For horse-lovers who cannot ride because of advancing age, a sudden physical disability or the plain fear of being high off the ground on a horse's back, there is another option: combined driving. It is the equestrian discipline to which three-day event rider Daphne Cronin turned this year when she was paralyzed in a fall during the Olympic selection trials.
This weekend, the California Coto Classic Driving Event, a benefit for the nonprofit American Riding Club for the Handicapped, is being held at the Coto de Caza Equestrian Center. Most of the competitors, however, are able-bodied equestrians who also enjoy the challenge of driving.
Woody Follett, a national driving competitor who is in his 70s, also competes in 100-mile trail rides. He says he prefers driving, however, for its beauty and excitement. "It's incredible to feel the power of a ton of horseflesh through the reins when you're driving" two horses, he says.
Combined driving, which is similar to the riding sport of three-day eventing, encompasses three phases of competition over three days. The Coto event began Friday, with the dressage phase, and concludes Sunday with the obstacle test.
The dressage test is a compulsory routine of movements that test the suppleness of the horses and the accuracy of the driver. Similar to ridden dressage, each driver is judged individually as he executes the 11-movement test alone in an arena.
The big excitement--especially for spectators--comes today with the marathon phase. A grueling, cross-country driving test across 8 to 10 miles of hill and dale on Coto de Caza's 4,000 acres, it pits drivers against a variety of natural and man-made obstacles called "hazards."
While in each hazard, the driver must maneuver his horse and vehicle through tight turns and sometimes steep hillsides. Competitors are judged on consistency and timing, with penalties for being too slow or too fast.
Sunday's final phase, obstacles (also called "cones"), tests how well the horse has recovered from the stress of the marathon. He must be supple and obedient to "go clean" (without faults) through a series of traffic cones with a ball on top. The goal is to not knock down any cones or balls, while going against the clock in this timed phase.
The event, sponsored by the Heels and Wheels Driving Club, is from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is free to spectators. Coto de Caza is in Trabuco Canyon. For information, call (714) 687-5549.
Grand time, grand prix: Jumper riders are gearing up for the fifth annual Orange County Arthritis Foundation Grand Prix. The event, which offers $10,000 in prize money, takes place Oct. 16 at The Oaks in San Juan Capistrano.
More than 1,500 people attended the one-day jumping classic last year. Sponsored by Joan Irvine Smith, owner of The Oaks, and her mother, Athalie Clarke, the competition features three major events: a junior-amateur grand prix, a speed derby and the Arthritis Foundation grand prix.
Last year's event raised $20,000 for the Orange County Arthritis Foundation. This year the competition is an official Orange County Centennial Celebration event. Tickets cost $5 and are available in advance by mail from: Arthritis Foundation Grand Prix, 900 N. Broadway, No. 301, Santa Ana, Calif. 92701. VIP admission at $100 per person includes priority seating and a champagne luncheon. For information, call (714) 547-5591.
Darlene Sordillo, an author of two books on horse training and competition, covers equestrian events for The Times. Her column appears every Saturday. Readers may send horse-related news to: Orange County Life, The Times, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa 92626.