Rene Hopkins drives her mini-mule team. photo by Katy Yoder
Rene Hopkins drives her mini-mule team. photo by Katy Yoder

Driving Enthusiasts of Central Oregon (DECO) offered an unusual equestrian event on August 18, just outside of Sisters. Every shape and size of equine from regal black Friesians to miniature spotted mules pulled vehicles using old-fashioned "horse power." The past and present came together for a fun event that tested the training and skills of the participants.

The various carriages and carts, pulled by both novice and seasoned horses, were designed for maneuverability and safety. Spectators saw firsthand what it takes to safely maneuver a horse and vehicle through challenging circumstances.

There were eight obstacles. The first assignment might seem easy to the uninitiated: Enter the arena, stop at the first set of cones and put on a pair of gloves. Getting an excited team or single horse or pony to stand still patiently while their driver puts the reins and whip in one hand and pulls on a glove was a good first test for the competitors.

"The reason it's a challenge," said expert and organizer Muffy Seaton, "is that combined driving horses compete in shows where they're used to going fast. They wonder why they have to stop and wait for their driver to put on a pair of gloves. It teaches patience and shows how obedient the horse can be."

DECO president, Maggie McLaughlin, is serious about the main focus for the driving organization.

"Driving a horse or pony is fun, but it also has to be as safe as possible."

Driving a carriage or cart pulled by a 500- to 1,500-pound horse requires skill and practice. That's where Seaton's expertise comes in. A world-renowned competitor in the sport of combined driving, Seaton judged participants and provided them with written commentary that was instructive and encouraging.

Seaton had fun putting together the Crazy Cones obstacle course. Horses had to do a figure-8 and then stand between a set of flying flags. Other obstacles included a small white circle that required drivers to do a quarter-pivot while keeping one wheel inside the circle. There was a gate made out of colorful pool-noodles that could bend when horses went through it. One challenge required drivers to blow a bubble while their horse stood patiently. Similar to a trail class, the course was designed to test the drivers' ability to be accurate, think ahead and be in control with the least amount of effort.

The event was held at Crooked Pine Ranch, the home of Kanoe and Dyrk Godby. Kanoe is passionate about driving and competes at combined driving competitions on the West Coast. The Godby's ranch was purchased by her parents in 1958.

"We've been here ever since," she said. Kanoe's mother, Lei Durdan, was an avid driver. Once her daughter was introduced to the sport she fell in love with it, too. "I've been hooked ever since!"

For more information about the event or DECO, contact Maggie McLaughlin 541-350-6498.