Harness or Driving Competition
Growing up I knew about horses being used to pull carriages (the Budweiser Clydesdale spot was always my favorite Super Bowl commercial) but I have only recently been exposed to driving as a sport. I was able to volunteer at the combined driving test event to evaluate the World Equestrian Games facility in preparation for the Tryon 2018 WEG and was blown away by the amazing sport of combined driving. How the same team of horses could be used for something as elegant as dressage one day, then bravely dive into the water obstacles in the marathon phase, and finally gather all their finesse and accuracy for cones on the final day — it was beautiful to watch!
This week in class we looked at harness competitions (also called driving) a little more closely. Following are five styles of driving competition in the US and beyond. This is by no means a comprehensive list but once again, I have learned about five new disciplines I didn’t know about previously.
Draft horse showing features draft breeds such as Belgians, Percherons, or Clydesdales from a hitch of two horses up to eight horses pulling a wagon or carriage. The driver directs their team around the ring while a judge analyses each team in the class and selects a winner. Draft horse shows take place in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia. One such competition is the Eastern States Exposition Draft Horse Show in Springfield, Massachusetts which offers $35,000 in prize money during the grand finale.
Fine harness competition also features a driver directing their horse around a show ring to be analyzed by a judge, however fine harness competitions feature light breeds such as the American Saddlebred, Morgan, or Hackney horses as well as several pony breeds. The equipment used in fine harness will be lighter and more agile than that of draft horse showing and a four wheeled cart is generally used. Fine harness competition takes place in the US and Canada in addition to other areas. The United Professional Horseman’s Association (UPHA) American Royal National Championship Horse Show takes place in Kansas City, Missouri featuring, “Saddlebreds, Hackney Ponies, and Road Horses from UPHA chapters throughout the country.”
Pleasure driving is similar to fine harness in that it uses light horses and a light two or four-wheeled cart. Light horses such as Morgans are directed around the ring at a walk, working trot, and extended trot while the judge looks for driver skill, correct movement, behavior and conformation. Pleasure driving shows take place in the US – one example being the Lexington Carriage Classic in Lexington, Kentucky.
According to USEF.org, Roadster driving hails from the days of country doctors and traveling preachers and was, “the forerunner of the harness horses you see on the racetrack today.” Similar to harness racing, roadsters use a light weight sulky and drivers wear racing silks in the show ring. The competitors will not race, however, but are shown at a “jog trot, road gait, and at speed” – a fast trot. Popular breeds for roadster competition are Morgan horses and Shetland ponies. The American Road Horse & Pony Association holds an annual horse show in Harrodsburg, Kentucky.
Scurry driving is a type of harness competition in which a team of horses is driven through a course of narrow cone gates through which they must pass without hitting the cones. A ball rests on top of each cone and will become dislodged when the cone is struck – signaling clearly that the team hit the cone. Time and accuracy are factors in scurry driving competition. Pony breeds are generally used for this sport. Scurry driving competitions take place in Australia, Europe, New Zealand, and the US. It is especially competitive in northern Europe with championships in the Netherlands and UK.