EN Today: The hazards of combined driving

“Red on the right, white on the left and a different kind of insanity in the middle”? Dana Diemer breaks down the “cross-country” part of combined driving.

Last fall, we presented a couple articles from EN reader Dana Diemer on the sport of combined driving, including some fun facts and information about the equipment involved. Today, Dana’s back to explain the fun, “cross-country” part of combined driving– Phase E of the Marathon. Many thanks to Dana for writing, and thank you for reading. If you have something to share on Eventing Nation, send it to [email protected]. Go Combined Driving! –Visionaire

Top photo: Pony, whip and ‘gator work as one. Photo by Kelly Butler.


From Dana:

It’s the really fun part of combined driving.  It’s the puzzle part of combined driving.  It’s the ultimate anti-Alzheimer’s portion of combined driving. It’s the how well do you really know your horse on the day part of combined driving.  It’s the Phase E part of combined driving.  (Phase E?)

Marathon Day at a combined driving event remains a true test of fitness, skill and an accurate memory.

This portion of the competition is broken up into three phases.  Phase A is a marked course of a measured distance ranging from a minimum of 5000 meters to a maximum of 8000 meters.  This may be accomplished at any pace at any level.  Phases B and C no longer exist.  Phase D is a marked course of 800 to 1000 meters, executed at the walk.  At the end of the walk phase, the competitors enter a mandatory rest period at the vet box of ten minutes.  Vital signs are checked and the horses are trotted in harness, in front of an official to insure soundness and ability to continue.

Then the real fun begins!  Phase E is a marked course of 6000 to 9000 meters.  Hazards, more correctly known as Obstacles are located roughly every 1000 meters, there may be up to 8 obstacles dependent on the level of competition.  Each obstacle has a clearly marked entrance and exit and up to 6 compulsory gates marked with red and white letters A, B, C etc. which indicate the sequence they must be driven.

  • You must drive the gates in order.
  • You must drive through them in the correct direction (red on the right, white on the left).
  • You may not pass through a higher gate in order to reach a lower one (in other words you can’t drive through C to get to A more quickly).
  • Once you have passed through a gate it is considered “dead” and you may drive through it in either direction without penalty.
  • Each obstacle is timed. The clock starts as you pass through the entrance and stops when you pass through the exit.  The longer you are in a hazard the more penalty points you incur.

Driving Fun Fact: A knockdown is a dislodgeable element located in an obstacle.  They range from a tennis ball balanced on the top of a post to a strip of wood velcroed to the side of a post.  All warn “don’t  come too close” and all add a penalty of 2 points for each knockdown to your overall marathon score.

There are easily hundred of variations of route that can be driven in each obstacle.  The challenge is to determine the fastest route for you and your horse, on the day and in the moment.  Oh yeah, back up plans are a real good idea when you blow by a turn, as is an acute awareness of where you are in the obstacle at any point in relation to all the gates you must drive through.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  Six to eight times.

How many ways do you see to drive this obstacle?

Savvy drivers walk obstacles multiple times and have developed a routine that works for them.

The first time through is a get acquainted look. Check out the overall hazard- terrain, layout of gates, entrance/exit, any compulsory turning flags (course gates) before or after the hazard, any kilometer markers on the out gate, and a general feel for the obstacle.

The second walk is all about options. Look at the routes between gates, measure possible routes, and make a basic plan. Talk to friends about their thoughts and watch others walking, invariably someone will find a way to go you hadn’t thought of.

Driving Fun Fact:  To spin or wrap, as in “we are going to spin red B”  is to execute a 360 turn around a letter on a gate.

Third walk- time to get serious. Select the route, noting landmarks and points in the hazard to use as focal points on the chosen path. Discuss what/when the driver wants the navigator to say or do. Walk the angles in the turns. Discuss the place and angle to be used between the entrance and exit gates. Attention to this can shave a few seconds off your time. Consider the flow from gate to gate to gate all through the hazard, not just from one gate to another. Smooth and flowing is often faster than taking the short route. Every time you change rein or have to slow then speed up, you are burning seconds and also your horse’s energy. Make sure it’s worth it in terms of saving time.

Walk the hazard as many times as necessary for you to feel confident driving at the speed you plan to drive. Most new drivers underestimate how many times they need to walk the hazards. Better to be over prepared.

And did I mention you do this for up to eight obstacles?

Driving Fun Fact:  To button hook is to pass through a gate, execute a 180 degree turn and go back out the way you came in.  It’s a ground saving maneuver, but also requires a lot of strength to keep up the momentum.

Many thanks to 2012 World Pony Championship team bronze medalist Rochelle Temple for her help with this article!

Next time:  Coverage of the 2013 Little Everglades International CDE, February 21-24, Dade City Florida.  www.littleevergladesranch.com

Video:  Jacob Arnold driving Halstead’s Shale at CAI-B Little Everglades 2012 Obstacle 1.

Red on the right, white on the left and a different kind of insanity in the middle.

Go Combined Driving!

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