Obstacle Driving Events

Obstacle Driving is a test of driving skills. A vehicle with either one or two horses is driven between a series of pairs of cones, and the competitor who completes the course without knocking over any cones and within the time limit is the winner. Only if two or more vehicles have a clear round does the time factor apply.

Unlike many equestrian events, which have been pushed up from the grass roots, Obstacle Driving was introduced into the heavy horse world, as it were, from the top. It began when two experimental classes for heavy horses were included in the 1986 National Carriage Driving Championships, under the chairmanship of Joe Moore. The six competitors in both Single and Pair reached so high a standard, and spectator interest was so great, that the Royal Show offered similar classes in 1987. In the same year, the East of England Show also staged an open competition, and the Heavy Horse Obstacle Driving Club (H.H.O.D.) was formed.

Sparked on by its initial successes, and now with an official organizing body, Obstacle Driving was introduced into many more heavy horse shows, giving entrants in classes such as the Open Trade Turnout an additional Opportunity to extend their range of activities and exhibit further their driving skills. Indeed the H.H.O.D. recommends that exhibitors in Team or Turnout classes should not have to pay a separate entry fee for the Obstacle Driving class. As Well as being popular with exhibitors, these classes continue to attract large numbers of spectators, both lay public and dyed-in-the-Wool heavy horse enthusiasts. For the former, it is an inherently exciting class, and one in which the onlooker can readily identify with the driver, judging for himself whether an obstacle is likely to be negotiated successfully perhaps more readily than might be the case with showjumping. For the latter, there is the additional appreciation of the finer points of skill, which echo the rapport between driver and horse established in the days when narrow alleys and doorways had to be negotiated as heavy horses worked for their living.

Rules For Obstacle Driving

Nowadays, virtually all Obstacle classes are run under the rules of the Heavy Horse Obstacle Driving Club, which can be contacted as follows:

Heavy Horse Obstacle Driving Club, Secretary Sally Moreton, C/o Campney Grange Farm, Bucknall, Woodhall Spa, Lincs. LN 10 5DX, England. (Tel. 01526 388643)

Since the rules provide a useful insight to what is involved in these classes, they are reproduced here in full.

These rules cannot provide for every eventuality but should be interpreted with intelligence and in the spirit of the sport.

Heavy Horse Obstacle Driving is designed to show the versatility of the Heavy Horse using traditional harness and vehicles.

1. Fault competition for singles and pairs of Heavy Horses. Horses must be at least 16.0hh and cobs and vanners are not allowed. Drivers must be members of the Heavy Horse Obstacle Driving Club and have valid third party insurance, which must be declared when the subscription is paid. [At the time of writing, the subscription is £10.] 2. Horses must be 4 years old and over.

3. Vehicle must be a recognized four-wheeled heavy horse traditional-type vehicle no customized vehicles are allowed.

The distance between the markers will be 30 cm wider than the track width of a vehicle for singles, and 40 cm wider than the track width of a vehicle for pairs. The vehicle will be measured at ground level on the rear wheels and all vehicles will be check-measured as they leave the arena.

Competitors are required to provide two clearly named measuring sticks for each class of a length equal to the track width of their vehicle plus the allowance as specified above for each class as appropriate. Any competitor unable to produce the required sticks to the Ring Steward will be unable to compete.

4. Harness must be in good condition, clean and safe, uniform in appearance and of an appropriate style.

5. Competitors and grooms must be properly dressed as for the show ring (i.e. shirt, tie, jacket, hat and apron) jeans are not allowed this includes for the inspection of the course and presentation of awards. They must be suitably dressed to drive or groom. Only the driver may inspect the course. Whips may be carried at the discretion of the driver. [The judge or umpire has the responsibility of deciding whether horses, harness, vehicle and the driver’s and assistant’s dress conform with acceptable show ring standards]

6 A groom must accompany the driver and must remain on the Vehicle at all times during the competition, and must not give directions to the driver. Grooms must be 14 years old or over. Drivers must remain seated on a bale of straw or plank if necessary at all times.

7. Any driver deliberately breaking pace out of a trot at any time whilst in the ring or during the competition or prize giving will be eliminated and forfeit his prize money. Excessive use of the whip will be penalized by elimination.

8. Exhibitors may make as many entries as they wish in each class, but each entry must have a different driver, horse(s) and vehicle. No horse(s) may compete more than once in any one class, but a horse that competes as a single may also compete as a pair. No horse, driver or vehicle may go more than once in any class. NB. In all cases it is the driver not the horse that qualifies but this does not nullify the above rule and, should more than one driver qualify the same horse, it will be necessary for all but one of the drivers concerned to find another horse to drive in the championship.

9. Horses must be named on declaration and any substitution must be notified to the judges.

10. Drivers may be substituted but the judge must be informed prior to the start of the competition. Only qualified drivers may compete in the Final.

1 1. Any persons receiving an invitation for a Heavy Horse Obstacle Driving competition must notify the Heavy Horse Obstacle Driving Club stating details of the competition(s) and any financial implications for the competitors.

Any preference by sponsors and/or organizers as far as competitors and/or horses are concerned should be looked upon favourably

12. The course to consist of a minimum of 8 obstacles and a maximum of 12 obstacles depending on the size of the arena and should include one multiple obstacle in addition to a serpentine.

The distance between the markers in a serpentine, which must not consist of more than four posts in a straight line, must be at least 12 m.

Multiples must have a minimum track-width of 3 m for singles and 3.5 m for pairs and those in the form of a ‘U’ or ‘L’ must have a minimum track width of 5 m and may not consist of more than three lettered gates.

No water obstacles or bridges are allowed.

All obstacles must be clearly numbered in a way that ensures that the number of the next obstacle is clearly visible as soon as a competitor has passed through the preceding one. (It is recommended that the numbers be placed with the rounded end in.)

The starting line may not be more than 30 m or less than 15 m from the first obstacle. The finishing line may not be less than 20 m or more than 40 m from the last obstacle.

13. The maximum length allowed for the course is 500 m and the time allowed will be calculated from the speed of 150 m per minute. The time limit is twice the time allowed. Competitors will be timed by electronic timing or stop watch from the moment the nose of the h0rse(s) crosses the starting and finishing lines. [Shows are urged to use electronic timing and a public display clock if possible]

14. The order of going will be drawn and competitors must enter the ring within one minute of the bell being rung and must start the competition within one minute of the bell being rung after entering the arena. Failure to comply will result in elimination.

15. Circling before an obstacle or stopping will be a disobedience. If a competitor has a disobedience and knocks over the obstacle without completing it correctly, the bell will be rung and the clock stopped for the obstacle to be rebuilt and 5 penalty points will be added. When the obstacle has been rebuilt the bell will be rung and the clock started and the competitor will retake the obstacle.

If a competitor takes the wrong course but corrects himself before passing through another obstacle, he will not be penalized unless he crosses his original track. In the event of a competitor taking the wrong course and not rectifying his mistake, the Judge will ring the bell after he passes through another obstacle and the competitor will be eliminated.

Penalties for disobediences are cumulative, whether they are incurred at the same obstacle or throughout the same course.

16. Faults will be penalized as follows:

  • For exceeding the time allowed, every commenced period of one second, 0.5 penalty points.
  • For knocking over or displacing an obstacle, or if the ball on top is dislodged (whether it is on one or both), 5 penalty points.
  • For knocking over or displacing an element of a multiple obstacle, 5 penalty points.
  • For knocking down any part of a multiple obstacle other than a cone, the bell will be rung and the clock stopped. The obstacle will be rebuilt and at the sound of the second bell, the clock will be restarted and the competitor will retake the whole of the obstacle. S penalty points will be added.
  • For knocking over or displacing an obstacle other than the one being driven, 5 penalty points will be added. If it is an obstacle in advance of the one being driven, the bell will be rung, the clock stopped and the obstacle rebuilt; 5 penalty points will be added. If it is an obstacle that has already been driven, the bell will not be rung, but 5 penalty points will be added.
  • For knocking over a start or finishing flag, 5 penalty points. For first disobedience, 5 penalty points.
  • For second disobedience, 5 penalty points.
  • For third disobedience, Elimination.
  • For groom dismounting first time, 5 penalty points.
  • For groom dismounting second time, 10 penalty points.
  • For groom dismounting third time, Elimination.
  • For taking wrong course, Elimination.
  • For exceeding the time limit, Elimination.
  • For starting before the bell, Elimination.
  • For failing to pass through the start or finish flags, Elimination. For knocking over the automatic timing equipment, Elimination.
  • For receiving outside assistance (including from groom), Elimination.

17. In the event of equality of faults, time will decide.

18. Competitors will drive the course as presented, i.e. if an obstacle has not been rebuilt from a previous round and competitor has started, he will not be penalized.

19. Any contravention of paragraphs 2-10 inclusive will be penalized with elimination or disqualification. Repeated contravention of

these rules by a competitor will result in a referral to the Heavy Horse Obstacle Driving committee.

Unaffiliated events

Members of the Heavy Horse Obstacle Driving Club may not take part in unaffiliated shows, except minor shows. Panel Judges and Course Builders may not officiate in competitions at an event/show which is not affiliated except a minor show/event.

Minor events/shows are those at which the aggregate value of any prize and/or the proceeds of any sweepstake, whether in cash or kind given to a competitor or competitors in each and every competition at an event/show does not exceed £50.00. [Although this rule remains in existence, in practice virtually all shows affiliate to the H.H.O.D., since the club provides support, equipment and officials to assist with the running of the classes]

Preparing and Competing

A glance through the rules above, perhaps coupled with some time as a spectator, will give you some idea of what is involved in Obstacle Driving, and perhaps fire your enthusiasm to compete. In that case, an approach to the Heavy Horse Obstacle Driving Club will doubtless provide further guidance. Hopefully, the following points will also be of value.

The very first aspect of preparation begins at home, and concerns familiarizing your horse, or horses, to cones. You must therefore acquire or have access to some cones if you cannot source them elsewhere they may be obtained from firms supplying highways contractors. The key point about cones, apart from their value for practice, is that some horses shy at them. If they continue to do so after an initial introduction and a few practice rounds, it is seldom worth persevering, as they might let you down at a crucial time. There must be total trust between horses and driver, and that must be both ways. The most successful horses really enjoy Obstacle Driving: once out of the collecting ring and in the main arena, they become keyed up at the sound of the bell. However, if the driver is continually wondering whether the flying hooves of his Shires or Clydesdales are going to knock over the next cone, or if his charges will spook at it, they probably will. This is a sport that requires enthusiasm from both horse and driver.

So far as vehicles go, any type of vehicle may be used, provided it falls within the rules. Since the external wheel width of each vehicle is measured before the start, and cone widths altered accordingly, there should be no advantage of one type over another. One might think that a lighter vehicle and a lighter type of horse might have an advantage, but experience does not bear this out. Torn Brewster’s big Clydesdale, Ambassador, topped 18 hands, yet he was a consistent Single Obstacle winner. Partnered with Baron, another big Clydesdale, he beat smaller and apparently sharper animals hauling lighter vehicles in pairs events. As with so many forms of equestrian competition, ability and rapport between man and horse are often more significant than factors such as Slze.

Regarding the day of the competition, first ensure that you are fully familiar with the rules in good time don’t try to learn them while you are yoking up. In order to be even remotely competitive, it is essential to walk the course thoroughly beforehand. Take note of the angles, for you can only hope for a clear round by taking each obstacle squarely, that is at right angles to the pair of cones. Try to plan the best way out of the box containing a 90 degree spin turn, which the course designer has cunningly devised for you. Consider how tightly you can weave in and out of the serpentine. Note the length of the final straight when the last obstacle has been cleared.

These considerations are very similar, in their way, to walking the course when showjurnping and, as with showjumping against the clock, when your turn arrives the bell will sound, and then you pass through the start gate, at which point the clock is activated. At this point, set your horses off with a click or a word, not with a great whoosh like a B-movie stagecoach driver fleeing from the Indians. The key to a fast time, without penalties, is to make the course as short as possible and to flow round it without checking. If you dash on, then have to check, you really do waste time, and it is also hard on the horses. Also, if your urgings are too frantic, you risk the horses breaking into canter, or missing an obstacle, with the consequent penalties.


Judges for H.H.O.D. affiliated competitions must be either a List 1 or 2 British Horse Driving Trials Association Judge, or an Official Scurry or H.H.O.D. Judge. The judge should be accompanied by a timekeeper and there should also be another responsible person (other than the course builder) in the ring to indicate ‘knock downs’ to the judge.

In contrast to the role of a judge in showing classes, the Obstacle Judge is really an umpire, whose main job is to check that the rules are not broken. It is obvious, therefore, that the judge must be intimately familiar with the rules, hence the specific qualification requirements. The most contentious issue is likely to be whether a horse broke from a trot into a canter. Sometimes a horse does so for just a very few strides, and the judge must decide whether an offence has been committed and, if so, its severity.

An eye must also be kept on the groom. The groom is there for safety and must not speak to the driver, nor gesticulate.

Timing, if based on showjumping equipment, is done electronically and clearly, which should save the judge from any harassment. However, a stopwatch gives a double check, just in case there is a problem with the electronic equipment. At a small show, there may be no electronic aids, and a stopwatch may be the sole form of timing. In such cases, close co-operation is required between timekeeper and judge.


Preparing your heavy horse for showing.

Show Ring

Showing your heavy horse in the show ring.

Other Classes

Other heavy horse show classes & events.

Vehicle Types

Showing vehicle types & acquisition.

Obstacle Driving

Heavy horse obstacle driving events.

Shire Horse

Shire horse information and breed guide.


Clydesdale information and breed guide.


Suffolk information and breed guide.


Percheron information and breed guide.


Ardennes information and breed guide.


Native and working crosses information and breed guide.