Out at the Sargent Equestrian Center east of Lodi, 40 skilled carriage drivers gathered Saturday to test their skills, and those of their highly trained horses, against one another in fast paced races.
It was the first Golden State Combined Driving event, organized by Allyn Carman and Nancy Myers and sanctioned by the American Driving Society.
The pair had planned the event for years, but it wasn’t until this year that a space opened up that wouldn’t conflict with other CDE’s along the west coast.
Combined driving is a hugely popular international sport, said Carman.
“This is like NASCAR over in Europe,” she said.
Carriage drivers compete in dressage, cones, and marathon phases. Dressage requires fancy costuming for the driver and the horse, and each team goes through the same routine. That set of maneuvers tests the skill of the driver and the training of the horse.
The cones phase sends drivers through a series of twists and turns, testing speed and accuracy.
The final marathon phase, which takes place on Sunday, is a six mile run over hills, around turns and through complex hazards.
“That’s all about the stamina and fitness of the horse,” said Carman. “It separates the men from the boys, if you know what I mean.”
The sport is especially popular among middle aged former riders.
“Sometimes when you ride, it gets to the point where you can’t anymore. In combined driving, you can compete for years. It’s really fun, and very challenging,” she said.
The drivers at Saturday’s event varied in age from 14 years old up to 76, and hail from five different states. Two competitors are wheelchair bound, said Carman. Three were formerly members of the United States Equestrian Team.
Drivers don’t compete for cash awards. Instead, they’re looking to gather ribbons, trophies and bragging rights, as well as spend time with like minded horse crazy folks.
“This is bigger than we thought it would be,” said Carman.” We weren’t sure anybody was going to come, but we did good.”
Contact Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.