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 humans for thousands of years and their modern day “outfits” (harnesses and carriages) are all slightly different. Today there are many ways that equines are used for driving.
Amish – The Amish drive black and gray enclosed traditional Amish style carriages … black democrat wagons or black road carts. Known as a “plain people,” they use a practical harness for roadwork. They drive either trotting or pacing horse; most commonly of the Standardbred, Morgan, or American Saddlebred breeds 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.
Arena Driving Trials – 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 need to be sturdy and are 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 common single horse
Breed Show Driving – In addition to classes where competitors show their particular breed of horses in hand and under saddle, contestants in these shows also exhibit their horses harnessed to a lightweight show cart with wire bicycle-type wheels with what is called a basket for the feet of the driver to rest. These classes are most often offered at Morgan, Saddlebred and Arabian horse shows. 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 standard bred 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 up and down hill and over bridges. Many breed shows now include a Classic or Country Pleasure Driving Class where the lightweight carts often have wooden wheels.
Chuck Wagon Races – Primarily Quarter Horses/ thoroughbred type horses are raced in the American West to modern versions of the buckboard or chuck wagon. The yoke is carried between two horses from the base of the collar and the harness must be newly made and suitably strong to withstand the rigors of this extreme competition. With two or four horses, they compete on a variety of track surfaces - groomed exterior or interior track, in an arena or in an open field and with outriders accompanying each turnout
City Carriage Rides – Many major cities today offer the public the opportunity to enjoy a carriage ride through the city streets. From guided tours, to weddings, to traditional taxi service, the city carriage rides remain popular. The carriages are often white for greater visibility or may be highly decorated to celebrate a special occasion or the season. These horses and carriages are many times transported significant distances each morning and evening into the city. The operators of these services maintain a large stable of horses to preserve their strength and maintain their care. Drivers go through an extensive apprenticeship program to qualify as a driver of a carriage that is surrounded by all of the hazards of modern city driving and tourists in places like Frankenmuth, Michigan. Traditional draft harnesses are utilized with most carriages.
Coaching – There are coaching and four-in-hand clubs that have meets and promenades for their enthusiasts. Pleasure Driving shows sometimes offer coaching classes as part of the multi-day program. Traditional driving competitions often offer a special 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 indistinguishable from the originals that serve as their models. 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, which trot and are sized right for the coach are proper for these contests. Matching the horses’ color, stride and head carriage is a desirable characteristic for judging. Drivers try to replicate the turnout and style of driving (four-in-hand) used generations ago. Occasionally, a light colored horse is used as one of the lead horses when driven to a commercial road coach. Called a ‘light horse,’ it was positioned so as 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 – A modern presentation carriage, newly built marathon carriage or combination vehicle are required for this event. Presentation and marathon harnesses or combination harnesses are utilized for these driving events. Whether of synthetic or leather, the traces are often reinforced with nylon webbing. Any breed of horse or pony that trots can be used. These events consist of Driven Dressage, Cross Country Marathon and Cones Driving; the competition takes place over two to three days. Generally a breast collar type harness is used in the marathon and dressage and cones competitions. However, 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 and lightweight harness that is comfortable for use over long drives is the desirable configuration.
Draft Horse Pull – Draft horse pulls are a favorite still today at many county fair. 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 breeds are shown in competition with colorful hitch wagons. They use decorated heavy horse harnesses. Horses are driven in single and multiple hitches. In single horse classes, large phaeton carts, Meadowbrooks, other types of road carts are used. The horse’s manes and tails are braided with colorful ribbons to add to the glitz and glamor. These competition horses are sometimes called “hitch horses” since they are bred with longer legs than the typical draft horse. In comparison, traditional draft horses were bred 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 in these classes can be harnessed 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 to pull these carriages
Driven Dressage – Sometimes driven dressage part of a pleasure driving show and a mandatory part of combined driving competitions. Horses in these classes can be harnessed 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 to pull these carriages
Harness Racing – The American Standardbred horse is raced on a well groomed track in a light wire wheeled sulky. Races take place at either the trot or the pace. The harness is extremely lightweight and the excitement is felt by just listening to the crowd in the stands!
Pleasure Driving – The name Pleasure Driving comes from a class of carriages that were used for leisure outings to the park or to visit friends. Competitors use suitably restored antiques or antique reproduction carriages and are teamed with 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 that is utilized is matched 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 appropriate for the event. Grooms are to be dressed in historic stable or full livery depending on the type of carriage. The more formal carriages, more required formal livery. 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 do 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 wear either “country or city” attire dictated by the type of carriage being driven in the competition. Grooms to the carriages are also 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 for the experience. The American Driving Society offers awards for hours of cumulative driving by its members.
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 used for historical practical transportation. This event consists of Presentation, Country Driving, and Cones Driving. The quality of the overall turnout receives the most points. 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 compliment the historical period of the carriage.
Dividing light-horse driving into two forms is often helpful: modern and traditional driving. To understand these contrasting forms of light-horse driving a comparison can be made to automobile competitions … Combined Driving is like NASCAR racing and
Pleasure Driving is similar to the exhibition of classic cars.
Combined Driving requires the sturdy new carriages that have been built to handle the sharp turns and maintain the speed while navigating the hazards. In addition, the Combined Driving horse does not have to work in the company of other horse when exhibited. It works alone in the dressage ring, on the marathon and in the cones competition responding in partnership to the "whip" (driver.)
Pleasure Driving comes from the use of ‘pleasure’ carriages that were distinguished from the commercial peddler’s wagons or farm wagons of years ago. Historically pleasure carriages were generally owner-driven and used on weekdays to go to town or on a Sunday drive to church or through the country-side. Sunday was the day to get out your best horse and put it to your best carriage to visit relatives, friends and neighbors. In comparison to the Combined Driving horse, the Pleasure Driving horse had to be uniquely trained to work in the company of other horses. In addition, these horses are required to wear harnesses that are carefully matched to the particular classical type of Pleasure Carriage.
Both pleasure and combined driving require the color of the metal on the harness and lamps to match that of the metal on the carriage. Also it is generally accepted that a painted carriage requires the utilization of a black harness and a natural wood carriage, a brown or russet color harness. Traditionally, a harness was made of leather and if cared for properly is capable of outlasting the synthetic harness. Many drivers in modern competitions prefer to use the synthetic harness, but it is best if it is lined with leather for the horse’s comfort particularly at the shoulder.
Generally carriage drivers prefer horses that have been bred for generations to trot because it is the most sustainable gait over distance. It is the gait that is judged at three different ground-covering strides in the show ring and dressage arena. The confirmation of these horses is such that their necks are set high on their shoulders and to be well away of the forearm as it stretches forward at the trot. Other breeds such as the ambling horses have been bred for generation to gait for a comfortable long distance ride under saddle. The cantering breeds are great for the sprint work of herding or racing and the large-muscled draft breeds have been bred for years to walk and pull heavy loads. These large draft horses are wonderful to watch when pulling carriages around the city or when demonstrating their strength in pulling competitions.
We should celebrate all horses and their meaning in today’s world, just as we applaud athletes. As carriage enthusiasts, we should be all inclusive and encourage all types of driving. In the show ring we strive to have the proper carriage, put to the proper horse, and fitted to the proper harness. When we climb upon our pleasure carriage for a ride through the woods, we sustain the enjoyment of driving our “classic” with true “horse power.” Let us appreciate the diversity and practice the safety
EQUINE HERITAGE INSTITUTE
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