So you are going to take the plunge? Well done and welcome.
First things first are you a member of any organisation? See our list of British Carriage Driving Affiliated Clubs
This is important from an insurance point of view and most clubs will require you to be a member before you will be allowed to take part
Next have you completed your competency assessment.
This can generally be carried out by:
UKCC Level 2 or Level 3
BDS Level III, IV
British Carriagedriving National Open class competitor of three years
Have you got means to transport your horse/pony and carriage to the event? There are many different combinations used by competitors to travel their equipment and equines to an event. You certainly don’t need a big flash lorry to get you started or even when you raise up the levels. Different combinations often seen are:
Lorry – with everything contained in the lorry
Car and Trailer – Some trailers come with a carriage extension on the front which allows you to put your carriage on the front of the trailer leaving room inside the trailer for the horse/pony and equipment. Pickup trucks can also be used to travel the carriage on the pickup while towing the trailer behind. Two vehicles can be used, one with a flat trailer for the carriage and the other for towing a horse trailer.
Lorry and caravan – for when you start to stay overnight many drivers tow a caravan behind their lorry. These usually requires a C+E on your license or the E test for trailers, please check this with your local lorry training centre.
The main thing is to not be put off by the logisitcs. There are many options and you will get additional ideas once you chat to a few other drivers to see how they do it. The beauty of grassroots is that it takes part all in one day so no overnight equipment is needed, though if you are traveling far afield you may find the event organiser can assist you with finding stabling at the venue.
So you now have your membership, competency completed and means to get yourself there. So what’s next?
Prepare yourself and your pony. Although grassroots is not too demanding on your horse/pony he will still need to have a level of fitness so get stuck into your fitness plan. From rest to first grassroots you probably need around 6 weeks of fitness training. Start off gently to allow tendons and muscles to adjust and gradually increase the work load until your pony can comfortably complete a 10km circuit at a good trot, don’t forget to include some hills. You will also need to practice your dressage test. If you are unfamiliar with dressage then perhaps you would like to get some help from an instructor, this does not have to be a driving instructor, any ridden instructor should be able to guide you in basic dressage. At grassroots level the judge is really looking for a pony that is going forward happily and without resistance and is able to perform the movements comfortably. Accuracy is a very big part of driven dressage and especially at this level you can gain huge advantage by simply being accurate, so easy yet so often overlooked. Take time to read the test and find out exactly where each movement should start and finish. I always walk my test on foot several times, I then drive it at the walk paying attention to where I am in the arena. Only then do I add the correct pace to the test. If you know your test well it will reduce your stress levels no end as drivers generally get quite worried about their dressage, a fear of forgetting the test being a big part of it. You cannot have your test read to you in driving trials. You might also want to practice some cones or obstacle driving. You can use just about anything for this so long as it is safe and not likely to get stuck in a wheel or cause harm to your pony.
Have you got the right equipment?
So besides the horse/pony which you have now got to a reasonable level of fitness and you have learnt your dressage test and had a practice at some obstacle and cone driving. Take a look at your harness and make sure that it is safe and fitting correctly. If you need help with this then contact your local British Carriage Driving Affiliated Clubs
for a suitable instructor or just an experienced driver within the club who is willing to help. As a novice you will have a brief harness inspection at the event just to make sure everything is safe, this is for your benefit and nothing you should be concerned about. Nobody expects a novice at grassroots to have the best harness and equipment but it must be safe and comfortable. A variety of carriages are used and again, nobody would expect you to have the best of everything at this level so don’t be worried. Most carriages used for driving trials have what’s called an extending axle. This is simply a means of pulling your wheels out to a certain distance so that everyone’s carriages are the same width for driving cones. It is advisable to have an extending axle but if you don’t then just let the organiser know and at this level it shouldn’t be a big problem.
You will also need a driving whip. These come in all styles and price ranges but you must have a driving whip during all phases of the event. You should also have gloves and an apron for the dressage phase, lamps are not mandatory at this level. It is not necessary to dress up for the dressage phase at grassroots and marathon clothing will be acceptable. Your marathon team gear is your opportunity to express yourself and tops come in all colours and patterns
So now you have all of your equipment ready, your pony is fit enough, you have completed your competency, joined a club and placed your entry with the organiser? How exciting!
Get your lorry or trailer packed in good time. As well as all of your driving equipment remember the basics
- Food for yourself and your groom
- A change of clothes
- First aid kits for horse and human
- Your dressage test (which you now know inside out)
If your event is close to you then you will usually be able to walk the obstacles the night before. This is quite important as there is a lot to remember at grassroots where all the phases are done in one day. The organiser will usually issue you your dressage time well in advance so make sure you have this.
Arrive in plenty of time! It’s stressful enough at your first event without worrying about being late so get there in plenty of time so that you can unload, walk your cones and be harnessed up in time to warm up for your dressage
Upon arrival you should find the event office, portacabin, table, caravan, tent or box in the corner, to get your paperwork. This will be your competition number and probably some notes about the particular event rules, ie. no dogs off the lead or similar. It will also contain your times for dressage and marathon. The cones is generally immediately after dressage so you won’t have a particular time slot for this.
Once you have your paperwork find out where the dressage arena and cones course are. You will need to walk and memorise your cones course and I would strongly recommend you walk your dressage test in the dressage arena.
You should arrive ready for your dressage fully warmed up 10 minutes before your start time. Ask your groom to keep an eye on the arena steward as they will indicate when they are ready for you. Once the judge signals the arena steward they will raise a hand to indicate you should enter the arena. Breathe deeply and begin your test. Remember to give yourself room to enter the arena straight and relaxed.
Once you have completed your test you should then proceed to the cones arena. The stewards will indicate when they are ready for you and you can complete your course. Make sure you wait for the bell before crossing the start line. Once you have completed your round the stewards will ask you to wait to have your axle width measured. This is usually done by placing two cones either side of your rear wheels and then they will ask you to walk forward so that they can measure the distance between the cones.
You can now go back to your lorry or trailer and take the horse/pony out of the carriage. Have a cup of tea and a bite to eat then set off to walk your obstacles. Hopefully you have already had the opportunity to look at the obstacles the night before. You should choose a route that suits your level of experience and that of your horse or pony. Flowing and smooth roots are always the better option so don’t choose tight turns if it will mean starting and stopping and pulling your horse or pony about. This doesn’t help to build the horse’s confidence and it won’t give you good times. Remember that all of the gates must be driven in sequence and in the correct direction, red on the right and white on the left. The route between the obstacles will also be marked and may have compulsory turning flags (CTF’s) These must be passed through in the correct order and direction. You should follow the route according to the directional flags. I will be writing a more in depth explanation of the marathon in another section soon.
You should arrive at the start of the marathon at least 10 minutes before your start time to report to the steward. They should give you a time card which your groom will carry and hand to the stewards at the finish gate. When your time comes you can set off on the marathon. Enjoy!
When you get back there is usually time to get everything packed up while you wait for the results. There will then be a small prize giving.
Congratulations you have completed your first grass roots competition.