It’s tough to be a combined driver in Illinois. Did you know there was only one ADS (American Driving Society)-recognized show in our state in 2013? Afterward the organizer told me it was so much work for such little return that she’s not doing it next year, sigh. So that leaves the Hickory Knoll CDE two hours to the north, in Wisconsin; the Skunk River HDT four hours to the west, in Iowa; and even farther events in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky.
Maybe I should explain what combined driving is. Simply put, it’s like eventing without the jumps! In a full CDE or Combined Driving Event, there are three separate phases– dressage, marathon, and cones–all performed with one or more horses pulling a cart or carriage:. The marathon phase includes hazards or obstacles instead of jumps while the cones phrase includes a challenging cones course that must be negotiated at speed without knocking any balls down instead of a timed stadium jumping round. And there are levels just like in eventing but fewer of them. Drivers just have Training, Preliminary, Intermediate, and Advanced levels.
So even though the only ADS-recognized event in my state last year was the Indian Hills HDT (Horse Driving Trial), I chose the CT (Combined Test) version of this event—just dressage and cones on the same day, Saturday—so that I could give my horse and myself a rest and come back strong Monday for a lesson with the judge Muffy Seaton. Boy, am I glad I did!
This was my second lesson with Muffy in as many years. There are pros and cons to having a private lesson vs being in a clinic setting with auditors (such as no zingers to the audience like “Driving is like teaching Russian, in Braille, through the mouth” or “Driving is like walking across boulders with a blindfold on surrounded by sharks.”) However, the personal attention—including Muffy herself driving my horse—is worth it. In just a few short minutes she took us from barely Prelim to easily Advanced, just by softening him in the mouth and neck then asking his hind legs to step up into the contact. Round, supple, active—holy smokes! who was this horse? To be fair, we did switch bits (from a Conrad to a Glory, both Liverpools) but the difference in his movement came from her insisting he take bigger, quicker steps with his hind legs and yield in the poll. It was ugly in the beginning, but once she broke through his resistance he felt so different in the reins it was like learning how to drive a brand new horse! Now if there were just a driving show in Illinois next year to show off our awesome new connection!
P.S. Despite the lack of recognized CDEs, HDTs, CTs, and ADTs (Arena Driving Trials) in my state, Newman still managed to be awarded Reserve Champion Horse of the Year in Combined Driving for the American Trakehner Association! I’m so proud of him!