What is Horse Driving Trials?

Horse driving trials are based on similar guidelines to the ridden 3 day event. They are split into 3 distinct phases: Dressage, Marathon and a Cone Driving Course. The type of horse or pony that is used is irrelevant, although ponies need to be 12hh and over to compete at official level as per FEI guidelines. Ponies under 12hh are welcome to compete at unofficial events with special time allowances in the marathon section. Separate classes are held for the different combinations that may present i.e single, pairs, tandem or a team (known as a 4-in-hand). The latter 2 combinations are the most difficult to master and require a great deal of skill.

The first phase of the competition is the dressage, held in an arena measuring 40m x 100m with a chief judge at the top of the arena and a second judge at the side. The entry is judged on the correctness of paces, the accuracy of movements as required, and the obedience and willingness of the horse or pony.

The second phase of the event is the marathon, which is usually up to 15/16klms. This is divided into 3 or 5 sections, depending on the type of event, with walk and trot sections being completed within the given times. The last section contains the marathon “hazards”. Hazards can be either formed from natural markers eg trees, or are man-made. The hazards consist of a series of gates, usually marked from A to E with red markers to be kept to the right and white markers to be kept to the left.

The final phase of the event is the precision cone driving phase. The competitor must negotiate a measured course between “witches’ hats” on top of which are tennis balls. This course must be completed within a set time period without dislodging any balls. The time allowed means the competitor must travel at quite a speed to avoid time penalties and great control must be had to both drive both fast and accurately.

The overall winner is that who has the least penalty points with all 3 sections contributing to the final score. This means that sometimes the winning score comes down to the very last cone negotiated and can provide for some very exciting driving.