Selecting a Driving Carriage

Choosing an appropriate carriage is an important part of driving.  Making a wise selection the first time can save you time and lots of money!  In order to start the selection process, we have put together points to consider to ask yourself some necessary questions.

What is your purpose/goals? 

  • Pleasure Driving, Combined Driving, Breed Show Driving, Recreational Driving?
  • Certain vehicles can be used for most disciplines, but may not serve its purpose as well as another.

Most American Driving Society (ADS)-recognized Pleasure Driving shows require a traditional antique or “antique-style” vehicle with two or four wooden wheels in order to compete.  There are also some new vehicles available that have traditional styling, but are made almost entirely of metal and have steel-spoked wheels.  Except in certain situations, wire-spoked wheels are not allowed in ADS shows.  Some ADS Pleasure Driving shows now offer Utility Vehicle classes for modern vehicles such as Marathon vehicles.  Coachman driven vehicles, such as Victorias or Hansom Cabs, are generally inappropriate unless a particular show has divisions for them.  Since there are so many different styles of traditional vehicles, it is beneficial to get assistance in choosing a certain vehicle based on the style and size of your horse.  We can help you with that!  

All phases of ADS Combined Driving Events (and the like, i.e. Driving Trials, Driving Derby, etc.) can be driven with any safe two or four-wheeled vehicle according to the rules.  Some drivers opt to use their traditional vehicle in Dressage and maybe Cones.  However, many drivers quickly find out that Marathon vehicles have an advantage in the tight obstacles (hazards) of the marathon because of the tight turning radius that the 5th wheel offers.  Two-wheeled vehicles tend to be very “long” because they don’t bend in the middle like a Marathon vehicle does.  The antithesis to that is for Very Small Equines (VSEs), where the four-wheeled vehicles tend to be too heavy for a single miniature horse to pull.  In those cases, the two-wheeled, hard rubber wheeled vehicles are typical.  Many competitors with larger equines [than VSEs] who participate only in CDEs at the Preliminary Level and above use their one Marathon vehicle for all three phases.  Upper level drivers usually have a separate more traditional vehicle for Dressage and Cones.

Recreational Driving can be done with most any vehicle, but the style of vehicle that should be used is dictated by the quantity and surface of the driving.  Safety, comfort, and maneuverability are most important in recreational driving vehicles.  Four-wheeled vehicles that are not cut-under (the wheels can touch the box when turning) take quite a bit more space to turn than one that is cut-under.  On a tight trail or single lane road, this can be highly dangerous if you don’t have the room to turn around if say the road is closed ahead or a tree is down over the trail!  We will touch more on factors to be considered for recreational driving below.

What equine(s) do you plan to drive? 

  • Miniatures, Morgans, Drafts, etc.?
  • Your vehicle needs to fit your horse.
  • The smaller the horse, the harder the vehicle is to fit properly.

Obviously, the size of the equine will dictate the size of the vehicle necessary.  Many miniature horse and small pony owners need to be concerned with the weight their horse will pull.  This is also true for drafts, ironically.  A draft horse can pull a lot of weight, and if the vehicle is too light, the horse could whip it around like a tuna can!  Conversely, if the draft is required to pull for a long period of time at a good clip, he may need a lighter vehicle to compensate for his inherent lack of stamina.  We can help you determine what is appropriate weight for your horse and activities.

How frequently do you plan to drive?

  • You will drive a comfortable vehicle more often!

Hooking a horse once in a while to drive around the farm can be done in a simple cart, but taking the turnout on a 5k drive up and down hills and valleys can be very uncomfortable for both the driver and horse in that cart!  There are good traditional and marathon vehicles that are well-sprung for comfort.  Also, depending on the design of the vehicle, the surface driven on, and the harnessing style, motion of a lessor vehicle can transfer to the horse and vice versa.  Shafts on a cart that connect directly to the frame and the wheels transfer all the bumps from the driving surface to the horse.  Our vehicles are designed to be comfortable for both the humans and the horse(s)! 

Where do you plan to drive? 

  • Flat ground, show ring, hilly terrain?
  • Down the smooth road or rocky trail?

A two-wheeled vehicle with a narrow wheel base and tall center of gravity is not going to be highly stable in a hilly terrain.  Likewise, air-filled pneumatic tires can be less reliable in rocky, weedy areas that could possibly pop a tire.  Pneumatics can be helpful if the surface area is deep, as the tires disperse the weight of the vehicle and don’t cut in as much as hard rubber tires.  Pneumatics are not good for areas requiring fast and hard turns, such as an obstacle course, as they can either pop the bead of the tire and go flat, or catch instead of slide on the surface and flip the vehicle.  Hard rubber wheels tend to be the most versatile for most circumstances.  

What is your physical fitness level?

  • Can you get in and out of a typical vehicle easily?

Entering and exiting the vehicle should be considered, and a typical response for people with limiting factors is that they want an “Easy Entry” cart.  The challenge with the typical cheap “easy entry” pipe cart is that they also tend to be “easy exit”, and not always when you want to!  The hard vinyl seat and lack of suspension of those cheap carts have been known to be factors in drivers sliding out the side of the cart, especially in hard turns, resulting in bad accidents.

The quality of the ride of the vehicle can be highly dependent on the construction, and the less well-made, cheaper vehicles generally have poor suspension. Drivers with bad backs can benefit from well-made vehicles and features such as air bag suspension to highly cushion the ride.  Our carriage company has designed vehicles for “less-able bodied” people who have limiting factors, such as bad knees and/or hips, to those who are actually in a wheel chair.  This allows the sport of carriage driving to be enjoyed safely by a gamut of people! 

Who might you be taking as a passenger or groom? 

  • What type of seating arrangement will be safe and comfortable for adults, children, or non-horse people?
  • How much can your horse pull?

For children or very short people, a good question to ask is can their feet reach the floor or will you need a cricket to be placed on the floor for their stability?  Are any moving parts, such as wheels, covered or in such a location that a small child doesn’t get a body part in them?  Are you intending on driving a pair/team and then need a seat for your required groom?  Do you want the people accompanying you to be able to communicate with you?  Finally, it is worth mentioning that just because your vehicle might have four seats doesn’t mean that your horse can pull that much weight.  The rule of thumb for an average horse is that they should pull no more than 75% of their weight.  This percentage can go up for some ponies, but the driver should be cognizant of whether or not the equine is being overfaced, especially on hills. 

Will a simpler vehicle meet your needs/goal, or will you need to upgrade eventually?

  • If you are going to compete, at what level are you aspiring?

If you are just starting out and haven’t made that purchase yet, really think about what you want to do with your driving hobby!  Go watch lots of shows and events, all types!  Talk to the competitors.  Ask them what they like and don’t like about their vehicles.  Ask them how it serves their purposes. Be aware that those who have only driven one or two vehicles may not have a lot of experience with a variety of brands to make an educated statement about which vehicle is "the best".

If you want to compete, watch what vehicles are in the winner’s circle.  You may love that “doctor’s buggy” with the red velvet seat that your neighbor has for sale, but rarely will you see that vehicle in the carriage show ring.  Observe the differences between the vehicles driven by Novice Drivers vs. Open Drivers.  Observe the differences in vehicles at smaller shows vs. larger ones.  Are you content to have fun participating or do you want to win?  Will that simple vehicle cut it when you work your way out of the Novice division, or are you prepared to step up your game to play with the “big boys”?  Let us help you determine which vehicle will serve your competition purposes the best.

Do you plan on transporting your vehicle?

  • If so, will it fit in your truck or trailer?

Can you fit your vehicle between the wheel wells of your truck…with the tailgate shut so you can hook up your trailer?  Will it fit in the back door of the trailer (most of the time, the door frame is narrower than the trailer box).  Might your vehicle go in the trailer sideways?  Are there modifications needed in your trailer to make it work?  While you are visiting the carriage shows, ask competitors if you can see how they transport their carriages.  Most are very willing to let you take a peek to learn!

What does your pocketbook look like?

This is the big question.  We have made the mistake of purchasing the cheap vehicles only to find that they “broke down” enough that we really didn’t want to drive them, either for safety or comfort!  A good carriage is an investment.  A cheap one is a liability.  There are options available for good vehicles at good prices if you take the time to get educated.  A good vehicle, well-kept and held long enough, can retain its value.  It is not uncommon to purchase a good vehicle, keep it for 10 years, and then get virtually the same money out of it that you have into it (pending the market).  You will never get your money out of a cheap, poorly-made vehicle!  Also keep in mind that pretty much no part of any horse hobby is cheap.  If you can’t afford to feed your horse, you probably can’t afford a cart for it.  That might sound harsh, but we have seen too many people try to get into the sport with cheap, inferior equipment only to cause pain and suffering on themselves, their horse, and/or other people when their equipment causes an accident.  “Buy the best you can afford, and take care of it” or “Buy quality, cry once”.

In conclusion…

Put your effort into asking lots of questions.  Find a knowledgeable, trustworthy instructor/mentor who participates in the same discipline to which you aspire, and listen to them.  Go to events, watch, and keep an open mind.  Don’t be offended if what you had pictured in your head doesn’t match reality.  Talk to lots of drivers!  Most are very willing to share almost everything they know (as long as they aren’t getting ready for a show, etc.)  Save yourself lots of time and money by doing it right the first time.  If you need more help, let us know!  We love to help people get more involved in the wonderful sport of carriage driving!  :-)