Contrive a plan in your heart, so that the prize will not elude you...Drive chariot and horses so close to this [post] as to graze it, and lean the wellwrought car slightly to the left horse...Let your horses graze the post so that the hub of the well fashioned wheel will seem to touch it. But avoid making contact with the stone, so that you will not injure your horses or wreck your chariot, which would be a joy for your opponents and a distress to you.
Homer, The Iliad
Horses have been used as driving animals throughout history, dating as far back as 2000 BC when they were employed to draw chariots both in war and competition. The horse sport of chariot racing was immensely popular in Ancient Greece and Rome, and it is believed that the Olympic Games originated from this early form of driving.
When no longer required on the battlefield the driving horse was to find an equally important role in agriculture – an industry in which the heavier breeds were indispensable when it came to pulling heavy machinery and loads. Their finer counterparts were just as vital, transporting people firstly in covered wagons and later in stagecoaches, carriages, and eventually horse-drawn trams.
Whilst the necessity for driving horses diminished with the invention of the automobile, driving as a horse sport grew in popularity both within the showing and racing worlds, and these days there are multiple forms of driving that encompass a range of equestrian disciplines. Comparable to some classes within the showing world, carriage driving is judged on appearance and turnout, and involves a single horse, tandem or team of four-in-hand drawing a large, restored carriage. Similarly, in Pleasure Driving events horses and ponies of any breed are marked on their manners whilst pulling a light two or four wheeled cart in walk and two gaits of trot. Fine Harness or Formal Driving also requires a demonstration of the walk and trot, only with a more extravagant action and performance from a more selective breed of driving horse or pony. Harness racing on the other hand is a form of horseracing in which the horse (typically a Standardbred) pulls a sulky – a light two-wheeled cart holding just one person. In this form of driving the specified gait is that of the trot, and the horse will either be a ‘trotter’ or a ‘pacer’ – the latter of which moves its legs laterally rather than diagonally in the trot. Also more fitting to the racing world – (yet with classes often held within the major horse shows)- is the equestrian sport of Double Harness Scurry Driving - a fast, furious and fun driving competition in which a pair of ponies gallop around a course of cones whilst being timed. Finally, Combined Driving is most similar to the mounted discipline of eventing as it encompasses three phases similar to those used to test the ridden event horse.
No matter what driving discipline he is employed within, a driven horse is often referred to as being “in harness”. However, the horse-drawn vehicles used within each discipline are unique and therefore explained in greater detail within the corresponding sections of this driving category.