A brief history of the sport of Combined Driving

by David E. Saunders

Horses and carriages have always been fundamental to any civilization. The Assyrians were the first to use the horse drawn chariot as part of the military machine. The enormous benefits of controlling a team of horses with accuracy at speed proved to be a winning edge in battle. So for thousands of years almost every civilization has used horses and carriages for everything from delivering freight to delivering warriors into battle.

In the early 1970's H.R.H. Prince Philip the Queen of England's husband who was at the time the President of the International Equestrian Federation (F.E.I.) decided to develop a sport based on combined training but with horses and carriages. Combined training, (Military) was designed originally to keep the cavalry officers and their horses sharp and prepared for war.

The ridden dressage prepares the horse and rider to move at different speeds and in different directions under control, this helps prepare the horse to become more agile during battle. The cross country simulates riding cross country chasing down the enemy. The stadium jumping to jump unfamiliar colored obstacles for instance men in colorful uniforms etc.

Combined driving is based on the same premise as combined training. The dressage simulates the precision that the gun carriages, horse drawn or supply carriages would have to move in close formation. The marathon or cross country simulates military equipment and gun carriages being moved across difficult terrain at various speeds. The cone driving is directly related to the stadium phase of combined training to demonstrate the skill of the competitor to move horses and carriages at speed with precision on the battlefield.

The modern world of Combined Driving

The competition lasts 3 days.

Dressage 1st day

The dressage takes place in a marked arena on level ground 100 meters long by 40 meters wide. Various letters mark strategic points in the arena. The competitor will perform a set test. This consists of a series of precise movements starting at one letter and finishing at another letter. There are several paces required, a walk, a collected or slow precise trot to demonstrate the horse can move slowly and precisely. A working trot which demonstrates the horses' ability to move consistently at a medium trot and an extended trot to show the horses' ability to move at a more exaggerated and faster pace. A halt demonstrates the horses' ability to stand still and not move under pressure and the reverse or rein back which demonstrates the horses ability to push the carriage backward with the same precision as moving forwards.

There are normally 5 judges who will give marks out of 10 for each movement. 10 being excellent, and 1 being very bad. They are also looking for the horse to move with obedience and lightness and if multiple horses i.e. pair or four- in-hand the horses must move together as one horse. They are also looking for, a picture of sartorial elegance and harmony, the elegance and the beauty of the horse, carriage and driver.


Marathon or Cross Country 2nd day

The purpose of this part of the event is to prove the horses can be driven over varying types of terrain and arrive safely at the prescribed time over a course of 10 to 12 kilometers.

This part of the competition is divided into 3 sections. 2 trot sections and 1 walk section. All 3 sections are timed and have to be driven at a prescribed pace, the penalties are given for early or late arrival.

Section A
Section A is 4 to 6 kilometers in length and is done at a working trot. There is an average speed and each kilometer is marked so that the navigator/time keeper behind the competitor on the carriage can keep the competitor on time and on track.

Section D
The next section is the walk section. This section consists of a kilometer where the pace of walk must be maintained and again it is timed.

Rest Halt
The horses then arrive at the compulsory rest halt, all the horses are checked by a judge and a Veterinarian. The horses then have a 10 minute rest and the (pit stop activities take place) bandages and boots are checked by the crew, the horses are cooled out, harness adjusted and the tensions mounts.

Section E
The next section is 8 to 10 kilometers, which would include 7 or 8 marathon hazards. These hazards are to test the competitor and horses ability to negotiate a hazard in the track, for instance a bridge is washed out and the horses have to ford a stream, a tree has fallen across the track and the competitor has to negotiate the carriage safely around and still arrive at the finish on time.

The marathon hazard consists of an entrance and exit gate at the gate there is a timer to record the exact time the competitor is in the hazard. There are also 2 or 3 hazard stewards that record the route that is taken in the hazard. There are a number of lettered gates normally A to F, each gate must be passed through in the correct order before the hazard is finished. The gates are marked with red and white flags, red must always be on the right as the competitor passes through the gate.

Most competitors will drive different routes at different speeds. After passing through the hazard finish gate they must continue on the prescribed route and still finish on time.

Penalties are accrued through time taken in the hazard, missing gates, going through gates backwards, or out of order, navigators falling off, harness breaking or carriage tipping over. At the end of the marathon the horses are checked by judges and veterinarian.

Obstacles or Cone Driving 3rd and final day

This part of the competition takes place in the arena and it consists of a marked course of up to 20 pairs of cones with balls on the top, the cones are measured at 3 to 4 inches wider than the track width of the carriage. There is a time allowed, the course must be driven clear (in time without dislodging any balls). Penalties are given for exceeding time allowed and dislodging balls. This part of the competition demonstrates the competitors' ability to present horses that are still fit, sound and supple after the marathon.

This would equate to having horses fit to fight another battle.

To produce horses for this sport takes an awful lot of time and training. Also the driver who is the competitor relies a lot more on his crew, i.e. navigator/timekeeper/groom. So there is a true team effort that goes with every competitor, everyone that competes in a combined driving competition is a true horseman and warrior.

And in the continuing spirit of the ancient Assyrians who forged the true relationship of horse, carriage and driver we are carrying on the same tradition.


┬ęCopywriter David E. Saunders

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