for in any particular order, but at the discretion of the judge.

Required Gaits for "Pleasure Driving - Working"

The "Working Trot" is usually a horse's most comfortable and natural trot. If merely asked to trot, a horse should break into the working trot. The horse should be on the bit with light rein contact and his body rounded. At the working trot, the rear feet should step into the prints made by the front feet. It is a relaxed, forward and balanced gait with a regular two beat rhythm of medium speed.

The "Slow Trot" is very similar to the working trot, just slower. This doesn't mean the horse should take smaller steps. As in the working trot, the rear feet should land in (or near) the prints of the front feet. The horse should become a bit more collected yet still show impulsion and a willingness to move forward. A good two beat rhythm should be maintained, but at a slower rhythm than the working trot.

The "Strong Trot" (or "Trot On") should have a clear increase in speed and lengthening of stride from the working trot. The rear feet should land ahead of the prints of the front feet. Do not make the mistake of thinking this is a queue to begin racing around the ring, as the judge will penalize excessive speed. A light rein contact (the same as with the working trot) should be maintained. An obvious death grip on the reins will not win the competitor any points from the judge. The horse should be just as much of a pleasure to drive at the Strong Trot as he is at the Working Trot.

The "Walk" is probably the most difficult gait for competitors to understand. Remember, this is a "Working" class not a "Strolling" class. The horse should walk not just stroll along. Perhaps a clearer description of this gait could be "working walk". Again, the horse should be calm and forward, but not rushed nor should there be any evidence that the driver is holding him back. As the ADS Handbook states, "the pace should be even and determined.".

The "Halt" should not be abrupt. The competitor should bring the horse to a smooth, straight and complete halt without hauling in on the reins. The halt should be pretty to watch and the horse should calmly accept it. While at the halt, the horse should stand quietly and square with his attention towards the driver, calmly awaiting his next instruction. The driver should not be merely sitting there with the reins sitting loosely in the lap. Light bit contact should be maintained at the halt keeping the horse aware that he will be expected to move off at any moment. Do not allow the horse to fall asleep at the halt. Let him know you are about ready to tell him something and you expect him to respond.

Driving the Class

The entire class will be worked in one direction around the ring at all four gaits and the halt, and then competitors will be asked to "reverse on the diagonal" (generally at the direction of the Ringmaster, so watch for this direction) and worked in the opposite direction the same as the first (although the gaits may be called for in a different order). "Reverse on the Diagonal" simply means the Ringmaster will select a particular competitor to begin, and the rest of the competitors will follow, as they cross the center of the ring from one corner to another thus changing the direction of the class. This is usually done at the walk, but may also be done at the trot. If it is done at the walk, remember, no strolling across the diagonal! Once in a while if the class has only three or four competitors, they will be asked to "Reverse at Will". This means that the competitor may change direction simply by turning around, using a small circle.

After the class has been worked in both directions, the class will be "lined-up", again on the direction of the Ringmaster. Be sure to leave yourself plenty of room in the line-up. Cramped line-ups can lead to accidents if a horse decides to act-up. The line-up should be driven in the same fashion as the halt. This is not a place to just relax and have conversation with your neighbors. The class is still being judged. During the line-up, the judge will inspect the individual turnouts for cleanliness and fit, and will individually ask the competitors to "reinback" or back their horse.

The "Reinback" is a two-part movement; i.e., the horse takes at least four steps rearward, then repeats those same steps forward coming back to the original position. Four steps are sufficient, do not back clear across the ring. During the first part of the reinback, the horse should lower his head, tuck in his nose slightly, and move his legs rearward in diagonal pairs. This movement should not be rushed and the horse should perform it willingly, without resistance, moving the carriage rearward in a straight line. Never haul on the reins and try to force the horse to back. If the horse will not back willingly with light contact, nod politely to the judge and go home and practice the reinback until he will. During both parts of the movement, the horse should maintain a calm manner and remain on the bit with light contact.

Ribbons are awarded from the line-up either in ascending or descending order. When all the others have left the ring, it is usually customary for the winner to take a victory lap. Go ahead and show off, you've earned it!

Next issue: Part Two: Reinsmanship and Turnout 12/22/00 written by: Dorothy A. Billington, ADS Pleasure Driving Judge and TD

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