Carriage Driving

The horse sport for everyone!

(c)American Driving Society

  © American Driving Society


Carriage Driving

 © American Driving Society

Back in the day, carriage driving wasn’t a sport it was just a common everyday method of transportation, moving people and goods from one place to another. The more “well to do” members of society often traveled in elegant carriages and coaches either driving by themselves or by their coachman. More modest families used carts and wagons to get to where they need to be. Regardless of your class in society a good horse is a good horse and competitions arose between carriage drivers or “Whips” as they are called, to determine who had the fastest horse or who was the best driver. As automobiles replaced the horse, carriages were hidden away in barns and garages, just waiting to be discovered by someone who still relished the art of driving a horse to a carriage.

In 1974 a group of carriage driving enthusiasts formed the American Driving Society (ADS), a non-profit organization dedicated to providing education, competition and safety standards for all types of carriage driving. The first challenge of this group was to develop a Rulebook that would create a fair and level playing field for persons interested in Pleasure Driving. Their goal was to take the emphasis off the carriage, harness and accessories and put it on the driver’s skill and the horse’s athletic ability. Competitive Pleasure driving was born.

Driving Today

Pleasure Driving Competitions

Pleasure Driving Competitions feature a balance between ring class and obstacle or cross country competitions. Different classes have different criteria and are all judged by an official trained by the ADS.

Cross Country Carriage Driving
 © American Driving Society

Horses, ponies, mules, donkeys and Very Small Equines (VSEs or Miniature Horses) compete in different divisions that are based on size and or experience of the driver or equine. One of the largest Pleasure Driving Shows in the United States is held in Prairie Du Chien Wisconsin in September, on the grounds of the Villa Louis Mansion. At the Villa Louis Carriage Classic, spectators are treated to a visual smorgasbord of horses and ponies put to different types of carriages, carts and wagons, all competing against the historic backdrop of the Mississippi River.

Combined Driving Events

Shortly after the Pleasure Driving rules were formed a new type of driving competition came on to the scene called Combined Driving Events (CDE). Combined Driving has its roots in England. In 1970, His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, established the first set of international rules that were implemented at the Royal Windsor Horse Show. A great competitor, first with a four-in-hand of horses and later with Fell ponies, Prince Philip remains a strong supporter of the sport.Combined Driving is similar to the sport of Eventing as there are also three different phases of the competition; Dressage, Marathon and Cones.


The dressage phase of the competition is similar to ridden dressage in that the competitor has to perform a test in an arena. At the Advanced level horse perform movements that are similar to what a level 3 ridden dressage horse would be ask. Both two wheeled and four wheeled carriages can be used in this phase.

Dressage Carriage Driving

 © American Driving Society



Marathon Carriage Driving

 © American Driving Society


If you like heart pounding excitement then get yourself to a Combined Driving Event on Marathon day! Singles, pairs and four-in-hands negotiate tricky obstacles at breakneck speed over a 10-15 kilometer course.However the competition isn’t scored by how fast you go, it is scored by incurring time penalties in each obstacle. You can also incur penalties if you arrive at the finish before or after the window of optimum time.


Cones Carriage Driving
 © American Driving Society

The Cones competition is a test of a horse’s ability to respond quickly to precise changes of direction ask for by the driver. 20 sets of special competition cones with knockdown balls on top are set on a numbered course. Competitors walk and memorize the course and then drive it as safely and as fast as they can without knocking over the cones. The width of the space between the cones is determined by the width of your carriage plus additional centimeters. The additional centimeters gets smaller as you get into the higher levels cumulating at the Advanced level with the cones set at a mere 22 centimeters larger than your carriage for single horse competitors. Again the competition is scored by penalties incurred by either knocking down a cone or taking too long on course and incurring time penalties.

Cones Carriage Driving

 © American Driving Society

Carriage driving embraces all breeds of equine and all ages and abilities of competitors. No prize money or points are awarded in ADS recognized competitions so therefore they tend to be friendly with a lot of camaraderie. Join the American Driving Society and find out more about the fun and friendship that can be gained through carriage driving.

Additional Information

For additional information contact:

    American Driving Society
    1837 Ludden Dr, Ste 120/PO Box 278
    Cross Plains, WI 53528
    (608) 237-7382
    [email protected]