Those warnings are true.  You never know what you’re getting into when you start communicating with strangers online.  Beth Rieselman, an avid driver for the past 25 years, was lamenting about the fading away of driven dressage while posting in an online forum.    It seemed the focus of the driving community had drifted toward the thrills of combined driving, pleasure, and marathon events. Others agreed, and before she could say “belly band,” she found herself accepting a position on a committee with the American Driving Society to establish a systematic award series that would promote, encourage, and reward drivers who devoted their efforts to the refined sport of driven dressage.

Ultimately, a Driven Dressage Awards Program of four levels was established.
Drivers with qualifying scores can earn a Blue Level Award for successful completion of ADS Training Level tests.  Bronze, silver, and gold medals can be earned in ADS Preliminary, ADS Intermediate and/ or FEI 1* tests, and Advanced level and or FEI 2* or 3* tests respectively.

Serving on an ADS committee is a long way from where Beth began her foray into the horse world.  At age 10, she began riding and eventually worked her way into hunter, jumper, and equitation classes.  She ventured into eventing, too, but as she became a little older, she decided to dabble in dressage along with her daughter. Along the way, her dressage mount, an off-track thoroughbred, colicked and required surgery resulting in an extensive recovery period. Beth saw this as an ideal time to get a pony for her granddaughter.

The pony had supposedly been driven, so Beth’s husband found an old cart.  With a little bit of going over, it seemed serviceable, so Beth bought a hundred-dollar harness made in India and off she went. Beth had officially been bitten by the driving bug, for which there is no cure.

She’s never looked back and swears that no one ever gets out of a carriage pulled by a miniature horse without a smile on their face.

Eventually, she found her way to the Walnut Hill Farm Driving Competition in Pittsford, New York as a spectator. This international event, which has been going on since 1972, bills itself as the largest pleasure driving competition in the country. Competitors compete in a Victorian country fair setting and fans get to witness everything from single pony carts to formal road coaches.

It was at this venue that she “found” a lovely Very Small Equine pony who still occupies a stall in her heart. This VSE, aptly named “Little Prince,” was owned by lady of means who was moving to a larger pony. “Little Prince” came with everything but his own steamer trunk!  He had exquisite harness, a classy cart, an entire wardrobe of blankets and coolers, and was the ultimate driving horse.  Says Beth, “He was trained to perfection!”

Beth tells of trying out “Little Prince” at Walnut Hill. A four-in-hand composed of gigantic warm bloods literally blew right by her with horns a blazin,’ and “Little Prince” didn’t bat an eye.  She knew right then and there that he was a keeper. The duo went on to win over a dozen championships at ADS shows.

Beth has had numerous notable minis, all with big hearts and big accomplishments.  Take “Shadow.” Now retired, “Shadow” competed in Intermediate Combined Driving, winning  the Gladstone CDE in 2008. He also won the Grand Championship title at My Ladies Manor Pleasure Driving show in 2012.

Then there’s “Artie.”  Only 32 inches tall, he was gotten as a pet, but proved irresistible and was eager to be educated. He and Beth ended up winning the Training Level Combined Test at Grand Oaks in December 2019. Would you believe that  Artie was the smallest equine at this show?

Not only that, but his outstanding dressage scores qualified Beth for the Training Level Dressage Achievement Award last December!  She was the only VSE driver to qualify in the inaugural yearly award!

Looking back, Beth notes that whether traveling abroad in Vienna or tooling around New York city, she was always attracted to carriages and never passed up the opportunity for a ride.  She enjoyed the thoughtful, less hectic horse-drawn pace. Since then, her attraction has grown into a passion.  Isn’t that how true love always starts?