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Preparing for a driving show: Make your list!

Patricia Demers / Horsetrader columnist - July 16th, 2015 - About Driving, Special Section

Now that you’ve enjoyed your introduction to the sport of driving, you might want to try participating in a driving show. If you don’t feel up to participating with your equine just yet, please consider becoming a volunteer! You’d be amazed at how much you can learn about a sport by being a part of it without competing. You will also be very much appreciated, as the vast majority of events run on volunteerism. Often times, when volunteering, you may get your own personal mini clinic from the experience.

The show premium will list all the classes offered, and most driving shows have divisions based on the size of the equine: mini, small–medium-large ponies, mules, donkeys, light horses (Quarter Horses, Arabians, Morgan, etc.), heavy horses (Friesians, Warmbloods, Draft crosses under 1,500 lbs.) and then the big draft horses. Some shows are smaller, and all the various sizes of equines may be in the arena at the same time. Some divisions are also broken down into classes based on the number of equines in a hitch: single, pair, tandem (one in front of the other), unicorn (a pair with a single in front) , four-ups (two pairs, one in front of the other), four-abreast, and six-ups (three sets of pairs — wheelers, swing, and leaders).

There are also divisions based on the driver: amateur, ladies, gentlemen, juniors, maiden (yet to win a blue ribbon), and novice (yet to win three blue ribbons). Then, pick your classes within a division: turnout (how the overall picture looks with everything being correct from the harness, bits, cleanliness, traditional spare parts, and the driver’s, passenger’s and groom’s attire); working (based on how nice the equine is to drive and how well it performs with correct gaits); Reinsmanship (how well the driver drives the equine through its various paces and a prescribed pattern). Finally, there are the obstacle classes, a series of pairs of traffic cones set in a pattern similar to a jumping course — and set a few inches wider than your vehicle’s wheel width – as well as gambler’s choice-bridges, serpentines, mailboxes, and figure-eights all for time and accuracy. Whew! That’s a lot of choices to make.

What do you take to the show? You’ll need grooming supplies to make your equine look it’s best, and your stall supplies- buckets, manure forks, feed. Make a list of what you’ll need for you and your equine’s comfort and competition. A very important part of making a list is to review your daily routine and think of all your tools required for grooming, stall cleaning , supplies for cleaning your tack, table, chairs and shade, your show and daily clothes. Will you be showing out of your trailer or using a tack stall in a barn? If you forget something, make a note of what you need for next time.

A few weeks ahead of your event, check your carriage for loose nuts and bolts, and touch up the paint or varnish. Take a good look at your harness for worn parts that might need to be replaced before you go to the show. Don’t wait until the last moment to do this, or it may lead to disappointment. Check your trailer too — go under the trailer and check the floor and supports, check the lights, turn signals, tires, and brakes. Don’t forget to also check your tow vehicle for maintenance. Breaking down on the way to a show can ruin the whole weekend!

Another extremely important thing to not forget is to read the rulebook of the association that you’ll be showing under. Some rules apply for some associations, while others go by different rules for the same type of class. Avoid confusion by educating yourself to avoid disappointment. Preparation is the key.

A few days ahead, you will need to clean and polish your harness. This includes taking it completely apart. You can take the opportunity to re-dye any worn and faded spots, oil all dried leather and re-nurture it. Lastly, you’ll need to polish all metal buckles and hardware. Set time aside, as this will take a while. A sure way to lose points in a class is to have a poorly cleaned or dirty harness with unpolished and tarnished metal work. Many competitors have chosen to use “white” metal such as nickel and stainless steel because it doesn’t need polishing. However, a really nice and shiny harness with brass fittings, glinting in the sun, can hardly be beat! It shows the judge that you a serious about being turned out proper!

If you are inexperienced at showing, ask an experienced friend or trainer to help. You can also pick up a book on show grooming to help prepare. Clip and groom your equine to breed standards, or at a minimum clip bridlepaths, whiskers, beards, and lower legs, and the outer edges of the ears, for that nice neat appearance. Sand the hooves in preparation for hoof polish at the show. The first couple of shows you go to can seem like a huge task, but the better prepared you are, the less stress you’ll have at the show. Being organized can make or break a good show.

Take time to plan on how you are going to transport your carriage and secure it. Secure seat cushions so they don’t blow off. You may need a set of ramps too.

I have forgotten numerous things in my haste, including my show clothes, harness parts, carriage parts, — and even once, I pulled out without the horse! Have that long list handy and check things off as you load and pack. Being prepared will keep the stress level to a minimum so you can enjoy yourself and your equine. Good luck, have fun, drive safely and smartly!

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