Driving Trials and Tribulations

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

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Lydia F. Gray, DVM, MA SmartPak Staff Veterinarian and Medical Director Dr. Lydia Gray has earned a Bachelor of Science in agriculture, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and a Master of Arts focusing on interpersonal and organizational communication. After “retiring” from private practice, she put her experience and education to work as the American Association of Equine Practitioner’s first-ever Director of Owner Education. Dr. Gray continues to provide health and nutrition information to horse owners through her position at SmartPak, through publication in more than a dozen general and trade publications, and through presentations around the country. She is the very proud owner of a Trakehner named Newman that she actively competes with in dressage and combined driving. In addition to memberships in the USDF and USEF, Dr. Gray is also a member of the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association (IDCTA). She is a USDF “L” Program Graduate and is currently working on her Bronze Medal. Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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4 comments on “Driving Trials and Tribulations
  1. Joyce Willams says:

    I really enjoyed your blog and photos. My husband and I drive Morgans. I have a Flyer also. Mine is one of the first ones and slightly different in design. I love the design, but did have a problem with the king pin breaking loose. Luckily it happened while it was being transported. I had just had a lesson with Jud Wright and shudder to think what would of happened had he and I been driving the pair. At the time Jud was well into his70′s. I hope you write more about driving……..it’s so great to introduce people to the sport.

    • Dr. Lydia Gray says:

      A fellow Flyer driver! Great to hear from you! I’m working with the manufacturer to try and get a photo of us in their next calendar—you should too! Our local driving club just held its annual meeting where we made many plans for 2014. Sadly, none of those involved an ADS-recognized show in Illinois. Too cold and snowy to drive right now, but I’m hoping by the end of April when our spring clinic this year with Sara Schmitt is scheduled, Newman and I will be fit and ready to learn!

  2. Thank you for this essay. My Norwegian fjord mare was started in harness this fall and I would like to find a trainer to continue our training. We live in the northern Illinois area. (I went to Google plus but wasn’t sure which Lydia Gray I should contact.) We have a “Bird in Hand Eagle” that looks a lot like your carriage. I was shocked at how well my mare did with this. Do you have any suggestions?

    I also wish Smart Pak carried carriage supplies because it is such a wonderful company to do business with.

    • Dr. Lydia Gray says:

      How exciting! I encourage you to check out the local driving club in the area at http://www.hubclubdriving.com. And yes, the Eagle and the Flyer look very similar. My horse and I both really like this four-wheel carriage that is versatile enough for all phases of combined driving as well as pleasure shows. I’ll see what I can do about picking up carriage supplies!

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Apparently I've been obsessed with horses since I was born, and I used to beg for pony rides on a regular basis. I started showing in 4-H, progressed to equitation and jumpers in high school and rode on the IHSA team in college where I also discovered the joys...

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