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Getting to know ‘Cones’

By Patricia M. Demers / Horsetrader columnist - September 15th, 2016 - About Driving

About DrivingIn my previous articles, I’ve explained about the first two phases of combined driving events (CDE), which are driven dressage and marathon.  Now, we’ll learn about the final phase of the event: cones.

The objectives are to test the fitness, obedience, soundness and suppleness of the horses — after competing on the marathon —  and to test the skill and competence of the driver. This is a timed-fault competition based on penalties for cones/balls knocked down and for exceeding the time allowed on course.  Tennis balls or special weighted balls are placed upon the tops of cones. If a cone or ball is knocked over or dislodged, a five-second time penalty is added to the time on course.  There are also penalties or disqualification for various other infractions.

The times are used to determine the placings for the cones phase.

The design of the course should be laid out so the turnout can maintain a fairly fast pace.  A well-designed course flows with a few tighter, technical turns or combinations of cone sets that will purposely slow the progress down and require more technical driving.  As the sport has developed, the cones courses have gotten tighter and more technical while requiring faster speeds.  This is due to the advancing skills of many drivers.  It was basically too easy, and not enough faults were being accumulated from being over time or knocking down balls.

The challenge to the course designer is to challenge but not overwhelm the lower-level drivers (training, preliminary), while providing enough challenge to the upper-level drivers (intermediate/advanced).

There is a difference in design of cones courses between CDE and pleasure driving. CDE vehicles of the four-wheel type all have a full fifth wheel and low center of gravity so that they can turn sharper at speed.  In pleasure driving, the course designer should take into consideration antique vehicles and non “cut-under”- type vehicles, so those courses are more open and looping than tight and technical.  In CDE,  cantering is allowed for preliminary, intermediate and advanced.  In pleasure driving, canter is NOT allowed.  This is where many competitors can get confused with the rules.  I personally do NOT recommend cantering for lower-level drivers and horses!  If you do, please use a kicking strap.

So how DO you design a cones course?  It could be based upon the various sizes of circles and maneuvers in the level of dressage the competitors are performing.  So, all levels basically do 20-meter circles or half-circles, so cones can be set up on a serpentine or a circle of that measurement.  Straight paths, curves, U-turns are typical.  The course is laid out and then measured with a wheel-type measuring devise, along the common path that the turnout might take.  The length of the course is then converted to time of meters-per-minute, and optimal time on course is determined.  You can also take a dressage pattern, and set up cones along any point along the pattern.  In CDE, 20-cone sets is the usual, and in pleasure driving 10-cone sets is usual.

The width between the cones (which are set with the tips of the cones facing inwards), is determined by the level of driver and multiples of horses competing.  In training, 35 centimeters is added to the wheel width of each carriage competing at that level.  As the levels progress, the width between cones gets tighter (30-15 CM) and becomes more challenging.  A number of volunteers- called cone setters- each has a stick with centimeters marked.  The cones are reset for every competitor to level the playing field.

The structure of the levels – training through advanced — is meant to guide the horse through his training in a progressive manner and every horse should be given the time to work honestly through these steps.  Shortcuts result in the improper physical and mental development of the horse.

Each cone is marked with a red-and-white number or letter.  The red marker is always on the right of the driver, so you know which direction to approach that cone set.  Also, each subsequent cone number should be visible from the prior cone set (but not always to make it more challenging).

The competitor shall be allowed to walk and examine the course 90 minutes before the competition — in CDE’s — and immediately before the class in pleasure driving.

So, how do you start to train for driving a cones course?  Take a number of traffic cones and set them out in pairs.  Measure your wheel width and add a number of inches or centimeters extra.  A nice pattern to start is along the rail and across the diagonal.  You can also set up on the quarters or half-circle.  When you are first learning how to negotiate these patterns, walk it first, then a slow trot and increase the speed until you are traveling at a nice working trot.

Accuracy comes first, and then speed. Take one or two sets at a time, then add an additional cone set as you feel comfortable.  Don’t cut corners.  When you are beginning, a good method of approach is three straight strides before going thru the sets to get yourself aligned.  Don’t look down at the cones as you go through,  or you will drop your shoulder and pull your horse into the cone — and knock it over.

Some horses are very suspicious of cones at the beginning.  You can always ground-drive your horse through  cones to get them used to them.  Most horses really like doing cones and drive better and more forward. (The real reason is that the driver is looking forward and focusing their energy to the next cone instead of looking at the horse’s  head and blocking the forward energy.)

It’s also very important to use your whip to help your horse bend in the correct directions.  Don’t forget to practice whip yielding .


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