Monday, Dec. 4, 2023

Driving, Like America, Is At A Crossroads

The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 have had a tremendous impact on everyone, putting things in perspective, making us appreciate our freedom, our family, friends, and the companionship of our animals. I'm sure most of us were comforted by just being around our horses, ponies, dogs and cats.

The driving community has always been a small, close-knit fraternity, and this has been even more evident these past few months. In comparison to the unrest in the world, and between other equestrian groups, life in the driving community was quite stable in 2001.


The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 have had a tremendous impact on everyone, putting things in perspective, making us appreciate our freedom, our family, friends, and the companionship of our animals. I’m sure most of us were comforted by just being around our horses, ponies, dogs and cats.

The driving community has always been a small, close-knit fraternity, and this has been even more evident these past few months. In comparison to the unrest in the world, and between other equestrian groups, life in the driving community was quite stable in 2001.

In the weeks immediately following the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., it was heartwarming to see the effort our officials made to honor their obligations. Some drove hundreds of miles and long hours; others braved the now unfriendly skies.

I attended a competition in California in early October where the National Anthem was played at the beginning of each day’s competition and, for a change, everyone was silent and respectful. Carriages carried flags, and competitors seemed to try to outdo each other with red-white-and-blue themes on the marathon. The entertainer at the competitors’ party sang “America the Beautiful,” followed by all of us singing “God Bless America,” and it didn’t seem the least bit hokey.

The American Driving Society held its annual meeting and weekend of driving for pleasure at Middleton Place, a historic plantation just northwest of Charleston, S.C., in November. It was interesting to see veteran combined drivers and staunch pleasure show drivers in the same place as many who drive strictly for their own entertainment, all enjoying a vacation with their family, friends and equine companions. Thousands of acres of foxhunting country were available for driving, and on Saturday, an organized drive wound through the plantation grounds, along the Ashley River and flooded rice fields, the formal gardens and bamboo grove, ending on the “greensward.”

ADS could have stood for American Dining and Social Society because that was what our weekend was about. The Charleston area is famous for its Low Country cuisine, and we enjoyed roasted oysters, she-crab bisque, shrimp and grits, hoppin’ john and much more.

With creative scheduling, every standing committee was able to meet, we held several educational seminars, and organized driving activities took place each day, all with no overlap. It was a time and a place where an ambitious person really could do it all.

It appears that even competitive drivers enjoy “organized” driving activities. The ADS and Carriage Association of America have been holding annual gatherings in conjunction with their annual meetings, allowing members to bring their horses and carriages so they can drive in beautiful locations.

But every year it becomes progressively harder to find places that have enough property to drive carriages and stable 100 horses, have convenient hotel accommodations, and are not prohibitively expensive or remote. Despite all of these challenges, the members have so far been reluctant to give up their driving weekends.

Working Together

In the next few months, the officers of the ADS will be working with members of the Canadian Driving Society to join the two groups together. The CDS membership isn’t large enough to sustain the overhead costs involved with maintaining an office, producing publications, and fulfilling the other responsibilities of a national organization. The leaders of both organizations expect that this will be an agreeable process and are looking forward to being united in fact as well as spirit.


Pleasure driving as a discipline hasn’t changed much since the rules were first developed 20-some years ago, and some people believe it’s time for something new. But an informal meeting of pleasure drivers during the Middleton Place weekend produced no consensus on dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Meanwhile, something new did begin catching on at U.S. driving events in 2001, variations on the theme of a European driving activity called Attelage de Tradition, introduced to this country as “A Sporting Day of Traditional Driving” by Tricia Chelberg. In brief, it takes the basic format of combined driving’presentation, a country drive and cones’yet encourages the use of traditional carriages, harness and pleasure driving attire. In essence, it’s a combination of combined driving and pleasure driving. The courses are designed accordingly, and passengers are allowed, even encouraged. The day often concludes with a party or informal social gathering’from French champagne to a potluck supper.

As Americans are wont to do, those who have organized these drives have made their own modifications to suit their needs. Will this eventually become a part of the “rules?” Time will tell. Perhaps over-legislation would take the pure pleasure away from what seems to be a wonderful new activity for carriage drivers. Perhaps, too, some people just want to be told how to have fun.

The ADS and USA Equestrian organized a super
clinic for licensed officials in January 2001. It was an intensive three-day schedule offered only to recorded and registered officials, giving them an opportunity to meet with their peers to discuss issues, problems, and case studies, and to be updated on the latest rule changes. Excluding the learner judges invited their criticism, but almost all the officials who attended the San Antonio (Texas) super clinic said they benefited immeasurably by the limitation, which allowed them to have more focused and personal discussions.

The World Pairs Driving Championship in Riesenbeck, Germany, was the main event in 2001. The U.S. team finished seventh of 20 teams. The squad was made up of Larry Poulin of Gray, Maine, driving Natasha Grigg’s pair; David Saunders of Ocala, Fla., driving horses owned by Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Musler; and Lisa Singer of Chadds Ford, Pa., driving Mimi Thorington’s pair of Morgans.

Singer led the American group, turning in her best dressage test ever and finishing in 12th place overall. Saunders’ strong marathon made up for his disappointing dressage performance, caused by a last-minute (literally) horse substitution due to lameness, to finish 40th. The Poulin/Grigg young pair gained valuable experience, ending up in 49th place.

The Hungarians continued to dominate international competition, taking both the individual and team gold medals. Brothers Vilmos and Zoltan Lazar won the gold and bronze individual medals, respectfully, with the silver going to Frederico Beck of Portugal. The team silver went to the Netherlands, team bronze to Germany.

Will Ponies Be Next?

Pony power continues to gain momentum throughout the country, and several regions held championships this year. These have had the dual effect of increasing competition entries and revenues and giving a much-appreciated boost to our shorter equines. The carrot at the end of the stick is the prospect of a World Championship for Ponies in the future. Officials from the Federation Equestre Internationale are still mulling over the idea, but American pony drivers are ready to go. We expect to see the debut of a number of pony four-in-hands at the advanced level in 2002.

Because they’re so adorable, ponies are popular with spectators. But some spectators prefer the speed and excitement of the carriage racing derby. After several years of competition at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto, growing in popularity with each performance, the management of the Devon Horse Show (Pa.) added this spectacle during their evening sessions last May.

Chester Weber has been a big proponent of carriage racing derbies, and he ended the year as the No. 1 driver in the FEI’s new indoor driving World Cup, with a victory and two top finishes in Europe.


Most American drivers and officials agree that these all-out speed contests are not something that will become one of our carriage driving disciplines, but it can give much-needed exposure to our sport, attracting new drivers, volunteers and maybe even sponsors.

Slowing the pace down a level, the ADS did approve rules in 2001 for arena driving trials, which are one-day combined driving events held in a single arena. It was Susan Koso and Marc Johnson’s tireless dedication that took ADTs from the concept stage all the way through to the rule-change process and ultimate acceptance as a “subdiscipline” of combined driving.

We seem finally to be closing in on a set of combined driving rules that can be used effectively by all competitors, organizers and officials, regardless of level and sanctioning body. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of Holly Pulsifer, the eager cooperation of the USAEq Driving Committee, and the assistance of Jennifer Singleton, we may achieve this elusive goal in 2002.

The ADS is not unlike the FEI in trying to find ways around dwindling resources, property and time, and yet maintain the original concepts of combined driving, which Prince Philip adapted from the eventing rules in 1970 as a test for horses going off to war.

In August 2000, the FEI’s Ad-Hoc Think Tank Group met and published a report based on their assessment of the sport of combined driving and its future. The committee, comprised of Max E. Ammann (Switzerland), Michael Freund (Germany), Peter Hoffman (Germany), Ulf Berjqvist (Sweden) and Hakan Leeman (Sweden), stated that “the ad hoc committee believes that driving on the highest level…is at a crossroad.”

Much of their discussion centered on changes they suggest to attract financial sponsors and to facilitate TV coverage. This included shortening the courses (five-phase marathons are not interesting to spectators), limiting the duration (two days of dressage is too long), visually improving the cones competition, limiting the number of starting competitors, and limiting the number of awards.

The committee proposed a combined driving format for championships and CAIs in which four drivers would drive dressage at one time, in one arena; the marathon would consist of section E (obstacles) only; and cones would be a kind of “relay.”

Other suggestions included limiting pony championships to drivers under 23 years of age, limiting the number of World Championships, and emphasizing four-in-hand driving.

Many of the issues that prompted the Think Tank proposal are very real concerns to all American organizers. It is becoming increasingly hard to find the open land on which to hold even three-section marathons. The format of combined driving limits the number of competitors to a maximum of 100, which restricts the amount of money that can be raised from entry fees. But finding sponsors is hard to do for a sport that isn’t TV-friendly, particularly in this country. And amateur drivers at the advanced level have a tough time conditioning for five-section marathons.

Nonetheless, the Think Tank proposals have met with over-whelming negative response from the American drivers and officials who’ve been given the chance to review it. The USAEq staff sent copies of the proposals to the top-level U.S. drivers and asked them to respond. A summary of their thoughts was sent in April to Capt. John Roche, the manager of jumping and driving at the FEI. ADS leaders aren’t considering any changes as a result of the Think Tank study because the only points that received a positive response were those concerning the safety and the welfare of the horse/pony.

As 2001 ended, we had yet to hear how our 2002 international teams’for the World Four-In-Hand and Singles Championships’would be trained, selected and funded, as a result of the contest between USAEq and the U.S. Equestrian Team that overshadowed so much in 2001. It seems a shame that so much money that could have been used to fund our riders and drivers went to attorneys instead.

Now that that conflict appears to be over, I believe that we will find a way and we will go on, just as we have since Sept. 11.




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