What brings AFHA members together during the Alberta winter months?

Featuring the Driving Derby


By Enny Van Aken

February, 2021


Living in Western Canada means working with the four seasons. The Friesian horse owners, who love the driving sport, can, in the summer, be competing in Horse Driving Trial and Combined Driving Event competitions. But when the temperatures drop and the snow starts to fly, the focus is on the indoor derbies, hosted by Annie and Kees Muilwijk in Lacombe, Alberta.

The History

During one of their trips to Holland, Annie and Kees were invited to a derby event. After being spectators at the competition, they were totally motivated to take up this equine driving sport with their own Friesian horses at home. To add to the excitement, they built an indoor arena in 2016.

With this wonderful facility, and because they truly love the driving sport, knew that many AFHA members were taking pleasure in driving, wanted to share their facility with other people, and because they have always enjoyed the company of active horse friends, they decided to organize the first indoor AFHA derby in March 2017!

Six drivers entered that first competition. It was a big success! As a result, the concept “winter-derby-competition” was established. Kees and Annie saw it fit to promote the sport and to bring together “drivers” from all over Western Canada.

Over the last few years, the Friesian horses have performed well in the derbies. They are intelligent, hard working horses with a very forgiving attitude. Although the derbies are organized through the AFHA, the invitation is extended to horse owners of all breeds.

Derby Facts:

  • Kees Muilwijk designs the courses for five winter derbies.
  • Annie Muilwijk draws up the plan and sends it, together with the invitation, to every AFHA and driving club member.
  • The rules are based on the FEI and the American Driving Association Rule Books, although adjusted and applied to the local situation.
  • There are no official judges.
  • Safety first!!!!
  • There are two classes: training and preliminary.
  • Every driver drives a test-run and drives the course three times.
  • For every navigation error the driver gets penalty seconds added to the total time.
  • No one gets disqualified.
  • The fastest time wins.

Derby Day:

It is Saturday morning in Muilwijk’s barn. Their horses get their blankets on and go outside. The bobcat starts up; Kees is ready to clean out stalls. Annie plugs in the coffee maker and organizes the snacks and other beverages in the coffee room. Papers for the scorekeeper are ready. The order of participants (approximately 18) is posted on the wall. Every visiting horse gets a stall. The drivers hitch up in the barn. Spectators can watch from behind the gate.

It’s Derby Day!

Participants first walk the course. “I like to design a nice, horse friendly course,” says Kees. “The lines have to flow and allow the drivers to get some speed. Every course needs to be different, and it has to be a challenge for the driver, the groom and the horses.”

“We also like to make it a fun day for everyone,” says Annie. “We serve lunch, and we sit down at the end of the day to share results, hand out prizes and celebrate the events of the day together.”

When I ask Annie and Kees what they enjoy most, their answer is, “The big smile on peoples faces after an impressive performance!”

The Muilwijks are excited to get back on schedule as soon as the Covid 19 restrictions will get lifted. They love their Friesian horses. They want to bring people together to enjoy the sport and the bonding moments. And last but not least; the drivers and spectators can’t wait to show up for the next Derby Day!


Also featured on FHANA News.

Photos from AFHA

Winter Derby 2021

AFHA's Other Stories

Enny Van Aken is an AFHA member and regular writer for AFHA, owner of Friesian horses, avid driver in indoor and outdoor derbies, driver in the Alberta Quadrille, and a loving mother and grandmother.

Alberta Friesian Horse Association