Have you ever driven a VSE? Part Two

Part Two! Again a big thank you to Al Bulgawicz for sharing this information with us!


CDE Divisions

Competition in a CDE is divided into several groupings. Not all of which may be offered at any given event.


Horse, Large Pony, Small pony and VSE.

In smaller events the two pony sizes may be combined but VSEs will not compete against ponies or horses.

Level of the driver or horse

Training, Preliminary, Intermediate

Two more levels of competition, Advanced and FEI are for the very advanced competitor and are not yet open to the VSE. Drivers may start in Training and are not required to move up to the next level unless they desire (or are persuaded by peer pressure) and both they and their VSE are ready for the tougher challenges presented in the higher levels. Once a driver moves up for several events they may not move back down unless they compete with a different horse that is less advanced.

Number of horses

Single, pair, tandem, unicorn or 4-in-hand.

Most VSE drivers compete as Single, Training, VSE, however there are an increasing number that have advanced to the higher levels. Pairs, tandems and multiples are also becoming more popular. As the VSE competitor population continues to grow, more events are offering the VSE classes.

Equipment Requirements

Equipment required for ADS driving is slightly different from that required in the breed ring, however, safety and comfort of the horse is always the most important consideration. While the rules have been slightly modified to accommodate the VSE’s capabilities, they are still based on safe standards and procedures learned thru experience with the larger breeds. Safety is the paramount issue in ADS driving and a safety check will be performed on each turnout before they are allowed to compete.

The cart.

Carts used in the breed ring are generally designed for light use and tend to be more formal. Pneumatic tires and wire spokes are the standard in the breed ring and tend to serve the purpose quite well, however, they tend to not hold up to the rigors of a marathon or tough cones course and can present safety problems.  ADS requires steel or wood wheels in the higher levels of competition but realizes that the majority of new VSE drivers are coming from the breed ring and cannot be expected to undertake the expense of a new cart just to try this new sport. Therefore, pneumatic tires and wire spokes are allowed but only at the Training level of competition and only at the discretion of the event organizer. There are several manufacturers that produce VSE size carts specifically designed for CDE competition and drivers who wish to move up to more serious competition are encouraged to invest in one of these carts. Conversely, these carts are perfectly acceptable in the breed ring, and while they may not be scored as highly as the more formal carts, are beginning to show up in breed competition.

This is a beautiful cart and mule. This mule is wearing our Comfy Fit for Mini Donkeys and Mules!

The harness.

Harness designed for the breed ring is generally acceptable with a few changes. Check reins, either side checks or over checks, are required in the breed ring. In ADS, over checks are never allowed and side checks are only allowed at the Training level. Above Training, no checks are allowed. Martingales are optional in the breed ring, although they are almost always used, but in ADS only false Martingales are allowed. Full or floating Martingales are not allowed. Breeching is required for CDEs if the vehicle does not have brakes. Breeching is that extra set of leather straps that came with the harness but is relegated to the bottom of the harness bag. Once these changes have been made, most breed ring harnesses are acceptable for use. However, as drivers move to the higher levels of CDE competition, they might want to invest in one of harnesses that are now being produced for the VSE with CDE competition in mind. This harness is also acceptable in the breed ring.

The Comfy Fit harness was designed with CDE’s in mind!


Several other differences apply to the driver, or “Whip”. The dressage and cones competitions are considered formal and require the driver to be suitably attired. This is an important part of the score and should not be taken lightly.  The driver should wear clothes similar to those worn for a Country Pleasure class in the breed ring. Glitter and glitz are not acceptable. In addition, drivers must wear a hat, brown gloves, and a lap robe or blanket. A suitable whip must be carried in hand at all times. A safety helmet may be worn in place of a hat. The marathon is far less formal and most any clothing can be worn with the exception of shorts and open toed shoes or sandals. Long sleeves are preferred but short sleeves are acceptable. Tank tops, halter tops, muscle shirts etc. are unacceptable. Helmets and protective vests must be worn and a suitable whip must be carried in hand.

Dorothy Whiteman and her mini waiting for their turn at the cones course. Her mini is wearing a Whiteman Harness!

Next up? Part Three!!

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