A team of diehard horse lovers from Pinehurst wont stop at anything, not even a handicap. The mission of the Handicapable Driving Team is to take disabled equestrians to new heights, and they work hard at making dreams come true.
The team has two instructors competing at the FEI Advanced level both in the US and Europe. FEI is the governing body of equestrian sport recognised by the International Olympic Committee. Two of the team members were Coaches and Chef d Equipe for both the 1998 and 2000 disabled world championships. The competition they face is similar to eventing. In riding the three levels of competition are dressage, cross country, and stadium jumping. In driving they have dressage, marathon, and a cones course.
The start of the competition for the drivers actually starts with presentation. This phase critiques the entries overall impression. The judges scrutinize every facet of the turnout; horses, carriage, driver and the grooms.
The precision and elegance of dressage can be linked to the required movements of figure skating. The prescribed test calls for accuracy of the driver and obedience of the horse. The goal is to produce what appears to be an effortless test despite its difficulty. The letters around the side of the arena mark points at which speed and gait transitions are to take place for each of the eleven movements. Five judges issue a score of 0-10 for
each movement and these points are converted to a final test score with penalty points. A top test score may score in the 30s.
The marathon is the most challanging and exciting phase of combined driving. The cross-country course is divided into three sections and each section must be completed within the required time frame. Following the walk in section B horses are examined by veterinarians who evaluate their fitness and ability to continue. This safety factor is taken very seriously by the competitors. Sections A & E must be driven at the trot. Section E adds the test of driving eight marathon hazards which are also
timed. The routes taken between the lettered gates will vary from driver to driver as each determines what will drive the fastest for their horses and carriage. It is here that rapport and knowledge of their horses is paramount as sometimes the long route proves faster than a shortcut. Water crossings, tight twists between trees, visual problems with lines and turns on steep hills add to the challenge, as well as to the excitement of watching a team do it well.
The final phase of the competition is the cones course. The object of the cones course is to prove that on the day after a severe test of endurance, the horses have retained the suppleness, energy and obedience necessary for them to continue. After the competition of the first two phases the pressure is on the top competitors to drive a clear round to maintain their score. The course is made up of 10 sets of cones each set less than 6 wider than the wheel track of the carriage. A ball is set on top of each cone and each ball dislodged by the turnout carries five penalties. In addition to the knockdowns there are hairpin turns designed to test the obedience and suppleness of the horses as well as the skill of the driver. The course has a maximum time and every second over that timed is penalized. The driver must be fast as well as accurate.
The benefits of handicapped driving are improved coordination and concentration, increased strength and self-esteem, and of course fun. The Handicapable Driving Team may specialize in competition, but they can also provide you with information and guidance concerning carriages, harness, horses, restraint systems and preparation for competition or pleasure.