Susan Greenall


To Finish is to Win

If you are looking for a way to enjoy your driving horse in a relaxed competitive setting, distance driving may be for you. Distance driving emerged in 1984 as an alternative to competitive trail riding. Since then, it has diversified and grown in many forms. The basic concept is to compete the driving horse over a prescribed distance in a set time and finish in the best form possible. While competitive in nature, the events are designed for the driver, and horse, to have a great time, enjoy the countryside, and have a feeling of accomplishment at the end.

Since there is no “national” organization sanctioning these events, most have adopted rules from existing local or regional distance riding groups. Such examples are Eastern Competitive Trail Riding Association (ECTRA), South East Distance Riding Association (SEDRA), Midwest Distance Driving Association (MDDA) which operates under the rules of the Upper Midwest Endurance and Competitive Trail Riding Association (UMECTRA) and the National Endurance Driving Association (NEDA) which follows American Endurance Riding Association (AERC) rules. Many of the distance driving competitions are held along with a distance riding competition, which adds to the fun.

The distances may vary, from 10 to 100 miles (over three days) with the main emphasis on the condition and well being of the horse. The pace averages 6-7.5 mph (9.5-12 kph), which is slower than most combined driving marathons. There is usually a veterinary hold about half way where the horse is examined to be sure it is fit to continue. Judging at the end of the drive is based on pulse and respiration recovery, soundness, tack area, metabolics and the overall impression of the horse.

Robin Groves, two time member of the USEF World Champion Singles Driving Team, uses ECTRA distance driving as a method of cross-training her horses. “I love the sport,” she tells, “it is a pure and simple test of reinsmanship, horsemanship and intelligence. Some of our drives take us over some tough terrain which requires as much skill, if not more, than an advanced CDE.”

Sue Morris, of Pierson, Florida, was the 2009 Driving Champion for SEDRA. She drove in three, one day events, a total of 82 miles, with her Arabian horse, Zanzer. “We started out in Pleasure driving shows doing a lot of local driven dressage and cones which he excelled at. We graduated to driving trials and eventually a full combined driving event. Eventually I looked for something less financially exacting and since I had a history in distance riding I asked if there were any drivers out there doing distance driving. We were welcomed by SEDRA who is the local distance riding organization in the state of Florida. My horse loves the trails (could it be cuz mom does?), and because I have physical limitations that prevent riding, happily we can compete driving.”

The Midwest Distance Driving Association (MDDA) started up in 2001 and has been growing ever since. In 2010 we have reached our high point of 21 competitive driving days,” tells Jacque Deweese. “We had 19 drivers participating in at least one event. The pace ranges from 6 to 7 mph. Distances longer than 15 miles include a break and vet check at a mid point in the drive.”

“The emphasis is on safety and the well being of the horse with most drivers simply enjoying the opportunity to drive and share some beautiful trails in Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota. The motto of MDDA is “To Finish is to Win”. Our members are also members of UMECRA whose motto is “Persevere”. One story in particular comes to mind where one of our drivers had a close encounter with a deer on the trail. The reaction of his horse resulted in a broken shaft which he quickly repaired with a sapling and duct tape to finish the drive.”

MDDA’s most active driver, Tim and Ruth Casserly, explain how they got involved with the sport. “When Wes Licht and Tony Troyer of MDDA came to a meeting of our local pleasure driving club and presented the sport of distance driving, I saw it as a perfect fit for us and our horses! A month later was the first event of the 2009 schedule, preceded by a clinic to describe the rules, scoring, etc. We drove through the mud and cold rain and had a wonderful time! When we received our score sheets at the awards ceremony (at the end of the day), we did remarkably well considering we didn’t know what we were doing! We attended 3 events, a total of 5 drives and 79 miles and were MDDA 2009- Pairs Rookies of the Year.”

“When the 2010 schedule came out, I set our goal of driving at all days of all the events! I’ve been told that no one has done this feat before in the history of MDDA, so why not go for it?!? Tim does all the driving, I am full time groom and nag-ivator. Tim and I have not opted for the top mileage on each date, perhaps leaving a goal for a future year?! “

“We compete with a pair of home raised Arabians. Prior to distance driving, we did a lot of trail riding with them. In the winter, we get together with friends with horse teams, hitch our boys to a bobsled and go out and play in the snow.”

“If you love to be out in the woods and prairies driving your favorite equine(s) with like-minded people, check out distance driving! I feel that it is a true test of your training and nutrition programs. The hours and miles of conditioning and competing build a very close bond with your animal(s)! We love going to new parks to drive, with trails that have been marked, cleared and approved for our use. Find a distance driving club and attend a clinic, see if it sounds like something you’d like to try! So why not try it, what do you have to lose? “

The British Driving Society (BDS) embraced the concept of distance driving in 1988 to bridge the gap between private and F.E.I. driving, enabling drivers with any type of horse or pony to compete on equal terms.. They implemented a pass/fail competition of three levels, bronze (40Km in one day), silver (40Km on day one, and 20KM on day two) and gold (40Km on day one, and 40Km on day two). One needed to turn out a perfect score from the vet, farrier and timer in order to earn a medal. Pneumatic tired vehicles are not permitted and the combined weight of the vehicle and passengers may not outweigh the horse or pony.

The sport emphasizes good management in training and skilful driving where turnouts arrive home in good condition and without penalties. Entrants are keen and interested in meeting and helping each other during the event. They enjoy both the day and the drives, probably because it is an event where they compete against their own achievements, past and present, and not against each other.

The biggest difference between endurance driving and other forms of distance driving is that it is not judged…it is a race. The National Endurance Driving Association (NEDA) was formed in 1989 in Nevada and most recently a race was held in conjunction with the Winnemucca Mule Races and Show and Draft Horse Challenge in Nevada. The race started twenty-five miles from the Fairgrounds and finished on the track in front of the grandstand. On course, one 15 minute pulse gate is used once the horse met 64 beats per minute. Any type of vehicle may be used as long as it has at least one wheel or runner. Prize money is given to fourth place.

Steve Thompson, of Silver Springs, NV, is the contact person for NEDA and an avid driver himself. “Most of our events are here in the Silver Springs area, we are having a night race here at my house Saturday night, and a two day race at Frenchman’s reservoir next weekend.” Horses are required to pass a “vet” inspection in order to continue. At least one inspection every 20 miles is suggested. “I enjoy cart racing as it blends the accomplishment of endurance riding with the thrill and skill of driving fast (most is done at fast trot to full gallop) and finishing in one piece.”

How to get started in the sport of distance driving? First, contact an organization in your area. If you have the opportunity to get to a distance drive to observe and ask questions, you will learn a lot of what is expected of you and your horse. You will find that these groups welcome newcomers and are only too willing to give advice.

A well fitting harness, of any material, and a safe and comfortable carriage are very important, both to you and your horse. You will then need to start a conditioning program where you keep track of your horse’s progress over increasing distances and times. You need not drive 25 miles for your first event if a lesser distance is offered and you should to allow 6-8 weeks for your conditioning program. To offer a guideline, if you can travel 10-15 miles in 1:30 to 2 hours and have your horse’s pulse recover to 44 or less in 30 minutes you are ready to compete. Be sure to check the terrain you will be competing on and attempt to duplicate that in your drives. Most importantly, be prepared to have fun!