Sometime in the early 2000s, Mike Lyon and Colonel Davis, along with other members of the horse driving community, hatched the idea to create a place where driving enthusiasts could gather just to have fun and exchange information. By October 2005, their solution—the first National Drive—was a reality.Gina Kanzaki and her Welsh/Arabian cross are dressed for the circus ring in the “Tacky Turnout” class, a just-for-fun activity at the 2021 Fall National Drive. Photo by Kim MacMillan/MacMillan Photography
Dave Sadler, the current National Drive board president from Fithian, Ill., succinctly explains the purpose of the event, which is non-competitive and welcomes all interested in attending with or without horses or previous driving experience.
“The mission of the National Drive is to provide a safe and inexpensive venue for recreational drivers to have fun driving, to learn and to socialize,” he says. “Our motto: fun; friendship; learning.”
The Drive has been going on continuously since 2005 and, as time went on, it was expanded to a week-long event in early October. In 2012, a Spring National Drive (also called the “Spring Fling”) held over a long weekend in early May was added to the docket.
The Drive was initially held at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, but after the KHP became too crowded with other events happening at the same time, the National Drive moved in 2018 to the Hoosier Horse Park in Indiana.Michael and Vicki Michaels in the Tacky Turnout Class, where they chose an insect theme for their Gypsy Vanners. Photo by Kim MacMillan/MacMillan Photography
Sadler says the first Drive welcomed 90 participants. As more people became aware of the event, numbers soared to around 400. In recent years, the average attendance hovers around 150-160 humans, 125-130 equines, and innumerable dogs. Thus far, the Drive has hosted attendees from 42 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces.
The range of equine guests runs the gamut from Miniature Horses and pony breeds to light breeds, draft horses, donkeys and mules. The Fall 2021 National Drive had 27 breeds (plus a few crosses) represented. People drove singles, pairs and four-in-hands using a variety of two- and four-wheeled conveyances. Several attendees also chose to ride around the park.
“We host equines of all shapes and sizes, price ranges and talent,” says Sadler. “In carriage driving, especially for recreational use, [horse] price is not a factor. They just need good manners and to enjoy doing it.”Nancy Dozier and her Dutch Harness Horse/Morgan cross get in some puddle practice at the 2021 Fall National Drive. They compete in combined driving and pleasure driving. Photo by Kim MacMillan/MacMillan Photography
The Hoosier Horse Park was originally part of the U.S. Army facility Camp Atterbury, and is located about half an hour south of Indianapolis. It comprises over 200 acres of wilderness with many crisscrossing roads, lanes and trails, as well as a marathon course used for the Indiana Combined Driving Event for the last 25-plus years.
With the Park offering an indoor arena, an outdoor driving dressage ring, an outdoor stadium, campgrounds, 384 permanent stalls, and a scenic country atmosphere, participants feel that the Park is a very good fit for the National Drive.
“At Hoosier Horse Park, we’re able to provide a quiet, safe place to relax and drive whenever, wherever,” Sadler explains.Robyn Armer and her Shetland Pony get in some cones practice during the Fall National Drive. Photo by Kim MacMillan/MacMillan Photography
Both the Spring and Fall National Drive offer:
◆ Educational opportunities with top-flight clinicians (clinics, lectures, private lessons).
◆ Free time to drive and ride.
◆ Mock competition to sharpen skills (driving derby and combined driving competition facilities to name a few).
◆ Just-for-fun events (tacky turnout class, safari and arithmetic drives, scavenger hunt, bingo cones, pooch parade).
◆ Social activities, including a cookout, welcome and farewell parties, a mimosa drive (drinks and cookies are served at a picturesque spot in the park) and train rides.
◆ A safety check before going out to drive with advice from experts.
◆ Scales for weighing equines and equipment.
◆ A de-spooking zone set up to expose horses to scary things and practice how to deal with the reactions.
◆ Tack swap and shopping.
◆ Camping and a variety of nearby restaurants and tourist attractions.
◆ The opportunity to network with other attendees in a laid-back atmosphere.Linda Freeman drives her handsome pair of Hackney Horses around the Hoosier Horse Park. Friend Tere Short, who and attended without horses, and a “carriage dog” tag along. Photo by Kim MacMillan/MacMillan Photography
Amy Brockman of Okeana, Ohio, attended her first Drive last spring with her pony Tonka.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” she says. “Wow, I sure had a blast! Everyone was so welcoming, laid-back and helpful. Being new at driving, I had many questions that were kindly answered.”Sallie Wickens is all smiles as she drives her 38-inch Miniature Horse to a hyperbike. Photo by Kim MacMillan/MacMillan Photography
Lana Santamaria of Dubuque, Iowa, has attended four Drives.
“I keep coming back because the camaraderie is incomparable,” she says. “I could talk about the venue or the organizers and staff—they are all terrific—but it’s the camaraderie that delights me.”
For more information about the National Drive, visit www.nationaldrive.net or www.facebook.com/TheNationalDrive.
This article about horse driving at the National Drive appeared in the October 2022 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!
Kim MacMillan graduated from Purdue University where she majored in agriculture communications and animal science. She has been reporting on equestrian sports, agriculture, science, travel and history for over 35 years. She and her husband Allen, who is a professional photographer, have covered several World Equestrian, Olympic and Pan American Games. The MacMillans share their Northeastern Indiana farm with several much-loved horses, dogs and cats.
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