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the veteran champion

Minta is the new Indoor Driving Veteran Champion. She charts her journey and looks back on the weekend and the new venue - April 2022

Well – we were back after a two year break and with a new venue.  Despite the Arctic conditions which swept across the Lincolnshire plains, and despite the huge fuel costs we now have to stomach thanks to a certain Russian wanting to rule the world, plus the remnants of the dreaded Covid-19, there was still a very healthy number of entries at the 2022 Indoor Driving Trials Championships.  All those there had driven their socks off during the season and the hard earned finals places were well filled to make up some decent classes and give everyone a proper competition.  In numbers, as well as in talent, the indoor finals give us the largest national gathering of carriage drivers competing across the disciplines. 

With now only four of the original committee around, we are lucky to have them still putting their knowledge and experience into practice, while upholding the original and excellent concept of Indoor Driving Trials, which has worked so well for the last twenty something years.  Despite many calling for it to be tweaked and changed, the old adage of ‘if ain’t broke don’t fix it’ very much applies.

My own journey to the finals was purely to give my owner, Sally RI Edwards, a goal throughout the season with her small single pony.  Our aim was to hopefully come home with a good result but it also gave me the opportunity to drive Sally’s lovely grey roan mare, Misty, who I’ve been bringing on since we bought her down from Scotland.  For us, the indoors format was as much an education to learn how to bend and perform in restricted areas as anything, and it was ideal to teach her the skills necessary to drive clean obstacles. 

As I am an open driver, I didn’t actually ever think I would qualify the mare as with all the speedy and hardened single ponies who whizzed around regardless, I was not prepared to train her for one specific win – my approach was purely an educational one. Luckily, I found myself qualifying for the finals as a ‘Veteran’, something I am incredibly proud to be, having started as a junior I have been competitively from the age of 13!  So, all those decades of early starts and cold days and many, many hours of competing, walking courses, staying cool and driving a wide selection of horses and ponies over the years certainly prepared me and my team for these Champs.

My approach has always been to have a clean, sound Precision and Paces test, working in a good outline, with bend.  We knew we had to work on one or two areas, but the basics are definitely there with this lovely mare.  The cones have been a journey all season and to date we had not been overly close to the time, but with her forward going attitude, we knew that Misty could find the pace in due course.  We had gone through the questioning phase with her, and we had run outs and we had hit plenty of cones whilst we got both our eye in.  I had experimented driving in glasses and even had my eyes rechecked which resulted in my having to wear long and midrange contacts lenses.  They seemed to do the trick as it really is helpful to be able to see clearly when driving cones.

On the chilly but clear Saturday morning of the finals, our P & P test was forward and Misty did argue with me a bit, but I also had my game head on so was asking for and expecting precision from her.  Maybe the years of competition experience gave me that calm, steady approach and we got what we required through consistency.  Cones have always been my weakest point with a single as I seem to find multiples easier.  However, right on time (thankfully) I found the answer this weekend which was concentration – 200% of it!  I drove the pony up into the hand and kept her going forward, no matter what the course was and where we had to turn, and it paid off with only three second’s time penalty and a clear round.

Before the finals we decided to make our game plan one where we did not to follow the scores of our fellow competitors, so both myself and Sally didn’t know the scores of others before we competed in each section.  This means you drive your own competition, and you don’t waste time or energy chasing the dragon or putting yourself under undue pressure.  But we did keep tags on our own scores, which was good as there was a mix up with mine as somehow two of us were running using the same number.  Once it was all rectified, amazingly enough I was in the lead in my class and Sally was lying second in her class. We both spent Saturday night visualising the obstacles, having picked some flowing lines which involved some tight turns and some longer route alternatives.  We made the most of having the opportunity to get back and walk the obstacles again early the next morning which enabled us to decide if we would change some of the longer routes to a little shorter, playing to our turning strengths.  We also decided to take the same routes with both our turnouts as I was back stepping for Sally, then driving a class later driving, so I didn’t need to fill my head with too many routes.

My approach to the obstacles was ‘Let’s see how Misty reacts to the atmosphere and go from there, but just keep going in smooth and flowing with no heroics!’  I honestly thought the fast and furious ponies would wipe the floor with me, but no… we held our own.  We started off in a positive way and my mare answered every question I asked of her.  My competitive streak just asked for more as each box was ticked, and as I kept asking, the mare kept giving.  Nothing was hurried but she has a good stride and when warming up we had a lovely big canter (our first of any distance) around the big arena.  Therefore, she was able to maintain the canter around the obstacles (cantering on the long sides during the winter had certainly added to our training).  Going into the second round, my approach was to keep doing what we had been doing, and don’t spoil the mare by trying to get a win as we are looking at the long term view here.

Again, we did the same routes as we had for obstacles 1 and 2, and only once did she just momentary question what I had asked but it was a millisecond, and she bounced through those final timing gates in great style.  When she came back to a walk, she was much calmer than me!

I was waiting to hear who had beaten us, although I knew that if I had maintained the same pace I was in with a chance. I held my breath as I walked around the arena, waiting to hear the score… then there was a pure adrenaline rush as we heard that we won and it was indescribable! I was so proud of Misty, but also of the team behind us. Sally keeps her at home and is hands on; if there is something we need to do, it’s done.  She has good equipment and if anything comes up as a problem, we talk it through and try different things out. I drive the mare so that Sally can drive her too.

My back stepper Hannah has come from the riding world and had never done driving before, so she had to learn to back step for two very different types and standards of driver.  She was with me all the way this weekend and her care of both ponies meant they had what they needed when they needed it.  It’s a team that makes the win, but also the ponies are the stars as they have come into the game and risen to be champions.  Our small pony was Reserve Indoor Small Pony Champion, and I must say huge congratulations to Sally as this is her first year as a qualifying driver.  It’s a huge step up, but she approached the final in a professional way and came with the idea of producing her personal best.  Small ponies are not easy to drive, and this was a great result for the combination.

I have to mention the stewards and organising committee as they were really good, especially the stewards who braved the freezing conditions of wind, rain, hail and sleet, with very limited sunshine, to enable us to enjoy our sport.  Yes, at times there were some sharp words, but they stood out there all day, probably had to deal with some really stupid questions and actions, and there were plenty of times when adaptions had to be made to try to accommodate the weather and the various hiccups that came their way.  But they smiled and encouraged the competitors all weekend.  It was a new venue which makes it harder for anyone to deal with the challenges that arise, and this was a venue that had never before accommodated three days of carriage drivers, who were there after a lull of two years. 

Everyone should be hugely congratulated on their efforts in planning, hosting and running what was a great championship event.  Going forward, the main thing that doesn’t seem to be understood is the original concept of Indoor Driving and in places the rules are a bit fuzzy.  Perhaps it’s time for a set of complete guidelines as to what is definitely required, the expectations at a final as well as the basics.  The time has come for judges to have guidelines as to the way of going and how to score that, and what is required for the precision section. 

Progression through the through the season is needed from the course builders so that by the time the championships arrive, competitors have a realistic expectation of the level they will have to drive at, as well as an idea of what is required.  For these champs, the course building was exceptional, both in the cones and the obstacles.  Yes, there were a lot of moans about the cones course, but it was perfectly driveable if approached in the right way. Those who had during the season only driven courses in large arenas were at a massive disadvantage as they were unaware that the cones arena should be the same square meterage as the P & P arena. The obstacles gave us a number of options and every type of turnout was catered for.

For me, Indoor Driving is a wonderful training ground for all levels of driver and equine.  For those who look at the negatives, try changing your perspective, focus on the positives and don’t try to change the sport.  Most of all, a huge thank you to all of those who brought us a great weekend of fun, and especially founder Dick Carey, who sadly was in hospital while we were all in Lincolnshire.  I hope that someone had bought him a subscription to Horse and Country TV to watch it live.  This coverage was another great innovation which has served to open our sport to other equine enthusiasts and a wider audience. 

In the meantime, I shall await the production of some guidelines over the summer and we would all welcome input from competitors, organisers and course builders.  We can all be a cog in the wheel and help tweak this wonderful format to keep it going forwards, while most importantly, staying true to the original concept, because quite simply, it works!