Have You Ever Driven A VSE?

Thank you to Al Bulgawicz  for sharing this article he wrote with us here at Chimacum Tack! This is a three part blog so keep an eye out for part two and part three. LOTS and LOTS of information here!!


What’s a VSE?

Have you ever driven a VSE?  A WHAT!   Don’t think so? If you have ever driven a “mini” you have driven a Very Small Equine. That’s the name the American Driving Society has given to our small equine.

You have heard the term “think outside the box” and now you can experience “driving outside the ring” with your VSE.

The American Driving Society (ADS)

The American Driving Society was formed in the seventies and is patterned after the British Driving Society with the sole purpose of advancing the sport of Carriage Driving. Shortly thereafter, another segment was added for the more competitive drivers. Patterned after the ridden Three Day Event or Eventing, the Combined Driving Event was established. This gave the more carriage oriented enthusiasts the venue to show off their carriages and horses and the competitive group the place to compete with their horses.

Until only a few years ago, ADS was the realm of the horse and pony. Minis were considered to be cute pets but simply not suitable for competitive driving. Then it happened; minis began competing and competing well. They showed that they could perform in all aspects of Combined Driving, including the marathon. Of course they didn’t do the 20k Marathon or take the cones at 17kph but within their limits they did surprisingly well. Then, as more mini owners began to enter and compete, it became obvious that this was a rapidly growing segment of the driving community and some formal adjustments to the rules would be necessary.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of Maureen Harkcom and Merridy Hance at Happ’s in Ethel, Washington along with several other assistants, a set of VSE specific rules were added to the ADS rule book. These rules and adjustments to existing rules gave the VSE driver the same competitive venue enjoyed by the bigger equines but tailored to the mini’s abilities. Minis are now able to compete in all areas of ADS driving with rules that allow them equal footing.

Dorothy Whiteman waiting her for her go at the cones course. Her mini is wearing our Whiteman Harness.

What makes a VSE a VSE?

A mini, or VSE, can be any equine (horse, donkey, mule, etc.), registered or unregistered, that is less than 99 centimeters or 39 inches tall when measured at the top of the withers. They must be at least 4 years old and physically sound to compete in Combined Driving. Equipment (cart, harness, whip. etc.) and attire of the “Whip” (driver) are specific to the type of ADS event and will be discussed further on.

A donkey wearing our Comfy Fit harness for donkeys!

Unlike the breed arena, VSEs are not broken down into age, sex or height for competition. Any mini which qualifies as a VSE will compete with all other VSEs. This does not mean, however, that the larger VSEs always win. The CDE is not a test of speed or flash. Each horse is judged in each competition on their ability to perform. The Dressage Test is judged on the horse’s ability to perform proper movements while maintaining accuracy and driving conformation. The Marathon is not a speed test but rather a test of the horse and driver to negotiate a defined course at a precise speed and negotiate several obstacles, similar to the obstacles found in an Obstacle Driving class at a breed show, along the way. The Cones course is a test of the horse’s agility and responsiveness. Size and speed are not nearly as important as control and proper movement. There are several 29 inch minis currently competing in CDEs and doing quite well. The important thing to consider is the horse’s natural ability, conditioning and training.

Will CDE’s affect my horse’s performance in the breed show ring?

The question arises as to whether competing in CDEs will affect the horse’s performance at breed shows. Many mini owners and trainers agree that they are mutually beneficial. The training required to perform the dressage and the conditioning required to do the cones and marathon will naturally make the horse a better performer in the breed ring and horses that do well in the breed ring tend to be better performers in Combined Driving.

Is there an age requirement?

What about the age of the driver. Again, there is no breakdown by age. All drivers compete in their horse’s division against all other drivers in that division. Youth 10 and under must have a competent safety rider at all times. The Arena Driving Trial, a form of CDE, are great for these drivers. Youth 11 through 13 must have a competent safety rider. An exception to this is that they may compete with a single VSE in a securely enclosed arena without a safety rider. Youth 14 thru 18 can drive alone if they choose. A youth’s “competition age” is determined by the age reached during the current calendar year. All youth must wear approved safety helmets and protective vests when in the cart. These rules may seem restrictive to the 13 year old youth that has been driving for 10 years and can out drive most of the adults, but keep in mind the rules must apply evenly to all horses and competitors and what is ok for a VSE may not be ok with a 16 hand high powered horse.

While Pleasure Shows are fun and attractive to many VSE drivers, this blog will concentrate on the Combined Driving Event.

A Combined Driving Event consists of three parts:

Competition A, dressage; Competition B, marathon; and Competition C, the cones. This event can be held over either one, two or three days.

Variations of the Combined Driving Event such as the Driving Trial and Arena Driving Trial also offer the driver a competitive venue on a smaller scale. You will always have the precision driving of the Dressage test and the agility of the Cones course but in a Driving Trial the Marathon requirement is significantly reduced and an Arena Driving Trial is done, where else, inside an arena with the marathon being reduced to two sets of obstacles.  Driving Trials and Arena Driving Trials are generally done in a single day.

All of these events provide an exciting and fun filled venue for the VSE driver who wants to experience the thrill of driving our smaller equines outside the breed show ring.

The Hyperbike Comfy Fit harness hard at work on the marathon course!

To be continued in Part Two!



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