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Driving Diversity
By Gloria Austin
Equine Heritage Institute, Inc.
Florida Carriage Museum
Visit our article archives.

Part II: Types of Driving

It is fascinating to try to list all of the various jobs that horses in draft still have today. They have been in the service of man for thousands of years and their modern day 'outfits' (harnesses and carriages) are all slightly different.

Amish Horse and Buggy

Amish - The Amish drive black and gray enclosed Amish carriages, black democrat wagons, or black road carts. Known as a "plain people," they use practical harness for roadwork. They drive either trotting or pacing horses, most commonly of the Standardbred, Morgan, or Saddlebred type and of solid dark color. The Amish do not believe in adornments so these turnouts are very somber. Because of extensive road work they often use overchecks and full martingales. It is surprising that these horses shy at our brightly colored, fringed topped carriage when meeting on the Pennsylvania roads.

Arena Driving Trail - ADTs have dressage, cones and arena obstacle components which do not require the large tracts of land that are necessary in Combined Driving. The carriage and harness should be sturdy and newly designed to withstand the riggers of racing through cones and hazards in tight quarters. These events often have special classes for multiples, ponies, drafts and very small equines (VSEs) as well as the most usual single horse.

Breed Show Driving

Breed Show Driving - In addition to classes where competitors show their particular breed of horses in hand and under saddle, contestants show their horses in lightweight show cart with wire bicycle-type wheels with what is called a basket where the feet of the driver rest. They use a light harness most often with bearing reins. Driven to these light carts, the horses are shown inside the ring on a flat, smooth surface. Some breeds offer roadster classes where the cart's baskets are removed and the driver's feet are placed in what is called stirrups. The driver wears racing silks to simulate standardbred racing. Some breeds offer Viceroy Classes. This is a lightweight four-wheeled wire-wheeled carriage designed for moving in the ring at a high rate of speed. The harness is lightweight and referred to as a "fine" harness since it does not face the riggers of driving over rough terrains and up and down hill and over bridges. There are now Pleasure Driving Classes at some breed shows where more traditional wooden-wheeled carriages are used.

Chariot Racing

Chariot Races, Buckboard, and Chuck Wagon Races - Primarily Quarter Horses/ Thoroughbred type horses are raced in the American west to modern versions of the chariot, buckboard, or chuck wagon with the yoke carried between two horses from the base of the collar. The harness must be newly made and suitably strong. With two or four horses they are run on a groomed track, in an arena or in an open field with outriders accompanying each turnout.

City Carriage Rides - Many major cities have carriage rides through city streets for guided tours, weddings, and taxis service. The carriages are often white for greater visibility and the draft and draft crosses often appear in draft type harness. The carriage and their horses often are bedecked with seasonal and occasion decorations.


Coaching - There are coaching and four-in-hand clubs that have meets and promenades. Pleasure Driving shows sometimes offer coaching classes. Traditional driving competitions often offer a division for coaches. Most frequently drivers use restored antique coaches of either the park drag or commercial road coach design. Today the Polish are making reproduction coaches that are hardly distinguishable from the originals. The harness must be of a traditional style to go with the particular style of coach - dressy all black harness with a park drag and special road coach harness with brown collars with the road coach. Horses or ponies of any breed that trots and are sized right for the coach are proper. Matching the horses' color, stride and head carriage is desirable. Drivers try to replicate the turnout and style of driving (four-in-hand) used generations ago. Occasionally, a light colored horse was used as one of the lead horses when driven to a commercial road coach. Called a 'light horse,' it was positition to be more visible at night. On a park drag, one could drive horses of contracting color on either side which was called a 'cross-team' or 'checker board team.'

Combined Driving

Combined Driving second picture

Combined Driving - A modern presentation carriage and newly built marathon carriage or combination vehicle are required for this event. Presentation and marathon harness or combination harness is best. Whether of synthetic or leather the traces are often reinforced with nylon webbing. Any breed of horse or pony that trots can be used. This event consists of Driven Dressage, Cross Country Marathon, and Cones Driving and often takes place over three days. Generally a breast collar type harness is used in the marathon and dressage and cones. But some feel a horse has freer shoulder-movement at the trot in a full collar type for dressage and cones.

Distance Driving - A strong lightweight wooden wheeled carriage, generally two wheeled, is used. Any practical, lightweight harness that is comfortable for use over long drives is desirable.

Draft Horse Pull

Draft Horse Pull - Any breed or crossbreed of heavy horse is used. Practical, strong undecorated heavy-horse or draft horse harness is used. The teams (pairs) of horses pull either a stone boat or a weighted sled provided by the competition.

Draft Horse Show

Draft Horse Show - Draft breeds are shown in colorful hitch wagon. They use decorated heavy horse harness. In single horse classes, large phaeton carts, Meadowbrooks, or other types of road carts are used. The horse's manes and tails are braided with colorful ribbons. These horses are sometimes called 'Hitch Horses' since they are bred with longer legs than the typical draft horse. Traditional draft horses were built with short legs so their centers of gravity would be close to the ground for pulling heavy loads.

Driven Dressage - Sometimes part of a pleasure driving show and a mandatory part of combined driving competitions, horses driven in theses classes can be put to any lightweight carriage. The carriages often have brakes to steady the horse in transitions. The harness is typical pleasure driving harness and any breed of horse, pony or mule that trots can be used.

Harness Racing - The American Standardbred horse is raced one mile on a groomed tract in a light wire wheeled sulky. Races take place at either the trot or the pace. The harness is extremely lightweight.

Pleasure Driving

Pleasure Driving - Competitors use suitably restored antiques or antique reproduction carriages and any breed of light horse or pony that trots. Horses are judged at the trot, walk, and halt. A judge evaluates turnout, reinsmanship and performance. Speed classes in the ring and cross-country courses are driven at the trot since this is the classical gait of the driving horse. The harness should be suited to the type of carriage. One uses a gig harness and fancy moving horse when driving a gig; a phaeton harness when put to a phaeton; and a runabout harness when presenting a runabout. Drivers and passengers are to be in conservative contemporary attire. Grooms are to be dressed in historic stable or full livery depending on the type of carriage. More formal carriages require more formal livery. The name Pleasure Driving comes from a class of carriages that were used for leisure outings to the park or to visit friends. Some events offer commercial vehicle classes where light, draft horses and mules are often appropriate. Gaited (ambling) horses are generally not judged in pleasure driving since the trot (a gait sustainable over long distances) was the gait of the driving horse. Some shows offer special classes for gaited driving horses.

Private Driving - This term is used in England for competitions with traditional carriages. Horses are judged on manners and performance at the trot, walk, and halt. Driver and passengers wears either Country or City attire dictated by the type of carriage driven. Drivers and passengers are to be in conservative contemporary attire. Grooms are to be dressed in historic livery.

Recreational Driving - Recreational drivers can use any type of sturdy carriage and a well-fitted, comfortable harness. Any breed of horse that either ambles or trots is used. The American Driving Society offers awards for hours of cumulative driving.

Traditional Driving

Traditional Driving - Competitors drive restored antique or new antique-type carriages with traditional-styled pleasure driving or commercial harness, appropriate to the carriage. Any breed of horse or pony that trots can be driven. Horses are judged on their suitability to the type and size of carriage. Performance is judged under conditions experienced when horses were practically used for transportation. This event consists of Presentation, Country Drive, and Cones Driving. The quality of the overall turnout receives the most point. The driver must demonstrate road signals, the use of one of the traditional systems of reinsmanship and manipulate the turnout through controlled passages. Drivers and passengers are to be in conservative contemporary attire. Grooms are to be dressed in historic livery.


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