Cheryl shares her firsthand experience competing with miniature horses.
Miniature Horses Tackle Combined Driving
More and more miniature horse owners are discovering combined driving. Miniatures are as athletic and able as their larger cousins and equally able to compete. At most venues, the dressage court is smaller, and the cones are narrower than the ones for full-size horses and ponies. The obstacles are generally fixed, allowing VSEs an advantage going through them.
A Club-Provided Workshop
Workshops like this provide excellent and safe opportunities for drivers and horses alike.
What Is Combined Driving?
What exactly is combined driving? Its roots lie in the sport of eventing, but driven, with three phases:
- Dressage: Showing the beauty, suppleness, and willingness of the horse to work with its driver.
- Cones: The driving of a horse between a course of 20 pairs of cones, involving turns and twists. It is designed to show the horse's agility and accuracy, lightness, and quickness. While excessive speed is discouraged, there is a time allowed. Exceeding the time allowed results in time penalties.
- Marathon: A measured course driven in phases and timed, with one portion driven through obstacles. It is a test of the horse's conditioning, boldness, and willingness to approach strange objects. Some clubs offer a "Green Driver" level, where the obstacles are not timed to give inexperienced drivers the opportunity to problem solve without incurring increased time. At all other levels, the obstacles are timed from entry to exit.
Because this is a driven venue, it is ideal for the miniature horse. In most cases, minis—referred to as "VSEs" or Very Small Equines—are already driving. Many adults acquire minis in their retirement years; cheap and easy to keep. They are still horses, just a smaller scale. Sadly, for whatever reason, minis are often retired to paddock statues. Combined driving offers a long term, multi-level, fun and exciting sport.
The beginning of the sport for many VSEs is general driving and driving out on the trail. Learning dressage is a simple change. The lower levels are basic skills: turning, walking, trotting, halting and backing, with accuracy. Moving up the levels, the tests require more skills from the horse, the tests get longer with more paces and more transitions. Any of these tests may be seen at the American Driving Society website.
Cones are the next logical addition: driving between cones requires the accuracy from dressage, as well as the ability to turn and lengthen and shorten the trot and maneuver quickly - all skills with a basis in dressage. As one progresses through the levels, the cones move closer, demanding more accuracy, quicker responses, and the time allowed through the course gets shorter.
The marathon phase requires more time, as it involves longer drives, pacing and conditioning the VSE to prepare for the distances and speeds required. Obstacles are gates driven in alphabetical order. At the lowest levels, only 3 gates are driven - A, B, C. Moving up through the levels adds more gates until one is driving A through F. There are usually several routes which may be driven, depending on the skills of horse and driver, but all gates must be taken for the level driven, in order, and in the correct direction.
The lowest level, Training, is designed to encourage horse and driver. It is easy enough not to be overwhelming for either, hard enough to be fun and challenging. An event is like a potato chip—one simply will not do! Drivers who are nervous before their first event are generally seen coming off the last obstacle with huge grins. The most common post-hazard comments are:
"I don't remember most of it!"
"I don't want it to be over yet!"
"When is the next event?"
The Arena Driving Trial, or ADT, is a one-day affair, generally happening in an indoor arena. They originated in the eastern states, where snow and ice are deterrents for outside driving. ADTs keep one's horse working the three phases, in shape for the upcoming season, learning new skills, and just for the fun and fellowship, while working in an indoor arena. They rarely have distance marathon phases, rather a dressage test, cones, and portable hazards, sometimes run two or three times. Some states, with milder winters, have clubs who put on one-day affairs, where the venue is outside, with varying lengths of marathon, larger cones courses, and more fixed obstacles.
Combined Driving Events, CDEs, or events sanctioned by the national organization, can come in 1-, 2-, or 3-day events. They are more formal, require certain types of carriages, a code of attire, and a LOT of cleaning: harness spit and shine, metal polishing, carriage washing and even dusting. The entries for these events do make them a little more for the serious competitor, which many VSE owners find themselves becoming!
Searching YouTube will give you, literally, hundreds of combined driving videos! I have given just one example. Try various search combinations, such as VSE combined driving, horse sport, combined driving, etc.
One may always check out the Horse and Pony divisions as well as multiples, i.e., pairs and teams.
What Do You Need to Get Started?
- Most miniature horse owners already own the basics: a mini, a cart, and a harness.
- It helps if the mini is already an experienced driving horse. It should also be a horse with whom you are comfortable. Having a knowledgeable friend can also be helpful.
- Most mini owners/drivers have what is referred to as an "easy entry" cart. These have been standard issue for decades. They are relatively inexpensive - although one should not be of cheap manufacture. They generally weigh about 80 pounds, are 2-wheeled and easy to pull. They are also easy to load into a trailer by a single person. One can easily add larger wheels, wheels with no spokes, or hard rubber tyres. While the easy entry is perfectly acceptable at Training, moving up a level will require solid spoked wheels and hard rubber tyres will be required at events sanctioned by American Driving Society. Local clubs may also require this in their rules. The cart should fit well, with the shafts an appropriate length and width.
- The harness should be of good quality, either leather or synthetic. If one owns a nylon harness, one should check for wear spots on the mini. Nylon harness do tend to be thin and abrasive, particularly in the girth, breeching and breast collar areas.
- A "fine" harness - used for showing in breed shows - can be useful to start out with. For competing in combined driving, there are some alterations and additions that can get one started. The harness will absolutely need breeching; thimbles are not nearly enough for for your horse's comfort going downhill! The breast collar and saddle on fine harness tend to be narrow, making uphill and turning work uncomfortable. Remember, the fine harness is designed to show off the horse's body, on a flat surface, in a groomed arena!
- Any harness saddle used should have a tree. This provides stability on the horse's back. Because one is generally driving a 2-wheeled cart, the weight from the shafts - and therefore the driver - does rest on the horse's back. If there is no tree, adding a good quality pad often works well. The same sort of pad can be added to the breast collar and even the breeching.
- By carefully modifying the harness and cart, as necessary, one can easily dabble in combined driving without a great deal of monetary investment. If one decides combined driving is not for him or her, or the horse is not suitable, not a lot of money has been spent. Conversely, if the bug bites, one has gained some experience and a better idea where to spend money wisely. Friends and competitors are often more than happy to share what they have learned! In any event, if the horse is currently working comfortably and happily in the present harness and cart, the investment will be small to nothing.
- Finally, a couple small expenditures can make entering the sport more pleasant. A water bottle holder in the cart is always a great idea. Bicycle shops carry them inexpensively. A slow moving vehicle triangle is a must if doing road work. These can be had for about $10 - or can be made by you or a friend. A nice concept is one which can be folded, i.e. material only, possibly with small wooden dowels inserted for stiffness. A metal sign is not necessary! On that line, reflectors or reflective tape are also needful additions.
- An "ultimate" addition will be a bike computer that shows mileage traveled, the pace of your horse, time of the drive, time of day. If you are starting to get serious about conditioning, this simple tool is perfect. Again, check out your bike shop - and use sales, coupons to get the price down, often around $15 - $20 dollars.
- By the way, the friendly, neighborhood bicycle shop is an excellent resource! Most of them are pleased to help, they have reflectors, wheels, tyres, etc. that are perfect for the easy-entry-type cart.
The Easy Entry Cart
Another Type of Cart and Harness
Fun With Your Miniature Horse
Whether you come to enjoy the club level ADT style of combined driving event, or move on to sanctioned CDEs, you and your miniature will be setting out on an adventure tailor made for your enjoyment. The horses always love to go out, the progression through the levels are logical and easy to master. Yes, there is practicing involved. Yes, there is some memorization involved! It all happens in steps; you have the option to stay at a comfort level, or work your way up.
You and your horse will become closer, better friends. You will meet other miniature horse people who enjoy working with their horses. About the time you have mastered one level, you will find the next level to work toward. Some people remain at training for several years. They are comfortable there, and it's an ideal level for the really small minis. Some find a higher level they enjoy. There is no requirement to move up! The levels each present their own challenge to keep you entertained.
If you have found yourself with a miniature horse in your yard, eating, looking longingly at you for a treat, if you find yourself wondering if there is anything more to owning a mini than petting him or her, consider combined driving! Join the hundreds and hundreds of mini owners who are entering the fastest growing equine sport!
American Driving Society is our national driving website. It is an excellent resource!
Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on July 15, 2015:
The horses are so cute when they run. I never knew they could do obstacle courses:). It is probably good exercise for them and teaches them agility.
Cheryl Nunez (author) from AZ on October 31, 2013:
The sport of combined driving actually includes all equids, including mules and donkeys (mini and full size)! All compete in their own size range, of course, but each level, e.g. Training, will frequently compare dressage tests, cones times and penalties and marathon times! It is a lot of fun :D
Kristin Kaldahl on October 30, 2013:
Great hub!!! If I had an acreage, I so would get a mini and cart and do something like this. It absolutely looks like a blast. I had suspected there were carting competitions with minis, but I had not seen them. What fun!!!