Carriage Driving at Hopetoun

Following an approach to the Estate by the Scottish Carriage Driving Association in 1999, the first Horse Driving Trials were held in the Deer Park in 2000. The event ran annually as a National level competition, hosting the World Para Championships in 2004, and upgrading to an International FEI event in 2017.

The South Deer Park is the designated site for the event which is traditionally held over the late May bank holiday weekend for a period of three days. Work parties descend upon the Deer Park in late April to prep the course, construct obstacles and mark out arenas. Two or three days before the competition begins, horse boxes in all manner of shapes and sizes and from all over the United Kingdom and the near continent start to appear in the Park and the horses and carriages are cleaned and preened in readiness for the competition beginning.

Horse driving trials is an equestrian sport in which a driver sits on a vehicle (carriage) drawn by a single, pair or team of four horses or ponies. The sport has three disciplines: dressage, cross country marathon and obstacle cone driving, similar to the format of ridden three-day eventing. It is one of the ten international equestrian sport horse disciplines recognized by the Fédération Équestre Internationale (FEI).

Most people will start driving by joining a local organisation or club, who organise training sessions and one- or two-day competitions. Keen drivers can qualify to take part in national events from which they may put themselves forward to be selected to represent their country at international competitions and World Championships. Because a driver always needs a groom (back-stepper or navigator), it’s possible to take part as such and to enjoy the competition as much as the driver (and horse) as long as you accept the risk of potentially being catapulted from a speedily moving carriage if it collides with an obstacle!

The lower area of the Park becomes something of a temporary village as competitors camp in their respective boxes and lorries as well as being crammed with magnificently turned-out horses and carriages. In this regard the South Deer Park and the wider Estate land provide the ideal backdrop for the event.

His Royal Highness, the late Duke of Edinburgh was a strong supporter of the national events in Scotland both as a competitor and, more recently as an obstacle steward making the annual pilgrimage to Hopetoun and was instrumental in writing the original rules for driving in his role as President of the FEI from 1964 to 1986.

Last year (2020), the pandemic caused the event to be cancelled for only the second time, the first time being due to Foot & Mouth disease – although we have come close on one or two other occasions due to inclement weather. It is hoped that the 2021 event will go ahead as normal albeit under covid secure conditions with events in June and July. Alongside the horse driving trials, the British Driving Society run showing classes and organise a spectacular Concours d’Elegance in their traditional vehicles along the Lime Walk within the grounds of Hopetoun House.

Categories:  Hopetoun House