Rachael Stewart’s Experiences Starting Driving

A first hand account of getting started in driving trials written by Rachael Stewart

After riding for near enough 20 years I took up driving slightly by accident. My young Highland Pony, Amos, didn’t quite grow big enough to become my next ridden pony, and faced with the dilemma of what to do with him, we decided to give driving a go. Amos is a 13.1hh Highland Pony gelding, who is turning 8 this year. He is a lovely forward going friendly boy, but at times can be a bit cheeky and have quite strong opinions on how he feels things should be done.

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Starting off with a young pony is probably not the most ideal situation, but we worked away at home learning to long rein and getting him used to his harness and pulling tyres around the yard. I had one proper driving lesson and a few shots of friends various driving horses, before sending him to Ron Brewsters to be put to. After an initial boot camp at Rons I took him along for weekly lessons, and eventually took over the reins myself. Slowly we started to gain in confidence, and my young pony’s slightly exciting way of going started to settle.

Our first carriage was a two wheel gig, purchased on a whim at Thainstone Mart. I had no real knowledge of what I was looking for and no actual intention of buying anything that day. It just stood out, and I got lucky in that it fitted my pony and was suitable for the job I wanted it to do.

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When we started driving it had been my intention just to potter around the countryside to keep my pony fit, and maybe enter a few showing classes further down the line. This all changed over night when by chance I came upon an indoor driving event at Fountains in Dyce, and decided to go along to watch for an hour as I was in the area. Totally taken in by the skill, the speed and the excitement I knew that this was something we had to try.

Due to me changing jobs in March last year we had a bit of a break in routine. Amos spent 3 months with my friend in Aberdeenshire, hacking out quietly around the local forestry, and I spent 3 months ponyless learning about my new job. On my return Amos was relocated to Strathorn Farm with George and Ruth Skinner. I think this is where our driving really turned a corner. With ready access to a schooling area, cones course, off road hacking and a lot of help and advice at hand, we started to get out and about more and more. Amos’s confidence in the carriage has really grown, as has mine, and now with a regular groom we are starting to work well as a team.

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As we progressed we upgraded to a four wheel marathon carriage. I was very lucky to be offered a Jack Clyne carriage by a friend with suits both Amos and I perfectly.

We entered our first indoor competition in October last year. It was a massive steep learning curve but such good fun. It was great to watch other drivers and see how the tackled the obstacles before we had a go ourselves. We went away with a lot of helpful hints and tips from more experienced competitors and I feel it gave us a lot to focus on. In our second competition two weeks later our hard work at home was rewarded, with much improved scores, and second place in our class.

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This year we are aiming to keep building on our good experiences. We have signed up for the SCDA’s training camp in April which should hopefully give us a good kick start to the year. I’d like to try a few different activities, so we have pencilled in some showing classes, drive outs, and most importantly our first grass roots driving trials into the calendar.

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Rachael

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