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Dressage to Combined Driving

Warmbloods Cody, Rivage, and Wiley

There’s more to their training than just discipline. They discover there’s another world out there [on the trails] where they can just chill out.”

For well-known combined driving competitor Larry Poulin of Massachuetts, changing a horse’s discipline isn’t really an issue. Instead, he says, it’s something he does all the time. “Rather than have just one occupation, they get two,” he explains.

David Tromp and Topas win a 1.30m class at the FTI Winter Equstrian Festival in March 2009.

He made the decision to purchase her and begin competing her seriously.

Once she arrived at the Tromps’ New York farm, the next order of business was to begin conditioning her for more strenuous work. In addition, David explains, she was relative- ly unused to the sights and sounds of a busy show ring. “Experience-wise, she was a lot younger than her actual years,” he explains. Topas, a 16.3 hand dark bay, learned quickly however.

In 2008, David showed Topas successfully in 1.40 classes, before scaling back to the 1.30 meter level in order to focus more on her training. “Physically, she was farther along than she was mentally, so we had to keep ourselves tempered and not go too fast. We had to put the horse first and hold ourselves back,” he explains.

Over the past winter, the pair competed successfully in Wellington at the 1.30 meter level, winning or placing in most of their classes. “We’ve had a really great time with this horse,” he continues. “She truly loves her job!”

In 2009, David plans to compete Topas around the north- east, at Lake Placid, the Hamptons Classic, and Saugerties’ HITS-on-the-Hudson, among others. Because of the mare’s enthusiasm and their own willingness to go slow as she learned her new job, David says this horse has enormous potential. And, after her eventual retirement from the show ring, she can always return to her initial career as a broodmare!

Many of his horses come to him because they need a change, primarily from the dressage world. Some weren’t ready for the demanding discipline that comes with ridden dressage, he explains, and some were burned out on too much time in the ring. Others, he says, simply didn’t have a useful occupation. “Horses just come into my life unexpect- edly. And they all have a story,” he continues.

No matter what the reason, he says, he treats them all much the same way. All are introduced to driving as part of a pair, always matched with an experienced equine partner. Each one is quickly introduced to work outside, on the roads and trails that surround his farm. Then he is returned to work under saddle so that he can be schooled both ways – in rid- den dressage and also in harness.

Although the goals of ridden and driven dressage are the same – a relaxed, supple, forward horse – there are also many differences, Larry says. When driving, a horse must use his chest to pull a load. That means more rein aids to ask for collection, he explains. When he is in the show ring, he wants to demonstrate a Third Level frame. In addition, the pair must be balanced, carrying their polls at the same height. While matching the pair in terms of color is not important, the must match in terms of their size, style of movement, and level of collection.

His “buddy system,” Larry says, helps even the most nervous and inexperienced horse quickly accept and move past the sights and sounds encountered on trails and roads. “It’s amazing,” he continues. “They’re just transformed.” Based in Petersham, Massachusetts and Bronson, Florida, he makes sure both locations offer plenty of opportunities for his hors- es to be “outside, in nature.” Since the cross-country phase of a combined driving event is 12 miles long, his horses spend a great deal of time being driven out, both for the mental benefits and for conditioning purposes.

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