What are Horse Driving Trials?
Horse Driving Trials is unique. It is the only equestrian sport where you can compete on an equal level from 10 to 70+, male or female driving horses, ponies, donkeys and mules. The competition format is based on that of ridden eventing. There are three phases, Dressage, Marathon and Cones. These can be run over one, two or three days with classes for everyone from beginners to international level.
Dressage is the first competition and is a test of the horse’s training, obedience and balance combined with the driver’s skill and accuracy and turnout. The arena is laid out like a ridden arena but is larger, either 80 x 40 metres or 100 x 40 metres, depending on the level of test.
Marathon is the cross country element of the competition but is no longer of marathon length. The distance can vary according to the level of competition but is between 6 and 10 kilometres at entry level up to a maximum of 21 kilometres at national level. This distance is split into 2 sections each of which have to be completed within a specific time, except for the entry level competition, which is not timed and is over the last section only. These sections are marked with arrows and compulsory gates which are pairs of red and white flags through which the driver must drive. The second section, Section B also contains the obstacles which are designed to test the driver’s accuracy and his horse’s speed, courage and maneuverability. These obstacles have start and finish flags and a maximum of 6 gates marked with letters A – F. The object is to drive the gates as quickly as possible in the correct sequence. Penalties are awarded for each second spent in the obstacle.
Cones are the test of accuracy and speed in an arena setting, the equivalent of the showjumping phase in eventing. There are up to 20 sets of cones and is driven in a numbered sequence over a course between 500 and 800 metres. The cones are spaced to allow only 20 cm (8 ins) clearance for the vehicle and have a ball placed on each. There is a time allowed and penalties are awarded for dislodging the balls and/or going over the time allowed. Every driver has at least one groom/navigator (two for teams) who comes with him on the vehicle at all times. Driving is a real partnership as although the groom is not allowed to touch the reins he/she is an essential part of the team. He is there in case of emergencies (broken harness etc) for the dressage and cone phases but on the marathon he is vital, helping the driver to stay on course, keeping an eye on the timing, guiding him through obstacles as well as using his weight to balance the vehicle on tight turns and uneven ground.
This is a very brief overview of driving trials. It is a guide only, not a rule book. Anyone wishing to get involved is very welcome and there is help and advice available. Please get in touch with the HSI office.