Somewhere in the last few years, somebody called driving the fastest-growing equestrian sport. I don`t know who made that determination, and I don`t believe that the numbers support that claim. But it doesn`t matter because I would argue that the driving fraternity is absolutely dedicated and committed to the discipline they`ve chosen.
Driving in North America continues to more than hold its own. Both membership and competition numbers are rising slowly but steadily. A quick analysis of the starting fields at 2002 sanctioned competitions shows that approximately 50 percent increased in size last year.
Driving is the most complicated of all the equestrian disciplines` requiring more equipment, more labor to keep it clean and working properly, more horsepower of a different kind to move it from competition to competition, more people on the carriage, and more volunteers at competitions. And yet those who drive horses or ponies do it for no other reason than their sheer love of it.
Kelly Valdes, of Unionville, Pa., and Southern Pines, N.C., has been driving since she was just out of high school and was recently given the President`s Award, the only award that the American Driving Society presents, at the ADS annual meeting. When she accepted the honor bestowed upon her by President Natasha Grigg, Kelly said, “Driving is my passion!” And that pretty much sums it up for most of us.
You can see the passion in Bill Remley`s face as he watches other drivers at his own Walnut Hill Carriage Driving Competition (N.Y.). A girl named Linda Poland won the training level championship at the Metamora CDE (Mich.) last June, having never even seen a combined driving event before. She did her own training, learned the rules from the book, and came to her first (but not last) event with a sunny attitude. I saw her again at Fair Hill (Md.) as a spectator, and the passion in her was palpable.
The Tip Of The Pyramid
A wonderful new “trend” in the driving world seems to be our drivers` ability to win World Championship medals. It began with Fred Merriam, of Newfane, Vt., winning a bronze medal at the second World Singles Champion-ship in France (see p. 199), followed by James Fairclough, Tucker Johnson, and Chester Weber winning the four-in-hand team silver at the World Equestrian Games in Spain. Finally, American drivers at the World Championships for Drivers with Disabilities in Germany won the team bronze as Diana Kastama earned the individual silver medal. This is a trend we hope will continue for many, many years.
The tip of the pyramid`the four World Championships`helps to grow the base of the driving pyramid. When the first World Singles Championship was announced, single drivers moved up to advanced level in droves to vie for a place on the initial 1998 team. Competitions whose organizers previously were happy to have a class of six were easily accepting 20 or more. Now it`s the ponies` turn. After a year of teasing, the first World Championship for Ponies will be Aug. 14-17 in Austria.
While pony driving has long been popular in Great Britain, with their scurries and pony driving trials, it`s just starting to build here. So there aren`t as many pony carriages available on the market. But Karen Martin, whose husband, Paul, owns the popular Martin Auctioneers, said that Kuhnle has some innovative pony carriage designs. A pony carriage must be all things: strong and light, but not too light or it will flip over easily. It must have room for the required groom, who adds to the total weight the pony must pull. Style is also a consideration, and some vehicles designed for ponies look more like grocery store shopping carts than carriages.
Lately, many of the advanced combined driving competitions have sought sanctioning by the Federation Equestre Internationale as CAI-Bs (a CAI-B has fewer requirements and lower expense for the organizer than a CAI-A). And it`s caused both organizers and competitors to ask, “Why?”
Some believe that this is just a “fad” and that this too shall pass. While being FEI-sanctioned offers some prestige, there is little benefit for most competitors. Those bound for international competition like being judged by international officials, but for the organizers, these international officials come at a high price. And when a competition hires judges, technical delegates, and course designers from Europe, they`re not hiring our national officials. An FEI-sanctioned competition must also use an FEI-licensed veterinarian and stewards, again adding to the costs. Even if officials waive their fees, costs for transportation, food and housing add up.
Once upon a time, it was usual for a combined driving event to have five judges, but cost and lack of officials has made this practice extremely rare. Hardy Zantke of Torrance, Calif., a competitor, official and organizer, is a proponent of using five judges because they prevent one judge`s excessively high or low scores from unduly influencing the average. But the expense, the diminishing pool of judges, and restrictions from sanctioning organizations have made the five-member jury virtually impossible.
You Can`t Do It All
Arena driving is the newest variation of combined driving to achieve status under the ADS rules, and it`s gaining popularity from coast to coast. What attracts competitors and organizers alike is its simplicity relative to its full-fledged CDE cousin. Perhaps these, along with horse driving trials, will eventually replace the training level at two- and three-day events. Some organizers of HDTs and ADTs use them as stepping stones toward hosting full CDEs. Many are held as club events, providing a more relaxed atmosphere for everyone.
A trend that frankly disturbs me is competition organizers who try to do it all`offering both combined driving and pleasure driving at the same venue at the same time. It`s a nightmare for everyone! It taxes the organizers and, more important, the officials. It taxes the competitors, who think it sounds fun when they read about it in the Omnibus or prize list, but then the reality of taking additional horses or ponies, carriages, harness, and wardrobe sets in. They forget how tired and hungry they are by late afternoon. And maybe they forget that an ADS rule also prohibits horses and ponies from competing in both pleasure and combined driving competitions that are run concurrently. Choose one or the other, and do a great job with that one.
And we must have a good pool of officials to serve the increase in both number and size of driving competitions. If organizers have a large selection of North American officials from which to choose, they`re more encouraged to hold a sanctioned competition as they`re less likely to have huge travel costs. We need more experienced officials on our list. But becoming an official is a difficult and expensive journey. Should we lower our standards just so that we can add names to our list, then leave it up to the marketplace to separate the good from the bad? The ADS and USA Equestrian certainly can`t approve officials who they don`t believe have met the requirements to be competent officials. Their credibility would be questioned, not to mention the question of liability.
Learner officials are understandably discouraged when they don`t pass on the first try, but others never even consider becoming officials because of the time and expense required to get a license. That`s a shame, because many in our ranks could help by “giving back” as officials.
I know, too, that some people are reticent to become judges because they fear the criticism`often sharp`that some drivers heap on judges. We must remember that judges are still human beings and address this conundrum in order for our competitions to survive.
Pleasure Driving Gets A Boost
After a somewhat stagnant period, pleasure driving is getting a shot in the arm it needs. A newly appointed Pleasure Driving Committee, headed by John Greenall and Mike Keatley, has proposed a number of rule changes that, following comments from the membership and a vote by the ADS Board of Directors, will provide some new classes, put new spins on old ones, and clarify others.
I`m glad because pleasure driving is about tradition, and the rules should try to encourage the beauty and elegance, which distinguishes it from the rough-and-ready CDE.
A major change for the ADS occurred in November, when Natasha Grigg stepped down after four years as president. Her manner of saying exactly what was on her mind made her very popular with most of her constituency. Now that she has a new title of past president (or maybe Queen Mother would be more appropriate), ADS members may not hear quite as much from her, but she`s been noticed by other organizations` leaders for her honesty and ability to cut through the chaff, so our loss may be the equestrian world`s gain.
Margaret (Jody) Cutler is the new ADS president. Since she`s a resident of California, many will welcome a change from the perceived East Coast bias. Both Jody and Vicki Nelson-Bodoh, the current president of the Carriage Association of America, are accomplished drivers, equally at home with pleasure driving, combined driving and dressage, driving single, pair, four-in-hand and tandem. Coincidentally, they both drive gray ponies.
Both the CAA and the ADS recently received charitable organization status from the Internal Revenue Service, and we hope that our members as well as others will continue to support the organizations even more generously than in the past with this added “carrot,” in spite of the sluggish economy.
Last year it looked like the problems between the U.S. Equestrian Team and USAEq were close to an end. If there is any good news, it is that these issues don`t affect the vast majority of carriage drivers. The bad news is that they really do affect the advanced drivers, who are now totally confused and upset with both organizations. We all hope that 2003 will be the last year we`ll have to endure all of this.