Preserving the tradition of carriage driving in Ontario

ARISS – The Ontario Carriage Driving Association (OCDA) was founded to preserve, protect and promote interest in carriage driving throughout southern and central Ontario. 

It is comprised of dedicated driving enthusiasts who compete in driving trials as well as traditional pleasure driving using antique carriages.

Their mission is to expand the community of carriage drivers in Ontario by sharing knowledge and experience through events.

The organization welcomes beginner to advanced-level drivers and all breeds of horses and ponies. It  offers a selection of activities to members, including combined driving events and pleasure driving shows. Educational opportunities in the form of clinics, shows and social drives are also offered.

OCDA president Vicki Cork has been a member of the club most of her life. This is her second term serving on the board and first year as president. 

“Carriage driving is very attractive to people who perhaps are no longer comfortable riding their horse due to physical limitations,” Cork told the Advertiser in an April 20 interview.  

“This is a sport that any well-rounded equine can participate in, with proper training. It doesn’t matter what size or breed a horse is, equipment is available for all types of equines.”

The history of horse-drawn carriages dates back as far as the bronze age (approximately 3300 BC to 1200 BC). Four-wheeled horse carts have been found in Celtic graves that suggest platforms suspended elastically with basic construction techniques were established during that period. 

Modern driving events date back to the early 1970s in Europe. Among the earliest participants was Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who competed for almost 40 years and gave the sport credibility worldwide. The early rule book was drafted under his supervision.

In competitions, the driver and horse(s) complete three tests: dressage, marathon and obstacle driving. 

This is based on the Olympic sport known as eventing. The first phase, dressage, tests the ability of the driver and training of the horse. Dressage has roots in a comprehensive cavalry test that required mastery of several types of riding. 

The second phase, marathon, demonstrates the fitness and stamina of the entrant over an approximate 8km track with natural and constructed obstacles. 

Finally, obstacle driving tests both the driver and equine on a course with pylons positioned as close as six inches wider than the wheel track of the most experienced drivers. 

Events are divided to accommodate both the level of training of the horse and the skill of the driver. Those levels are training, preliminary, intermediate and advanced, with the highest level being governed by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI).

In this echelon, the dressage test is performed at a world class level, and the cross-county course is to be completed within seconds of the time allowed. Finishing too soon or too early is subject to penalty.

Renowned carriage driver Kelly Houtappels-Bruder started her career in Ariss, Ontario, and is currently ranked number one in the world at the FEI level for single horses. At the Fergus Fall Fair, when she was just two years old, she won her first ribbon in the lead-line class and her love and passion for horses began. She has dedicated herself to the equestrian world and trained tirelessly throughout the years. 

She progressed through pony club and worked hard as a student before eventually becoming a trainer and coach. Her efforts have been rewarded with numerous championships in dressage, pleasure and combined driving.

“Winning the silver medal at the World Championships in Pau, France in 2020 and the bronze last year at the World Cup in Le Pin-au-Haras, France are certainly highlights,” Houtappels-Bruder said. 

“But I’m most proud of topping the FEI rankings last year, as it reflects the consistency we achieved over the entire season.” 

Fancy ride – Carolyn Aarup driving her miniature horse Dakotawinds Favonius. Photo by McGinny Photography

In 2008, Houtappels-Bruder was offered a working student position in Belgium, which turned into a significantly extended visit after meeting her husband, Frank. They now operate Gendersteyn Stables in Steensel, in the Netherlands, where Kelly trains, teaches and competes with dressage and combined driving horses.

“Working with horses is a lifestyle, and one I couldn’t imagine my life without,” she said.

“I’m a trainer at heart and even though I’m at a competition in Germany right now, I’m just as excited to get home and start back with the young horses.” 

When asked what advice she would offer youth interested in working with horses, Houtappels-Bruder suggested finding somewhere to learn, even if it means working in exchange for lessons. 

“Good horsemanship, management and great basics are 90% of the sport,” she added. 

“Before moving to Europe [for the sport] in 2008, I regularly drove at OCDA competitions and participated in events. 

“My mother, Laurie Bruder, has been a huge supporter and board member for many years.”

Governance for carriage driving in Canada falls under the umbrella of Equestrian Canada (EC). There is a discipline specific committee selected to represent carriage driving in EC – the Drive Committee.  

OCDA rules closely align with the American Driving Society, which governs driving in the United States as there are numerous Canadian members competing South of the border. 

“Our volunteers have training sessions and are paired with an experienced event volunteer,” Cork said.

“Typically, we don’t have a lot of spectators at our events, although we welcome all who wish to come watch.

“To encourage youth participation, we offer reduced or free entry fees for any youth member. It is not unusual for some of us with seasoned show animals to offer them to junior drivers if they don’t have their own equine.”

This year’s season kicks off on April 29, with a clinic focused on improving obstacle driving skills led by Barbara Chapman, the 2021 advanced single pony combined driving champion.

The first driving event will be held June 10 with entrants judged on their dressage and completion of an obstacle driving competition. The event is set to take place in Ariss and is hosted by Windy Knoll Farm.

To get involved in carriage driving, the events are a great way to see what the association offers. Spectators are always welcome, and volunteers are needed.  For more information visit or follow OCDA on Facebook or Instagram.

Advertorial Writer