Tag Archive: carriage driving

  1. How to get started in carriage driving

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    Your children have outgrown their pony and he needs another role, or maybe you have given up riding but are looking for another horsey hobby, or perhaps you need a new challenge in your life. If so, why not consider carriage driving? It is an exciting sport that can really draw you in —just ask the more than 5,000 members of the British Driving Society (BDS). The organisation’s website tells you all you need to know about taking up driving, but here’s a primer to get you started.

    Slowly does it

    The first rule of thumb is not to run before you can walk. You may consider yourself a competent rider, but driving is a different skill and before you rush into spending money acquiring the pony and the vehicle, find a trainer and spend time learning your new pastime.

    This is where the BDS comes in particularly useful, as its website boasts a list of area commissioners and their contact details. Phone or email your local one and they will be happy to explain the best way to get started. BDS trainers will teach you the fundamentals of the coachman’s hand (holding the reins), how to put the harness on correctly and how to put the pony in the vehicle, as well as the actual skill of driving.

    Don’t expect to be a brilliant driver overnight, however. It can often take a year driving alongside an instructor before you are ready to progress on to your own pony and vehicle.

    An easy option?

    Linda Swain, a BDS council member and an area commissioner with decades of driving experience, sees a number of would-be drivers (‘whips’) thinking of taking up the sport because they want to give up riding due to a confidence crisis.

    But she cautions that to be a good driver you need plenty of nerve, especially because in many areas there are no opportunities to drive off road — drivers are not permitted on bridleways — and so you will find yourself on public highways alongside cars, vans, lorries and tractors.

    “You need courage when a huge lorry is hurtling towards you, as well as the ability to deal with potential risky situations,” says Swain. “On occasions, driving on the road can be quite scary and you have to be both bold and sensible.”

    Finding the right pony

    As a beginner with new-found driving skills learned from a trainer, you are now ready to either train your own pony or find one for driving. But which is the best option?

    “You need a pony who’s been there, got the T-shirt when you are starting out,” says Swain. “I always recommend that in the first instance people find a quiet driving pony, rather than breaking their own to harness. The problem can be that good, experienced ponies are generally hard to come by.”

    Which vehicle?

    The ideal conveyance when you start out is an exercise vehicle. Some may be imports, but Britain boasts some excellent coachbuilders — and if you buy British, the company will be able to help you with any issues you encounter, service the vehicle for you in the future and also provide you with expert advice.

    Thimbleby & Shorland, auctioneers in Reading, host four carriage sales a year and the prices of many traditional vehicles have fallen dramatically in recent years, so you should be able to bag yourself a bargain. However, always take an expert along to advise you before you buy.

    There is a vast array of harness types available these days to suit all pockets, but at the higher levels in the show ring, leather, rather than synthetic, harness will be a requirement.

    Be seen

    Driving on the road is no different to riding — a safe approach is essential. Wear high-viz clothing and a hard riding hat.

    Horses for courses

    While many people are happy driving around their local roads and never feel the need to progress, there are many opportunities for drivers who wish to try new challenges. Rallies or driveouts (driving’s equivalent of fun rides), generally at distances of up to 10 miles and often followed by a fun, friendly picnic, are a great way to start off with a group activity.

    For anyone wanting to progress to low-key competitive driving, there is BDS Trec, a three-phase contest beginning with a safety presentation, followed by a drive over a timed distance and then the third phase of untimed skills in an arena.

    From there, those with a competitive thirst may want to follow in the footsteps of Prince Phillip and take up cross-country driving, which can be fast and fun. British Carriagedriving runs national and regional driving trials, all of which are listed on its website, www.britishcarriagedriving.co.uk.

    If showing is more your bag, you can take part in fixtures that are organised by the BDS, some qualifying classes for the annual championships at Addington. “You can start showing at a very low level using your exercise vehicle,” says Swain.

    It’s supposed to be fun

    Carriage driving isn’t something you need to do in isolation — it’s a great family activity. Your children can become involved, especially if you are breaking their outgrown pony to harness. Junior training courses are run by the BDS.

    Remember that even a small pony of around 12.2hh can pull two people in an exercise vehicle and you always need a capable ‘groom’ to accompany you.

    Image: Carriage driving at the Royal Windsor Horse Show, by Tails and Fur via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

  2. Take part in a stage coach drive to aid the RSABI

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    Fancy travelling back to a time when horses reigned supreme on the roads of Britain? Now you can, if only for two days. Ewan MacInnes of Maryculter Carriage Driving Centre in Maryculter, Aberdeenshire, will journey from Braemar to Aberdeen on a vintage stage coach to raise money for the Royal Scottish Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RSABI). The 60-mile trip will take place on on August 21 and 22.

    “I have had the coach for a few years, for my own pleasure, but I have also used it to raise funds for charity, as I’ll do in August,” explains MacInnes, who has done runs in aid of McMillan Cancer Care and RDA Driving, among others. “The RSABI is a rural charity that helps people who have worked the land. I’m retired from my day job and made my income from the land so I wanted to give something back.”

    MacInnes will drive his Royal Highlander along the same route used by Victorian mail coaches. “When I refurbished my coach, I decided to name it and searched some historical records, which is how I came up with Royal Highlander,” he says. “I also lettered the names of the villages you pass along the route on the sides of the coach.”

    MacInnes has already driven part of the way in the past, but this is the first time he will complete the entire route. “It’s quite an occasion,” he says, adding that three other teams of four horses will join his own to cover the journey, which will be split into four stages on August 21, and another four on August 22. “They will do a stage each in relays, as they would have done in the olden days.”

    To raise funds for the RSABI, MacInnes is auctioning off six external seats for each stage of the journey. People can bid for a seat by post, starting at £50. The auction closes on July 25 and, says MacInnes, seats will be allocated on a highest bid basis (or first come, first served in case of equal bids). “I have had a lady who called me and said she wanted to do the entire ride,” MacInnes says. Another two seats on each stage are available through a raffle, with tickets sold directly by RSABI. MacInnes himself plans to drive for two stages and sit in the coach for the rest of the journey.

    Spectators can also gather at points along the route to watch the coach pass and make donations. The Royal Highlander will depart at nine o’ clock on August 21 from the Invercauld Arms, a former coaching inn in Braemar, and travel past Crathie Bridge, Ballater Square and the Loch Kinord Hotel to reach Belwade WHW Centre in Aboyne, where the horse teams will be stabled. The following day, they will pass Potarch Bridge, Tor-Na-Coille, in Banchory, and the Mains of Drum to arrive at Duthie Park, in Aberdeen, at about 4:15 pm.

    For more details on how to book a seat, where to view the coach along the route or how to make a donation, visit the Maryculter Carriage Driving website. If you bid or make a donation, please tell MacInnes how you found out about the Royal Highlander journey. To support the RSABI, visit www.rsabi.org.uk.

    Image: MacInnes and the Royal Highlander on last year’s Edinburgh to Gretna Green coach run in aid of MacMillan Cancer Care, which raised more than £5,000, by Cathy Muirhead.