Like all equestrian pursuits, Carriage driving is tremendously good fun. However, there is an element of risk and to minimise any potential problems, we would always recommend that you seek professional or experienced help when learning to drive.
Check out our links pages for a list of local instructors and British Driving Society approved Light Harness Horse Instructors (LHHI’s)
You can download the BDS list of LHHI’s here:
If you are interested in taking up carriage driving, we know that you will want to minimise the risk of your financial outlay at first. “There’s no point spending a lot of money on something I don’t know if I will like” is a common statement we hear. However, be warned; driving has huge engineering demands on the materials used in harness and vehicle construction. Cheap inferior materials have a high risk of product failure which can be potentially dangerous and damaging to your driving experience.
To avoid any potential pitfalls, check out our following helpful pointers to common questions...
Your ability to drive
Carriage driving is one of the few pursuits which knows little or no prejudice. We welcome participants from all backgrounds, abilities social groups and age groups. But like most things in life you have to decide what you want to achieve in driving and focus on that. Carriage driving can open great avenues of opportunity for everyone, but what you want to do will greatly effect the choice of horse, harness and carriage that best suits your needs.
Complete novices are welcome to come along to the regular Dyfed Carriage Club Inro2Driving nights where they will learn all about the rudiments of driving as well as being fingerposted to suitable instructors in their area.
See our category on driving notes to see what interests you.
Choosing the right horse
Most horses will drive, from the miniature Fallabellas to the giant Shires. You can either have your own horse broken to drive by an experienced trainer (it’s a great way to recycle redundant children’s rifing ponies) , or buy a ready made driver form a reputable source. Dyfed Carriage Club members are on hand to advise the best options for you.
Certain breed types have characteristic traits that offer features, benefits and constraints on driving (eg Welsh ponies and cobs, Hackneys, Coloured Gypsy Cobs). Experienced drivers will be able to advise you on this. We recommend that complete novices start off with an experienced quiet schoolmaster driving horse to minimise any risk and to maximise your driving pleasure.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT HARNESS
There is a wide variety of differing harness types and a multitude of purchasing routes for newcomers to driving to comprehend. Again, we would always recommend that you seek the advice of an experienced carriage driver. Their knowledge is invaluable.
The right harness choice is dependant on your horse’s size and what you want to do with him (show, compete, driving trials or simply leisure drive)
Harness comes in two options, leather and synthetic.
Leather is available in either high quality English or lower grade foreign. Foreign harness has a reputation for inferior quality and poor performance. Leather harness is predominantly used for showing and requires a lot of maintenance and upkeep.
Synthetic harness is available as webbing or plastic coated webbing. It is perfectly acceptable for driving and can be used in nearly all disciplines. It is strong, durable, easy to maintain and clean. Like leather harness, there are higher quality British and European branded makes as well as cheaper inferior foreign made sets. Cheap inferior makes suffer from poor materials that can break and rot, whilst their poor tailoring can cause ill fitting sores.
Avoid inferior bargain harness sets available on internet auction sites.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT CARRIAGE
Like harness, there is a multitude of carriage types to chose from. Firstly seek the advice of an experienced carriage driver to recommend the best option for your needs.
Carriages come in two basic formats, 2 wheel or 4 wheel, and
within those formats they are available as either traditional type or modern exercise/competition vehicles. (We are ignoring commercial and agricultural types in this instance).
Traditional types are usually the attractive historical vehicles made from wood and high quality paint finish. They are mainly used for Private driving classes at shows and displays. They are usually quite valuable and precious, so they are not used much for rough and tumble competition work. Like all things in life, there are exceptions to look out for including Governess Carts and Ralli Carts. Although these are extremely commonplace, they are no longer fashionable and out of favour for the demands of current carriage driving. Consequently they suffer from poor residuals and negligible value.
Modern exercise or competition vehicles are enjoying a great revival where there is a healthy used vehicle market as seen on Dragon Driving, Carriage Link and ebay. They are normally made form high grade steel and are available with traditional steel wheels or pneumatic tyred wheels for extra comfort. Suspension is normally either indespension type or softer more comfortable elliptic leaf springs. New carriages are currently available from British, Polish or Chinese made sources.Beware of inferior grade Chinese made vehicles which suffer from dangerously poor build quality.
Types of Events you can take part in...
Please find the following notes which may be of help you when driving. If you have any tips and suggestions, feel free to send them in.
Carriage driving is one of the few pursuits which knows little or no prejudice as it is enjoyed by young and old, able bodied and disabled in an equal basis. To enjoy carriage driving, like car driving, there are a number of instructions which you should observe to make it a safe and pleasurable experience, especially when driving in company. We always recommend that you seek the advice of an experienced or qualified LHHI instructor. There is a training programme available with a syllabus set by the British Driving Society.To this end, we would like to recommend the following:
TYPES OF DRIVING DISCIPLINES
Driving is a great experience, it is incredibly sociable, great fun and challenging. Like riding it has lots of disciplines to enjoy, here are a few of them explained...
Leisure Driving...This is the normal day to day type of driving we do at home and drive around our local roads and tracks. We ideally have a sturdy utility or exercise vehicle which is durable, comfortable and easy to use. These can be 2 or 4 wheelers and to a single or pair of equines. We tend to use exercise harness such as webbing, biothane or leather which is easy to clean and service. When driving on the roads, we need to make sure we can be seen, especially in shady tree lined lanes and roads, so we advocate plenty of hi viz such as jackets, hat bands, breast collar covers, brushing boots, rear reflectors etc.
Rallies...this is where we attend organised group rallies, (it’s a bit like hunting) meet up at a location and drive out either in convoy or individually for between 6 to 20 miles depending on drive and location. Its a great way to see the countryside and experience fresh driving ground. We may stop off half way for a picnic and finish with an afternoon tea...some of these are well worth the journey! You will need to be turned out safely, have a groom with you and have proof of insurance or BDS membership. Often there is no charge for these rallies, as a BDS member, you are welcome to attend any BDS ralli throughout the UK. (Please note, when driving in convoy, ALL horses pull like steam engines, so we often recommend dropping the reins a slot on their bit!)
Indoor Driving Trials...this is usually run over the winter period from October to March and available throughout the country. We have 4 local clubs in south wales with something on every weekend. The governing body is the Indoor Driving Trials Society Ltd with an annual membership of around £25.00 This covers your insurance exempt from BDS membership. You will need to pay an entry fee of around £25 per competition to cover the organisers costs, school hire etc. The competition includes a driven dressage test followed by a cones course and obstacles course. The fastest clear round with best dressage score wins. Unlike BDS driving, cantering is allowed, but check your equine insurance policy which often negates driving trials.
Driving Trials... is the high octane carriage equivalent of three day eventing and is great fun. You have to be a member of the British Carriagedriving membership from £40 to £140. This operates on a variety of levels from regional club to national and international standards. Basically like indoor driving trials, you have to do a dressage test followed by outdoor hazard course and complete with a challenging cones course. You will require either a combi sports vehicle which has a convertible back seat for the groom to sit the dressage test and is then removed for hazards and cones, or have 2 separate vehicles for presentation/cones and a sports vehicle for the cross country stage. You may also need a facility for overnight stabling as the events are often run over 2-3 days.There are 4 local driving trials groups who run events across the region through the summer months.
BDS Trec... is a new phenomenon from the BDS. They are great fun and mixes a number of skills. You start off with a harnessing up under observation of a scrutineer, a timed road drive with map reading skills, return for an obstacles course including cones. Points are scored throughout the day and the best score wins! This can all be done under the BDS membership. A small entry fee will be charged (
Showing and displays... this is the most public face of driving and essential part of promoting the best of driving. It is split into many categories (see showing notes) but basically traditional private driving with the wonderful elegant traditional vehicles, and the new Exercise vehicle classes with the modern competition and utility vehicles. Despite the type of turnouts, the common requirement is quality of turnout: everything has to be clean and well maintained, the horse has to be disciplined and obedient, the driver has to be skilful and competent. As no two turnouts are ever the same, it is one of the fairest form of competitive showing classes. Showing is relatively low cost to compete in, but lots of wins and successes adds value and provenance to your horse and carriage.
Harness Classes...are peculiar to breed types especially Hackneys and registered Welsh A, C and D, and consequently judged under the rules of either the Hackney Horse Society or the Welsh Pony and Cob Society.They are popular at major shows such as the Royal Welsh and feature the horse with minimal lightweight show harness put to a single seat viceroy or show wagon on 4 bicycle wheels. The object is to show the horses extravagant paces and best confirmation...(having done this class, its a bit of Ben Hur meets Whacky Races!)
Commercial driving...is the quiet sister of the driving world. A few professional carriage masters operate throughout the country, we have a number of them here in West Wales who have completely differing turnouts from small welsh ponies, Freisians to Shires. They provide professional services such as weddings, funerals, tourist rides, film and pleasure rides. Unlike leisure driving, commercial driving has to be covered with insurance protection due to the high risk of dealing with the general public. Standards have to be exceptional including the maintenance of the harness and carriage. Sadly a number of unscrupulous “have-a-go-Jo’s” will set up with all the wrong equipment for a quick rich fix, only for things to go horribly wrong, and it is they who court bad publicity for the rest of us in the driving world!
Harness Racing...this is a totally different discipline to the rest of carriage driving, but equally as thrilling!. It is extremely popular in Wales and the Marches and even has it’s own TV series broadcast on S4C. The driver sits in a special lightweight sulky behind a Standardbred trotter, a ‘breed’ peculiar to trotting as it has a natural fast pacing gait assisted with ‘hobbles’.
Road Racing...This is practice popular within the traveller community where they race horses (usually coloured/ colour part breds) along the highway, very often inner city or dual carriageways. It is a practice that is not condoned by this club on a number of welfare and safety issues.
Please buy the very best you can afford. It doesn’t have to be hand made English harness, you can buy perfectly good second hand harness, but get the help of an experienced carriage driver first to help you choose the best harness for your purposes.
When you get your harness, make sure you maintain it regularly. Keep it clean, check for wear and tear and keep an eye on stitching. Get it fixed if it shows sign of wear.
Make sure your harness fits your horse, when you do go out to drive, make sure it is fitted correctly and that all the buckles and straps are correctly used. Carry a hole punch with your spares kit to make adjustments. Ill fitting harness will quickly show up any problems such as unnecessary wear and sores on your horse as well as a probability of a preventable accident. If you aren’t certain of the fit of your harness, ask the advice of an experienced carriage driver.
ALL ABOUT THE CARRIAGE
Like your harness, we suggest you buy the best you can afford. It doesn’t have to be new, there are plenty of perfectly good second hand vehicles around, a good source is www.dragondriving.co.uk. Ask the advice of an experienced carriage driver, they will provide a valuable source of information.
Buy the right carriage to suit your individual requirements such as ability to get in and out of it, comfort of ride (does it have any form of suspension), transportation as well as being safe. Beware home made carts which are heavy, poorly designed and badly made. They often are dangerously unsafe and prone to failure. I have seen one with a rein rail which would easily spear the passengers on impact!
Beware of inferior made Chinese made carts as they are made to a dangerously low price point. You get what you pay for, but I am sure you value your life more!
When you get your carriage, make sure it is well maintained. Check for any signs of metal fatigue, cracks etc. Keep stone chips and rust under control and cover with paint. A carriage is a road-going vehicle, and like your car, needs to be looked after! If in doubt, seek the advice of an experienced carriage driver, they will often know where to send you to have it repaired.
We suggest that all novices should seek the advice and instruction of an experienced carriage driver, and better still have some professional lessons.
The first rule of driving is SAFETY. Please ensure you make every effort to be as safe as possible for yourself, your passengers, your horse and the people around you. Good vehicle and harness design and maintenance goes a long way to help with safety, and although we are dealing with live animals which can be unpredictable, a well trained driving horse is invaluable. But the final part of the equation is you the driver, so please observe the following:
Be safety conscious at all times, be observant and vigilant around you. Be courteous to other road users, the people around you and be specially observant of other carriage turnouts when driving in company.
It is always advisable to have an agile and competent groom to travel with you. Make sure they are able to jump in and out of the carriage to help cross roads, open and close gates etc. Remember that you are the driver and the groom should avoid issuing instructions to the horse. If you are using children, make sure they are protected with hard hats and are competent and sized accordingly, ie please don’t involve small children with large unruly horses. Children driving should have a competent adult groom accompanying them.
Please use whip signals when driving in company and let the people behind you know what you are doing... you do this in a car, so the same applies. If you don’t know, ask.
When you drive on the highway, Highway Code rules apply.
When driving in company up hill, please do not stop halfway or at the first sign of the summit, this is HUGELY inconvenient and unfair on other turnouts, specially small ponies as they need the momentum of speed to help them get up the hill. Keep your wits about you and be courteous to other drivers.
Likewise do not trot downhill in company as this is deemed dangerous. A horse can quite easily stumble going downhill and the carriage impact on top of him. If you are in company, this may result in a potential collision. Walk, its safer!
Beware of the new low noise tarmac which is very slippy to drive on. Speak to your farrier and have road studs fitted.
When taking a break on a drive NEVER EVER leave your horse unattended whilst still attached to the carriage. NEVER EVER take the bridle off whilst still attached to the carriage. You must always be in control of the horses head when he is still in harness attached to the carriage. Do not allow the horse to graze when still in harness and attached to the carriage. If you want a break, take the horse out of the carriage and be extra safe.
When driving in company, allow at least a horse’s length between you and the next turnout. Be vigilant around you, if the person behind wants to pass, let them! If they are being annoying and tailgating you, invite them to pass.
When driving in company, please be careful if your horse reverses unexpectedly. You may have a pairs turnout behind which will find reversing extremely difficult.
When driving in company, be aware that your horse will take on a different character and will PULL like a train... we suggest dropping a slot on your bit to help overcome this.
When on exercise and on road drives, we recommend the use of hard hats, High Visibility clothing and fittings to make sure you are seen by other road users.
For personal attire, please dress for the occasion, if in doubt, check with the organisers for advice. There are different dress codes for various driving disciplines, jackets should be ‘buttoned down’. Make sure you use a good pair of leather gloves and protective headgear to make life more comfortable for you.
For newcomers at club events, it is customary for your turnout to be checked over by an experienced ‘whip’ for safety reasons including harness fit and condition as well as vehicle condition. “Faux pas’ seen at past events have included twigs squeezed into buckle keepers, bolts missing from axle clamps and wheels, fractures to shafts, rims coming off wheels, loose bridles, breast collars too high/low, breeching too high/low, loose girths, loose traces/no trace carriers. In one extreme instance cheap foreign harness has caused one pony to suffer from a square shaped muscle wastage on its back due to ill fitting solid box profile saddle!
Finally, please enjoy your safer driving!
If you are organising or planning an event such as a show, parade, rally etc, contact to learn how our members and event support team can help. If you or you know of an event, please let us know and we will list it on our website.
Remember, we have a wealth of members who have a variety of turnouts, vehicles, horses and skills which may be of benefit and add spectacle to your event.
For further details contact Lester Dagge on 01994 484766
Carriage driving at shows and events provides the organisers with a relatively inexpensive main ring spectacle which the general public love and adore. For the price of a few rosettes, most carriage drivers would be delighted to oblige.
To stage carriage driving classes would like to suggest the following:
An experienced carriage driving judge (if the show is affiliated to the BDS, will be issued with a list of approved BDS judges).
A ring Steward who will be expected to direct the carriage turnouts under the instruction of the judge. Some knowledge of carriage driving would be preferred.
A commentary is recommended as this can inform the curious spectators and tell the differences in the carriage turnouts.
A variety of classes (Given the huge effort in turning up at a show involving preparing horses and carriages and transport to the show, Carriage drivers like a second bite of the cherry and often enter more than one class if available)
The show committee at the Dyfed Carriage Club have a wealth of experience and are available to help and advise you on the best classes to list in your schedule. We appreciate that you have to juggle the scripts of a variety of classes from beef, dairy, sheep, dogs and poultry, so why you should be expected to understand the nuances of carriage driving?.. we can help you!
We would like to suggest the following classes to help maximise entries to your show, to entertain the spectators and to promote best practice carriage driving.
CARRIAGE DRIVING CLASSES
All entries must be suitably covered with proof of liability insurance, Horse, ponies or donkeys must be 4 year old or over.
1. Presentation Driving class
Open to any horse, pony or donkey, 4 years old or over driven to a suitable vehicle. To be judged on correctness and cleanliness of turnout, demeanour and manners of horse. Driver to be asked to undertake a number of simple tasks including a figure 8, rein back and halt.
Special awards to highest placed Traditional carriage, Exercise vehicle, Junior driver aged between 10 and 18, Registered disabled driver, Novice driver, Novice horse and Member of the Dyfed Carriage Club.
2. Cones Class
Open to any horse, pony or donkey, 4 years old or over driven to a suitable vehicle. Driver to negotiate a series of coned gates with penalty points for balls knocked down. Fastest clear round wins. Cantering is not allowed.
Special award to the highest placed member of the Dyfed Carriage Club
Carriage Driving classes explained...
Private Driving.. aimed at the posh end of the carriage driving market where competitors would have a traditional carriage with patent show harness and would wear formal clothes such as top hats or smart ladies hats and jackets. The class is judged on the correctness of turnout, the discipline and obedience of the horse at the 2 paces of a walk and park pace trot. Drivers (also known as Whips) would be judged on their skill to British Driving Society standards including ability to drive coachman style. The class could be split into various categories such as height (13.2hh), breed (Hackneys, Welsh, Coloured, Mountain and Moorland as well as singles, pairs and young drtivers. Typical qualifiers would be BDS Wales Championships, Osborne and Victoria Foods.
Exercise Vehicles.. This is probably the most popular category as all carriage drivers have an exercise vehicle. Aimed at the utility end of the carriage driving market where competitors would have a modern exercise carriages with leather or synthetic harness and would wear country clothes such as tweed jackets, flat caps, trilby’s etc. Like Private Driving, the class is judged on the correctness of turnout, the discipline and obedience of the horse at the 2 paces of a walk and park pace trot. Drivers (also known as Whips) would be judged on their skill to British Driving Society standards including ability to drive coachman style. The class could be split into various categories such as singles, pairs, 2 or 4 wheelers, young drivers , novices and disabled drivers.
Concours d’Elegance.. This is the carriage driving’s main show stopper class as it is normally aimed at the most visually appealing and elegant. It is usually restricted to Private Driving turnouts and is normally judged by an Equestrian artist, but often by show dignitaries such as Royalty, Presidents, celebrities etc.
Light Trade.. This is aimed at the traditional end of carriage driving market where carriages were used for commercial work including bakers, butchers and dairies. Due to the demise of commercial vehicles, this class is sadly becoming increasingly less supported in provincial locations, except for the home counties.
Harness or Show Wagon.. These are again old fashioned classes aimed at showing particular breeds off in harness to a show wagon or viceroy, a single seater carriage on 4 bicycle wheels. This class is only aimed at the show ring to show the horse’s high stepping trotting action off at speed . They were popular for the 3 main welsh breed categories (A, C & D), as well as Hackneys. Unfortunately save for a few shows such as the Royal Welsh and dedicated hackney shows, these classes are becoming increasingly poorly supported.