Hermitage Classic: Creating History

By TODD ZEIGLER
Copy Editor

When the Hermitage Classic returns to Oldham County’s Hermitage Farm for three days of exciting, elegant Combined Driving competition Sept. 12-14, it will not only be making history. It will be building upon it.

21c Museum Hotel co-founder Steve Wilson and his wife Laura Lee Brown introduced the sport to the historic 700-acre farm, famed for producing more than 200 high-stakes Thoroughbreds, in 2010 as a showcase prior to the World Equestrian Games. A passion of Wilson’s, he sought to create only the second Combined Driving competition in the Bluegrass State.

Entering its fifth year, the Classic has grown with each successive competition – a rapid rise for an event relatively new to the equestrian world.

The rules for Combined Driving were only set down as recently as 1970, when Prince Philip, after retiring from polo, set down the first International rules for contests to be held at the Royal Windsor Horse Show. Combined Driving finds its roots in the precision of equestrian military maneuvers, the elegance of pre-automotive travel, and the excitement of western stagecoach travel.

The sport grew in America thanks to the efforts of the American Driving Society, established in 1974 to create guidelines for judging the competitions. Combined Driving events consist of three-day eventing. Carriages manned by drivers, grooms and navigators and pulled by one, two or four horses take up the challenge of three phases of competition.

Phase one consists of Dressage, in which the horses and teams are appraised in the areas of obedience, freedom and regularity of motion as they are put through a sequence of compulsory movements executed within a designated area.

Phase two is the Marathon, in which the horses’ speed and endurance is tested over a 10- to 22-kilometer course, while the human element’s skills are tested as they navigate various “hazards” and obstacles.

Phase three brings the cones course, a test of accuracy, speed and obedience as the driver navigates a 20 pairs of cones within a set period of time.

Combined Driving showcases the driver and horses’ versatility, training and talents. Horsemen of all levels of talent and equipage find tough but fair competition, while spectators enjoy the sportsmanship and upscale social events accompanying the contest.

It was recently announced that Hermitage Farm has been selected as the site for the United States Equestrian Federation’s 2015 National Driving Championship for Singles. As the site of championship competition, the Hermitage Classic will continue adding to the sport’s illustrious history.