Everything you need to know about getting started in carriage driving

carriage driving
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Picture credit: Bennington Carriages

Fancy a new challenge for you and your horse? Carriage driving is a great way to get the whole family involved, and is suitable for all types of horses, from Shetland to Shire.

Whether you fancy the thrill of horse trials or just want to potter around the countryside, this sport that has something for everyone.

We spoke to Julia Crockford, chairman of the White Horse Harness Club, to find out more about carriage driving and how you can get involved.

What’s so fun about carriage driving?

It’s something the whole family can get involved in – as three or four of you can all go out for a drive. There’s a real camaraderie with driving – and most events are big family gatherings with a picnic after.

You also get to drive at amazing venues not normally available to the public, like Sandringham Estate and Cirencester Park. How often do get the opportunity to do that?

What are the different types of carriage driving?

There are loads of different ways to enjoy the sport of carriage driving, from the fast and furious, to the steady and sedate.

  • Scurry driving – ponies dash around an arena through cones at break-neck speed.
  • Horse trials – a bit like three-day eventing, as it has three phases: dressage, cross-country and cones.
  • Private driving – this is showing, so involves a dressage display and the horse and carriage (and driver!) have to be super smart.
  • Spider driving – orienteering in a carriage, this involves navigating your way from one point to another.
  • Indoor driving – this is a great starting point for anyone thinking of competing in horse trials. It involves a short dressage test, a couple of obstacles you race around, and then a few cones – all in the safety of an indoor arena.
  • Pleasure driving – you don’t have to compete to enjoy driving. If you look on the British Carriage Driving website you will find loads of charity drives, throughout the year.

How can I get started?

Contact your nearest club, who will be able to offer advice and recommend a driving instructor. They will have their own horse and carriage so you can try it out in a safe environment, before progressing to your own. If you want to train your horse to drive, they can also help you get them going.

The British Carriage Driving website has a link to all the local clubs in UK. There are also lots of books that can teach you the basics. I recommend Learning to Drive by Sally Waldren

What type of horse can drive?

Absolutely anything, as long as they are safe and want to learn – if your horse bucks or kicks you don’t want to put them in a harness. All breeds and sizes can drive, from heavy horses to Shetlands.

What gear do you need?

If you’re buying your own carriage it depends what you can afford. You can pick up a two-wheeler for around £500 to get you started, but if you want to do showing you’ll need something a bit smarter, which can cost several thousand pounds.

These days most people use a harness made of webbing, as it’s much easier to clean. You can even put some of them in washing machine. Again, if you’re showing you will need traditional leather.

You can get all the gear second hand – most driving clubs will have a ‘for sale’ page on their website. Dragon Driving advertise horses, carriages and harnesses and Carriage Link is another good place to look.

Safety advice

Always use high-vis gear for you, your horse and your carriage. You will be going much slower than anything else on the road, so you need to be clearly seen from in front and behind. You should also make sure your horse is safe on the roads and you need to be insured.

Where can I drive?

Ordinance Survey maps will show you all the local bridleways and byways. Byways are wider as they’re open to all vehicles, but you need to check out local bridleways first, to see if they are accessible. Your local driving club will be able to help you find some good routes.

A carriage can go over any sort of ground, although deep mud is hard for the horse. It’s easy to pull a carriage on flat ground, once its moving, even with four people on – you could even pull it yourself! But you have to check what is underfoot to be on the safe side.

Want to see how the professionals do it? Don’t miss the FEI World Cup Carriage Driving Final, which is now available on Catch-Up. All you have to do is subscribe to H&C Play