An Introduction to Driving Trials by Jane Squirrell

When my rather fresh section C mare, Farchynys Ffantasi, threw me and I broke 4 ribs 8 years ago, I never imagined that it would lead to me having the most fun with her that I have ever experienced. I was nearing 50 and needed to admit that I didn’t bounce, or heal, as well as I did in my 20’s so I decided to send her away to be broken to drive.
I sent her to a man, who came highly recommended, called Ian Martin and he did such a fantastic job with her that I was driving her myself within a few weeks. He did admit however, that she was a natural, lucky for me eh? I decided to bypass the 2 wheeler stage and go straight for a 4 wheel marathon vehicle and was lucky enough to find a lovely old Dartmoor Merlin at a reasonable price. I then purchased a set of Zilco Tedex harness and there I was ready to go with all the gear and almost no idea!
I have to say that if carriage driving folk had been as self-absorbed as other horsey folk I may well have not gone very far at all before giving it all up as another fad! However, everyone in the driving world was so friendly and would fall over themselves to help you and give you practical and useful advice. I entered my 1st Indoor Driving event and with help from Ian and a few others I managed not to make a fool of myself and came 5th. The thrill I felt whilst speeding round the obstacles (well it felt speedy but actually I was quite slow) was fabulous and re-ignited my desire for competing which had fizzled out years before. After a few more lessons, with the wonderful Anna Grayston, and a couple a couple more competitions we managed a respectable 2nd but we were having so much fun that the placings were academic really.
In 2010 my husband and I moved to Aberdeenshire and set about investigating carriage driving in the area. I found a talented young instructor, Sanchia May, and started having lessons again with a view to competing in outdoor events. However, the attitude and ability of my mare took my instructors fancy and I decided to let her have my mare to compete at National level. I was certainly not capable enough to bring out the best in my mare and I was excited by the prospect of seeing her do well at National events, which she did.
I set about finding myself a “been there, done that” type to just have some fun with and that’s when Flint practically fell into my lap. I spotted him on Facebook, fell in love and bought him without even going to see him. The rest, as they say is history. Flint turned out to be exactly what I needed and we suited each other down to the ground. He was a 14 year old 13’2 cob type with indeterminate breeding and less than perfect confirmation, he had a stubborn streak but was never unsafe, he hated dressage but loved the marathon and obstacles just like me.

We entered our first driving trials event at Dalmeny in 2013. The venue was absolutely stunning and camping out for the weekend was a new experience for us but it made the whole thing less stressful and gave us time to mingle and make friends, which was surprisingly easy. People appeared from nowhere to introduce themselves and offer to help unload the lorry and get us set up, it was fantastic and a real eye opener, after years of ridden showing where everyone kept to themselves.
Sanchia was there to help me every step of the way despite competing herself. Unfortunately I did not do her proud in the dressage (despite her hard work with me), I did a fairly respectable cones course and ended up last out of 6 in my class at the end of day 1. The afternoon and evening were spent walking the 6 obstacles with Sanchia ( fairly daunting task for my memory, but challenging) she also kindly worked out my times for hitting kilometre makers etc.


Marathon day dawned bright and sunny and the butterflies kicked in! However, we arrived at the star of A on time and Flint seemed to come alive, bouncing up and down and raring to go even though I was sure he had never competed at driving trials before. We set off, driving through the beautiful Dalmeny Estate and before we knew it we arrived at obstacle one. Flint was amazing and so was my husband Eddie on the backstep and the whole thing was so exhilarating . We completed our marathon with the quickest times through the obstacles and no penalties and managed to move from 6th to 2nd. That was it we were seriously hooked and haven’t looked back since. In fact we were lucky enough to win the Scottish Points League in the Club Novice class in 2015.


Driving Trials has done more than re-ignite my absolute enjoyment of my ponies, it has given my husband and I something that we can enjoy together instead of me schlepping off to ridden events on my own. I seriously don’t think I have ever had so much fun competing and all the other competitors are always pleased to see you do well. I think that’s what makes driving so pleasurable, it’s so much more about the fun and the camaraderie than the competition itself.


by Jane Squirrell


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