Driven to Succeed

Meet some Quarter Horses who compete in all-breed driving.

Recently, the American Driving Society sent out an e-mail blast to its members, asking how many of them drive their American Quarter Horses in open shows. Debbie George, the ADS and AQHA member behind that effort, was wowed by the response.

“You won’t believe (or I bet you will!) the response I'm getting from that e-mail blast,” she wrote in an e-mail to AQHA. “Turns out there are a lot of us out there driving our Quarter Horses!” One woman sent in photos showing her horse turning a cow on the fence, and then pulling a cart in the next picture.

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The type of driving seen in ADS shows differs from the pleasure driving classes held as part of AQHA shows. Many of the ADS classes take place off-road, and they can feature a variety of vehicles, from the road cart that Debbie and her husband, Bob, use, to an antique road coach, pulled by a four-in-hand team.

Here are a few of the options available:

    • Cones or obstacle classes require the driver to go through a set of markers set inches wider than the wheel width and topped with balls. There are left and right turns, combinations and sometimes obstacles like bridges. The winner is the driver who completes the course with the fewest balls knocked down in the shortest time. A variation called “gamblers choice” offers different types of obstacles, similar to a trail class, sometimes with fun themes like “a day at the beach,” which incorporates beach umbrellas, sand and water into the obstacles.
    • Driven dressage is judged similarly to ridden dressage tests. The drivers must perform a set of movements including changes of gait, circles, turns and extensions. As in ridden dressage, the horse’s training shines through in his gaits, transitions and the accuracy with which he can follow the pattern.
    • Marathons take the horse and driver from the ring to the countryside. These longer drives can go off-road or through town, and they are judged on both turnout and performance.
    • Combined driving can be equated to three-day eventing, with a dressage component, a cross-country marathon and a fast-paced cones course.

Besides the competing, Debbie and Bob love taking their American Quarter Horse, Pocos Cherokee Jet, out on the trails for some recreational driving. Here’s what some other AQHA fans are up to with their horses:

-- Colonels Caroline has competed in the hunter ring, as well as western pleasure, trail, reining – and now driving. “Caroline’s” owner hopes to compete in combined driving events this year.
-- A Quarter Horse nicknamed “El Jefe” loves to drive over the U.S. Forest Service trails near Prescott, Arizona. He also has won year-end high point and reserve high point awards in his state.
-- Mike and Jerry McLennan of Brenham, Texas, have taken their Quarter Horses and Quarter Horse crosses all over – even to Paris and back – to compete in four-in-hand combined driving. This year, they’re pointing to the 2010 World Equestrian Games. They performed a driving demonstration during WEG night at the 2009 AQHA World Championship Show in November.
-- Starlight Dillon learned to drive over the course of six weeks last summer. He was originally a trail horse, then began competing in ranch horse competitions, and now his owner reports that they drive all over the neighborhood and through several hundred acres of wooded horse trails.
-- Smooth Peppy Badger does mounted shooting, herds cattle – and even rides into Tombstone, Arizona, to get pets and treats from tourists. And yes, he also pulls a cart.
-- Whistlin Dixi Time is a Palomino Horse Breeders of America pleasure driving world champion, and he also scored a top-10 finish at the All American Quarter Horse Congress. Now, his owner reports, he has begun a conversion to all-breed pleasure driving.

If you’re interested in learning to drive, visit and click on “regions” to find a driving club near you.

“I’d love to encourage people to get their Quarter Horses driving,” Debbie says. “Horses that compete in other disciplines, (their owners) have all said driving improves their performance in other events. It kind of puts you in a unique position, too, where you can really watch your horse work and see how he’s using himself, how he’s using his back.”

Plus, “it’s a lot of fun.”

To learn more about Debbie, Bob and their horse, “Starbuck,” pick up the March-April issue of America’s Horse, the official membership magazine of the American Quarter Horse Association.

AQHA's “Showing to Win: Western Pleasure” illustrates the standards and provides you with the information you need to be successful in the western pleasure class. Purchase your copy today!