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 its 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 on the other hand 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 … 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 when they become companions. 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.