Friday, Dec. 1, 2023

Between Rounds Driving:The Future Really Is All About People And Money

As I look back over 2004, two things stand out as significant achievements--a new dedication to the young drivers in this country and the creation of the ADS Fund.

Age and physical limitations may be limiting factors for riders, but not necessarily for drivers. I've always assumed that most young people preferred the excitement and challenge of flying over fences versus the comparatively sedate seat behind a horse or pony. That's why I've often thought carriage driving appealed to the more mature (in age) equestrian. I may have been wrong.


As I look back over 2004, two things stand out as significant achievements–a new dedication to the young drivers in this country and the creation of the ADS Fund.

Age and physical limitations may be limiting factors for riders, but not necessarily for drivers. I’ve always assumed that most young people preferred the excitement and challenge of flying over fences versus the comparatively sedate seat behind a horse or pony. That’s why I’ve often thought carriage driving appealed to the more mature (in age) equestrian. I may have been wrong.

This summer’s events were a revelation in that regard. The first young drivers training camp was held in Southern Pines, N.C., at Claire Reid’s Big Sky Farm. Only 10 campers (ages 12 to 19) could be accommodated out of 25 applicants. There were five instructors (Kelly Valdes, Boots Wright, Allison Stroud, Keady Cadwell and Claire Reid), so the staff-to-student ratio was extraordinary, and other instructors came by to give demonstrations on horse care, veterinary care, competition rules, sportsmanship and more. In addition to daily driving lessons, the kids did fun camp things, such as swimming, arts and crafts, and winning ribbons for harness cleaning, grooming and braiding.

The enthusiasm and interest that these kids exhibited bodes well for the future of our sport. Two more camps were also held, at the Carriage Barn in New Hampshire, and more are planned for the future.

For too many years, we’ve paid lip service to doing something to encourage young drivers, but in 2004 something actually happened. The children and young adults who attended the camps seemed committed to the sport, and we can only hope that these camps will provide a solid foundation for a lifetime of enjoyment on the box seat.

It’s A Bit Different In Europe

On the international–or highest–level of driving, U.S. drivers only brought home one medal, although they did acquit themselves honorably. All three drivers (Fred Merriam, Scott Monroe and Scott Padgett) at the World Singles Championship in Astorp, Sweden, drove penalty-free cones courses. At the World Four-in-Hand Championship in Kecskemet, Hungary, our three team members (James Fairclough, Tucker Johnson and Chester Weber) finished in the top third, with Chester placing second in dressage. At the World Championship for Disabled Drivers at Hopetoun Estate, Scotland, six drivers participated (with borrowed horses and ponies!), and Michael Muir earned a bronze medal driving a pair of Fell ponies.

Chester noted that the marathon obstacles are becoming longer, which was evident in the scores at the World Championships this year. The more time a driver takes in an obstacle, the higher the penalties, and the less time he or she has to complete section E. The American drivers also had to adjust to the fact that in Europe the obstacles are not always evenly spaced the way they are at most events in this country, meaning they can’t make up time if two or three obstacles are grouped close together near the end.

Monroe was smart to “bank” time at the beginning of section E so he had a cushion at the end, when the obstacles came one on top of another.

Not many drivers have the wherewithal to compete in Europe, so the next best thing is to be judged on American soil by European judges. Many combined driving events offering advanced or FEI-level competition have been able to bring officials over from Europe, allowing our drivers the opportunity to be evaluated by international judges. Only a handful of North American judges have been invited to judge in Europe–a trend I hope will change with time.

Richard Nicoll, of Williamsburg, Va., was appointed chairman of the FEI Driving Committee, the second North American in a row, succeeding Canadian Jack Pemberton. Pemberton’s wisdom and leadership would be a hard act for anyone to follow, but Nicoll has garnered much respect already. He is committed to supervising the completion of a thorough overhaul of the FEI driving rules, along with revisions to the Guidelines for Organizers and Officials.

He hopes to continue to guide the sport in a progressive and inclusive way, working with the national federations, encouraging their input, encouraging them to promote their officials from the national to international level, supporting organizers to ensure high-quality competitions. Nicoll also respects the drivers’ point of view, and, during his 30-plus years of involvement as a driver, technical delegate, course designer, director and committee chairman of national organizations, he’s proven that he cares deeply about the sport from the lowest level on up.


Nationally, a large number of interested drivers attended the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s convention in Los Angles last January. They went to listen, learn and understand.

USEF President David O’Connor was also listening, and he understood that driving, unlike the other FEI disciplines, actually has four World Championship teams to select, train and fund, and that it was unrealistic to expect one High-Performance Committee to handle all of that. O’Connor asked the drivers to consider forming subcommittees (for singles, pairs, teams and ponies) within the Driving High-Performance Committee to make recommendations based on their specific needs. So far this has worked well, with selection criteria and selectors being overseen by the disciplines concerned.

The ADS held their every-three-year super clinic for officials in Williamsburg, Va., this year. More than 100 officials met for three days to discuss issues, rule changes and case studies. Judges and technical delegates took time out from their studies to honor two of their own–Jud Wright and Leslie Kozsely–who were presented with the title “emeritus official.” These two highly regarded judges set the standard that our current roster of officials strives to meet.

Solving The Financial Puzzle

As one of the smallest of the equestrian disciplines, attracting members to our national organizations (the American Driving Society and the Carriage Association of America) is vital. We’re caught in a spiral. To attract sponsors, advertisers, and other financial supporters, we need to provide them with a sizeable audience–either through our publications or our competitions. We need funding to provide the services and products that will attract the membership that will read our publications, attend our competitions, and buy our sponsors’ and advertisers’ products and services.

That’s why ADS officers created the ADS Fund–to solicit additional funding, which will in turn encourage new drivers to participate in the sport through grants and training opportunities, as well as assisting organizers looking to offer well-run competitions at all levels.

The initial response has been impressive, and it’s enabled the ADS to provide funding for young drivers’ camps and to provide an offer of financial assistance to the singles drivers. The scope of the fund is broad and isn’t limited to any one discipline, level, group or experience. The fund’s overseers are looking at ways to provide assistance throughout the country, seeking the advice of the ADS regional representatives, so that as many pleasure driving shows and combined driving events as possible will benefit from a financial assist.

The leaders of the Carriage Association of America hope that their move to the Kentucky Horse Park in 2005 will introduce many of the thousands who come through the KHP to the enjoyment of carriage driving. Exposing the general public to driving can’t help but be a good thing for everyone.

Coaching Glory

One of the most beautiful and impressive sights took place during the National Sporting Library’s anniversary drive near Middleburg, Va., during October. Some 32 road coaches and park drags participated in the benefit for the National Sporting Library. It was the largest gathering of coaches in this country in recent memory, if not in history.

Saturday’s drive included a stop at Llangollen Farm, a classically beautiful estate owned by Roy Ash. Everyone enjoyed an elegant lunch, and all the coaches lined up on the wide lawn for an unprecedented photo opportunity. This was as much a social as an equestrian gathering, and the coaching whips and their guests were lavishly entertained over the three days.

Walnut Hill (N.Y.), the premier pleasure driving show in this country, improved on its reputation for providing good sport and entertainment by offering several new classes. The commercial division welcomed draft horses and mules for the first time, hitched to a variety of colorful and at one time functional vehicles. A class that requires the entry to include their dog in the carriage was also enthusiastically received. The judges evaluated obedience on the part of the canine equally with cuteness.


The balance between combined driving and pleasure driving competitions has been fairly level for the last few years. In the formative years of combined driving, when there were very few CDEs, combined drivers were the upstarts, and pleasure drivers turned their noses up at them for their perceived rough-and-tumble approach to horsemanship and blindness to tradition. But for some combined drivers, the appeal was the objectivity of their sport.

Recently, pleasure driving numbers have fallen behind combined driving, but some think the balance may be teetering back toward the pleasure ring, as the price required to get to the top of the combined driving ladder is forcing some people out of the sport. Perhaps the politics and competition has taken the fun out of it for some, and those drivers may find returning to the quiet elegance of pleasure driving refreshing. Both disciplines are important to the overall sport of carriage driving.

Dedication Honored

Great things come in small packages, and that was proven at the American Driving Society’s annual meeting and “Weekend of Driving for Pleasure,” held at the Colorado Horse Park in Parker, Colo., this fall. The theme, “Something for Everyone,” was a promise kept.

Busy competition schedules kept some away, cost was a factor to others (at least that was the excuse they gave and stuck to). But “I didn’t know anything about it” was also heard, which makes me wonder if anyone reads anymore!

Plenty of demonstrations on turn-out, harnessing multiples, and discussions on how to walk obstacles and cones courses filled the three days. Lisa Singer conducted a “gold-medal clinic” for those wanting to find out what it takes to go for the gold–or at least to aim for the advanced level.

Natasha Grigg received the ADS’ highest honor, The President’s Award, from current President Jody Cutler. In her remarks, Cutler noted, “In her zeal for the ADS (and other causes) Natasha has given time, money and her opinions. As with many strong individuals, she’s often outspoken and not always tolerant of perceived incompetence or poor sportsmanship.”

Certainly no one can argue with Grigg’s passion for the sport and for the association that she has represented so well.

Those who serve on our boards and committees don’t often receive the credit they deserve for their contributions. These “unpaid” staff members spend hours, often in addition to their regular employment, working for “the cause.” They spend significant amounts of money on hotels, airline tickets and rental cars to attend meetings, and they’re also expected to make financial contributions to their organizations. They give up precious family time and time they’d rather be spending riding or driving.

Yet, while we heap more praise on those who volunteer for one day at a combined driving event–feeding them, giving them lavish gifts (like a pin or a T-shirt!), printing their names in the program–often all we do for some of our higher-profile directors is criticize them! Paid staff cannot, nor should they be expected to, do the work of the board and committees.

As I approach 20 years as ADS executive director, I realize that we have many wonderful, dedicated and talented people on our board and committees–some who’ve been on board for as long or longer than I’ve been in my job. It’s a true joy to work with people whom I’ve come to know as friends, mentors and even extended family.

I’m sure that the ADS isn’t an isolated case. In spite of occasional disagreements that occasionally escalate into “an issue,” I always hope we can come together after the dust has settled and appreciate those who care enough to take a stand–at their own expense!




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