A regional club meets once a month to enjoy driving horse-drawn carts and carriages

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Powell Butte resident Helen Bandy is a member of the Driving Enthusiasts of Central Oregon who drive horse-drawn carts for leisure and competition.

When one imagines a driving enthusiast, they might picture someone hopping in their car to take a relaxing drive down an open road.

Perhaps they envision somebody pinning the gas pedal to the floor as they fulfill an insatiable need for speed.

For the Driving Enthusiasts of Central Oregon club, the term means something entirely different. They trade horsepower for a single horse, and man everything from two-wheeled carts to four-wheeled buggies.

The club meets once a month at the Crook County Fairgrounds, where they spend time driving their horse-drawn vehicles for leisure or to practice for upcoming competitions. The group is comprised primarily of women in search of an alternative to horseback riding.

“Some of us don’t ride that much anymore,” said Powell Butte member Helen Bandy. “As you get older, it is sometimes a little harder on your body to ride than it is to drive.”

The Driving Enthusiasts manage to keep a busy schedule in which they go on campouts and conduct training sessions for aspiring drivers.

“We try to have events where people can learn about driving so they can do it safely,” Bandy said. “People shouldn’t think just because they have a horse that they can hitch it up and go. It can be very dangerous if they are not trained properly.”

Those who have learned the skill and participate in the club also enjoy putting their skills to the test. Bandy noted that some members compete all over the Northwest in three different types of events.

The marathon is a timed event in which drivers cover a course that winds through different obstacles along the countryside.

“It’s timed, but you can’t go too fast,” Bandy said, “because the condition of the horse is always monitored.”

A second event, dressage, is typically reserved for horseback riding, but the Driving Enthusiasts have turned it into a horse-and-buggy competition.

“It takes quite a bit of skill because you have certain things that you have to complete in certain distances,” Bandy explained. “A lot of it is about the control of your horse. It is like a refined driving event.”

The third style of competition is all about speed and precision. On the cone course, standard traffic cones are placed slightly wider than the vehicle, and each one is topped with a tennis ball.

“The idea is to get through the course as fast as you can,” Bandy said, “without knocking a tennis ball off. It is a lot of fun.”

The fairgrounds not only provides the Driving Enthusiasts a place to practice for cone course races, it provides the group and its members from throughout Central Oregon a common location to gather and simply go for a drive. Bandy praised the fairgrounds for its reasonable prices and willingness to roll the arena surface.

“It makes it very nice for driving,” she said. “You don’t want to drive your horses in really deep footing. It is really hard for the animals to pull the carriages.”

For fairgrounds manager Casey Daly, who books the Driving Enthusiasts time and has witnessed the club in action, the hobby is like nothing else he has seen at facility.

“It’s not something that you see every day,” he said. “I have travelled to Ireland, and they have those kind of buggies everywhere over there. I would liken them to that except the horses are a lot smaller.”

Amongst the more typical rodeo events of barrel racing and team roping, mere mention of the Driving Enthusiasts has piqued the interest of many fairground patrons.

“When we mention it to people, they say, ‘When do they do that? I’d like to see that.’” Daly said.

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