Safety Corner






Liverpool Rein Settinga


Extracts from 'Groom's Guide to Horse Driving Trials'

By Mike Watts

Balance and groom's comfort:

Absolutely essential is for the groom to help balance the vehicle round the corners.

Lean into the corner – i.e. the groom leans out on the side in the direction the horse is heading. Lean out, get low, but watch out for approaching posts. The groom's lean can make the difference between staying upright and overturning.

Find your handholds on the vehicle and make sure you can grip – wear gloves or wrap the vehicle handles with handlebar grip or racket grip if it's slippery.

Also make sure the backstep isn't slippery and that you'll still grip when it's muddy and wet.

Make sure you're not going to get bruised by hard bits of vehicle around the backstep; wrapping any hard bits around leg level with pipe insulation and tape makes all the difference so you can concentrate on balance and don't 'back off'.

Sometimes a groom may 'jump' the vehicle away from an obstruction, to save hitting a post or knockdown. Practice this by all means, but do it as little as possible – it doesn't make for smooth progress round the obstacle and can jerk driver, reins and so the horse.

The groom's weight is crucial – lean out on the inside of the turn – the way the horse is heading.

Golden rules of safety:

* Check your equipment – vehicle and tack – condition and fitting.

* A horse harnessed to a vehicle must always have a driver at the reins or a person at his head.

* Always remove the horse from the turnout before removing his bridle.

* The groom must stay on the vehicle all the time the driver is on it - until asked to get off.

* The groom must not be on a vehicle without a driver [unless taking the reins as a competent driver].

* In an overturning accident, the groom must get to the horse's head immediately.

* The groom must know how to release the horse from the vehicle quickly.

* Think about and rehearse [as far as you can – perhaps simulating without the horse] what to do in different situations; a turnover, the driver falling out, horse's leg over a trace, broken trace, broken rein, runaway. Then try to avoid ever getting into these situations.

* Wear appropriate safety gear.

* Be aware of others.

* … and all the other horse safety rules….

Lastly: Take care and above all, enjoy the sport – that's what it's for. The full version can be downloaded free from


Training Day for Organising Events

On Saturday 28th April, Erica, Sue and I attended a BHDTA training day in Berkshire with all aspects of organising an event being covered.

Health and Safety

We began by discussing the writing of a risk assessment. This is probably the most important thing to do, because not only is it a legal requirement, but should make you try to identify every potential risk and write down what steps you have taken to minimize them,

1. Is the course free of hazards such as rabbit holes or low branches?
2. Is there an adequate barrier between spectators and a potential runaway horse?
3. Have you considered where you might land an air ambulance and do you know the GPS co-ordinates to assist that rather than the postcode?

Cones Course

Things to consider when designing a course would be:
1. the implication of subtle changes of angles and distances between cones
2. the maximum number of multiple elements
3. the importance of allowing sufficient clear space for competitors to make up speed lost in tricky bits
4. the different needs of singles and teams
5. and most important of all, how to measure the course accurately and fairly


When designing obstacles, we were encouraged to use our imagination to make them all different and interesting. They can be built out of almost any material that is safe, (i.e. no sharp edges or broken rails) and substantial, (you do not want to have to keep rebuilding them). But they will need to comply with the rules on width of gates, maximum number of gates (6) and distance from start/finish, - all of which can be found in the rule book.

Technical Director

Although we spent a lot of time discussing the very important role of a Technical Director, it is actually very simple. The TD has to know the rules and is responsible for checking absolutely everything from measuring everything that should be measured, to checking that there are sufficient stewards and that the course is safe and fair for the competitors, as well as mundane things such as "are there sufficient toilets?"
We were given a long checklist to take home which covers everything you need to know when organising an event.

I found it a very interesting and stimulating day and would encourage others to go to a future event, whether you are an organiser, a driver or steward, you will be surprised how much there is to learn.

John Weaver


Introductory Safety Competence Assessment

This is a reminder that new members should undertake this test before competing at any events organized by the club. This can be arranged by contacting either Janet or James and can be undertaken before the start of an event or at a convenient time to suit all parties.

see Introductory_Safety_Competence_Assessment.pdf




A brand new safety magnet for horse trailers and lorries could save thousands of equines from unnecessary distress at shows each year.
James Broome has produced a handy Horse and Pony Safety Magnet to ensure that, if a horse is left unattended and does become distressed, the right person can be contacted immediately. By attaching the Horse and Pony Safety Magnet to your lorry or car door, you can clearly display your mobile number so you can be contacted quickly in an emergency.

"Most people who travel to shows will, at some time, leave their horses or ponies unattended," explains James. "We see examples of and hear many stories of horses becoming distressed over the course of the showing season, and although people will try to help, they do not always know who to go to."

David Broome adds: "As a rider it is a given that when you see a horse in distress at a show, your instinct is to help out… what is frustrating is when you don't know who a horse belongs to. We hope this new magnet will eliminate this common problem."

Horse and Pony Safety Magnets are available, priced at £6.50, from the David Broome Event Centre website, or call 01291 420777.

Don't just take our word for it! Here are some testimonials from the experts:

Liz Edgar, Vice Chairman of the Executive Board of the BS, and Chair man of the UK Show Jumping Development Committee:

"What a superb idea. I've already bought a supply for everyone I know. Every trailer or lorry that takes a horse to a showground should have one of these."

Sandra Fisher, Area Representative for The Pony Club:

"I think this is a brilliant idea – so simple yet so effective, and means owners can be contacted quickly if any distress or harm to their horses is minimized."

Robert Whittaker

"Anything that costs less than a tenner and makes your horses safer has got to be a good idea."

British Horse Driving Trials Association
Introductory Safety/Competence Assessment for Clubs

If you have not had an assessment with the Forest of Dean Driving Trials Group or any other club and are taking part in
an event organised by them, please see either James Broome or Janet Macdonald at the next event you attend
and arrange to have this done.

It is a basic safety test and should not take very long.

Purpose of Assessment:
The objective of this assessment process is to ascertain whether a driver and his turnout are sufficiently competent and safe to take
part in any Public Outing organised by the Club.

Assessment Procedure:
The candidate is asked to produce his horse, harness and vehicle for inspection, harness up and to carry out a simple driving test. He can be questioned to get an insight into his basic knowledge but unlike a test, is not required to talk himself through all his procedures.

Fast But Safe !

With the advent of Fast & Furious / Indoor International / Area Knockout events, turnouts are being asked to go faster for longer periods and over much more flowing courses. It is of absolute paramount importance that we, as driver, do everything we can to keep our turnouts safe. Every time we take a risk on this, not only are we putting ourselves and our horses or ponies at risk, but also everyone else at the event including the poor stewards!


The first thing to ask ourselves is how much experience have you got? This will depend on the experience of Driver, Horse or Pony and BACKSTEPPER! It's very easy to forget about the role of the backstepper when the "Red Mist" comes down, but if you do forget you are taking a huge risk.

Examine your Route

We all consider the different routes that the wiley course builder has set up for us and usually we are considering which one will be the quickest. I would suggest that once you have decided on your route, walk it one more time again with your backstepper and talk about which turns that you feel will be the most dangerous. Very often, the last turn is the most hazardous because the focus of the driver and the horse is towards the finish line, very often done at the gallop. Do spare a thought for that last turn and make sure you are around it before you put the afterburners on!

The Lay of the Land

Although this has far more influence outdoors because the ground will go up and down, it's very easy to get caught out indoors too. When you walk the obstacle for the final time with your backstepper, think where you are in the class and how many turnouts will have gone before you. If you are lower down the order, the surface of the arena may change. For instance on the "big" corners, the carriage before you may well have carved out a groove, which will make driving the corner a lot more dangerous. The type of surface will have a huge significance on this, and generally, waxy or wet surfaces will move less. At some venues they will have someone with a rake just for this reason, but if not, please think about it. Have a little snoop when you first trot around the arena and make a decision on how fast you are going to drive that turn then.

Have the Right Kit

Generally, most people that drive at events are sensible enough to have invested in a quality carriage and harness that has been purpose built for driving trials. If not, you are using a vehicle which has not been designed to cope with the strains that you are putting on it. This is pretty
straightforward but helps lead me to my next point...

Service Your Carriage and Harness

Having a lovely turnout is all well and good but if it is not serviced and checked regularly, you are taking a risk. If you consult your carriage manufacturer, they will often give you guidelines on what to look out for. If getting covered in oil and grease is not your thing, bribe someone that is! It's a really important area of driving and is very often overlooked. Not only will it make your driving safer, but it will also be likely to increase the lifespan of your vehicle.

Do A Debrief

Although this might sound a bit over the top, if you do have a little wobble in an obstacle, have a think about it afterwards and try and work out why you had the wobble. Did the horse act unexpectantly? Did the driver make an error? Was the backstepper stood on the wrong side? If you
can work out the problem, you may be able to avoid making the same mistake again. The lorry on the way home is the perfect place for this chat in our camp!




British Horse Driving Trials Association
Introductory Safety/Competence Assessment
for Clubs

Purpose of Assessment:

The objective of this assessment process is to ascertain whether a driver and his turnout are sufficiently competent and safe to take part in any Public Outing organised by the Club.

Assessment Procedure:

The candidate is asked to produce his horse, harness and vehicle for inspection, harness up and to carry out a simple driving test. He can be questioned to get an insight into his basic knowledge but unlike a test, is not required to talk himself through all his procedures.

If you have not had an assessment with the Forest of Dean Driving Trials Group or any other club and are taking part in an event organised by them, please arrange to have this done with either James Broome or Janet Macdonald at the next event you attend. It is a basic safety test and should not take too long.

Safety When Hitching and Unhitching (obvious but it does happen!)

NEVER start to hitch the horse to the carriage without first having fastened the reins to the bridle.
NEVER try to back a horse between shafts that are lying on the ground.
NEVER leave the ends of the reins unbuckled in case one should be dropped when you are getting into the carriage or whilst driving.
NEVER take the bridle off while the horse is still attached to the carriage; not even when the horse has a halter under the bridle.
NEVER allow anyone to sit in the carriage before the driver has taken his place.
NEVER when you are the driver leave the carriage before all the passengers have descended.


What's in a Spares Kit?

BDS enthusiasts will explain how Judges in the show ring like to see a selection of the following in Private driving spares kits:
Candles (with burnt wicks)
Hoof Pick
20p piece
Splicing Equipment
etc etc.

However, these spares kit are meant to be a reflection of the times, just like the carriages and harness that are also on show. For a driving trials enthusiast though, we have slightly less concern with tradition and usually more focussed on things that might just help us get home.

Mobile Phone
A mobile phone with credit and a charged battery is probably number one. Of course, you should never use your mobile when you are driving, but your groom can always use it for you. With a phone, if something happens, you can always call for help. If you are going somewhere that has poor reception, make sure you always tell someone how long you are going for. Even if that means calling them from the home phone before you leave and say that you should be calling them back in 60 minutes or so. That way, if something happens and you can't call anyone, hopefully it won't be too long before the alarm bells ring. You are also not allowed to take a mobile phone on a marathon during an event. It's very embarrassing when you forget to take it out your pocket and the damn thing rings as you are charging around an obstacle.

I always have a few climbing karabiners on my carriages. They are really strong and will certainly do the job of a quick release. They are easy to put on and shouldn't rust. I had a quick release spring off once when delivering Father Christmas and it was one of these that saved the day. If you carry a few with you, they can also be used in the place of pole straps too. When you buy them, make sure that they are proper climbing ones that will be strong enough. Generally, you get what you pay for and if you find them on ebay for £1.50, you're probably buying a key ring!

Spare Trace
In my humble opinion, splicing equipment is a little pointless, especially on plastic coated webbing harness (which is what most of us use). Splicing works by punching a hole in the two sides of the broken trace and then using a short strap with a buckle on each end to connect the two halves together. Have you ever tried to punch a hole in one of your traces? If I ever need to do this I have to use a drill because my hole punches aren't capable of making the hole without collapsing. So, instead of this, I will always have a spare trace on the vehicle so that if a problem does happen, we just change over. If this isn't possible, you could always use a rope. A spare trace is by far the best way though.

Baler Twine
Classy it may not be, but it is strong as anything and very cheap. In fact, you probably chuck a lot of it away. If you are driving at an event, it's probably a good thing to have hidden (!) but it's something that I always have with me. You never know.

Spare Tape
Most drivers, especially if there is water, like to tape on their brushing boots. Tape that becomes loose can become a very dangerous tripping hazard for a horse and it's a really hard thing to get off in a hurry. I have found that it's a lot quicker to just put some new tape around to secure it on. Do keep an eye on things though as you don't want your horse tripping.

Very often events have water at the halts, but they don't provide sponges. They don't weigh or cost very much so they're quite a good thing to carry.

These should obviously be on the horses as often as possible, even when exercising at home. Not only will this get you used to using them, but also get the horse used to wearing them.

Lead Ropes
One lead rope should be carried for each horse. If they need to be hitched, it's far better to lead them on their under halters with rope than yank them around holding onto the reins, and as it might be quite a long walk home, a lead rope should always be carried.

Spare Whip
You will see some turnouts that carry spare whips. I think that this was a consequence of the rule that penalised drivers if weren't carrying a whip. The spare was attached in case the normal whip was dropped. However, this rule has now been relaxed so it should not really be necessary, but if you are not happy driving without a whip, then a spare one should be carried. I find that a shorter one that you normally use is a good spare and can be attached to the carriage just inside the fender.

A sharp knife becomes very useful when a horse falls and has to be cut out of their harness. With more people using quick release clips, this problem is not that common, but it does still happen. If you are carrying a knife though remember to adhere to the law with regard to blade length etc, and also make sure that it is kept sharp. 1 blunt knife is much more hazardous than a sharp one.

Hoof Pick
It's not a bad idea to check your horse's feet at the halt. If they are clogged up with mud they will have a better grip if you pick out their feet. Also, if they do suddenly appear to go lame, the first place to check is their feet, and a hoof pick can be used to remove something that is causing the problem. Some of the above are more relevant to general exercising, and some are more useful for outdoor cross country marathons.
However, it's not unknown for an indoor competitor to benefit from being prepared!

Do make sure that your grooms knows your spares kit inside out. 30 seconds is not a long time to spend finding and unravelling a spare trace, but when you are short on time and the clock is ticking, it is an eternity. Of course, whatever "fudge" that you carry out to get you home is
your responsibility. You are still responsible for your own safety, but more importantly, that of your horse and other members of the public. If it is not safe to continue, unhitch your horse(s) and lead them home. Come back to collect your carriage afterwards. If you are concerned about this, you can call someone to come and help. If there is no one available, then call the police. They can always keep their eye on your carriage until you get home.


Backstepping - a forgotten art?

We all know that a turnout is only as good as the backstepper, but what can you do to make sure that you are firstly as safe as possible, and secondly performing as well as possible. The following is what I reckon is a good start point:

i) Firstly, make sure that your backstepper has thick skin! You shouldn't need to pussyfoot around when you are driving. Drivers should NEVER be rude, but they should also never feel as though they can't say something that will improve safety through the fear of upsetting their backstepper. Equally, backsteppers should feel perfectly comfortable shouting at you when you go the wrong

ii) Drive to the ability of your backstepper. Once you are both confident in your roles, and the relationship that you build up between you, you will be able to go a little faster. However, for the first few times, you should hold back. Remember, safety first.

iii) Get someone experienced to watch you and give honest feedback on you and your backstepper's performance. When you are driving, you probably won't get to see how they are doing. If you explain that you are going to do this beforehand, no one should be offended by the feedback. If this is not possible, try and get someone to video it and go through it together looking for points that you could have both improved on. If you can't find a cameraman, have a look at the photos if they were taken on the day. They can often reveal problems.

iv) The best teams are the ones where everyone understand their roles and are happy to get on with it. Good backsteppers are like gold dust, so when you find a good one, look after them!

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