Benjamin Aillaud, 45 years old, individual silver medalist in 2019 at the European Championship in Donaueschingen (All), currently 10th in the world ranking in four-horse carriage driving, joined the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) carriage driving commission in November 2020. Let’s take a look at his missions.
What is your role in this committee?
The commission is made up of judges, stewards, technical delegates and course designers. My role is to bring a technical view as a driver and to bring up the problems encountered in competition. . My main goal is to put the horse back at the center of the rules of the discipline and to watch over the notions of sporting ethics. There is currently a general questioning of the exercises required of horses. Just like any other discipline, driving has to think about animal welfare issues.
What are the main difficulties in the dressage test?
In a sequence of movements, the judges evaluate both the horse’s state of mind in its work, its relaxation, its connection with the driver and the quality of its locomotion. A dressage driving test includes all the exercises required under saddle. In four-horses driving, the greatest difficulty is to create harmony of attitudes, rhythm and cadence between different individuals. The most complex movements are the shoulder in, the stops followed by a determined number of reinback steps while keeping the line straight, with the horses on the bit. In both pairs and four horse driving, the curves are tricky because the horse on the outside covers more distance than the other. He must be able to increase or decrease his amplitude without changing his rhythm. Single carriages work on changes of leg, and on all forms of transitions and variations of gaits, such as from canter to collected trot. On the other hand, bending a single horse in harness is not always easy, especially without the help of body weight and aids, so the task is even more complex with two or four horses. The test for the dressage single carriage has been modified in 2021, the test for the four-horse carriage will be revised in 2023.
What about the marathon?
We are currently thinking about the rules concerning the trajectory in the obstacles, the dimensions of the doors and the distances between them. It is true that, given its clavicle-free conformation, the horse pulls more easily than it carries. However, even if it is not loaded with the rider’s weight, one must never forget that it is pulling a car. Nowadays, the degree of the curves is sometimes higher than 90°, which of course causes important efforts, especially at high speed. Some layouts put the horses in more difficulty than the drivers. We have already seen in competitions four horse carriages forced to wrap themselves around a one and a half meters wide cube on a trajectory of four to five meters in diameter. I recommend not to go below eight meters in diameter for a four-horse carriage on curves. In the marathon, it is necessary to have enough technique so that the course is not just a race, yet without excessive difficulty, in order to preserve the respect of the horse. In addition, it is fundamental that young course designers are trained and supervised to avoid the pitfall of trajectories that are too restrictive for the horses. Their responsibility is essential in the well-being and respect of the horse.
More broadly, what are your themes of reflection?
We are thinking about the bits, the type of training aids, the format of the tests, putting the wellfare of the horse and the sporting fairness first, to ensure that one of the three tests does not take precedence over the others. The competition should not produce champions in dressage, marathon or cone competition, but should showcase complete athletes, both horses and drivers. The balance between the three events is fundamental. It is the subject of a global reflection, and supposes the implementation on the ground of many technical and regulatory parameters. This is why the commission must be composed of multiple views and skills.
What are the specificities of single driving?
It is a discipline very similar to eventing. The driver is accompanied by his teammate. It is a tight team where the horse is alone to assume all the load, while in multiple driving, the horses can rest on each other for a few seconds, which gives a real breath to the whole. Working in a group is very favorable to the gregarious instinct of the horse, because the company of his fellow horses reassures him. The solo horse must be mentally generous, motivated and calm . It takes a long time to build a driving horse, which is trained from the age of five or six and reaches the top level by the age of ten . A successful carriage is a marvel of silversmithing which must be contained in delicacy.