Once a common form of transport, carriage driving declined hugely after the 2nd World War, with the advent of cheaper motor cars and the increased use of motorised machinery on farms. These days, carriage driving is enjoying something of a renaissance, with many people taking part in an ever growing array of showing classes and driving trials, and even more people discovering the joys of pleasure driving.
Once you have been bitten by the carriage driving bug, your bank balance is in peril! It can never be said to be a 'cheap' sport, although there are ways of saving money, but top class carriages change hands for many thousands of pounds, not to mention the cost of harness, lessons, transport etc.
However, in spite of the cost of top class showing, there are plenty of "entry level" competitions to get you started, and for a reasonable outlay, you can get started in the wonderful world of Carriage Driving. The British Horse Driving Trials Association (http://www.horsedrivingtrials.co.uk ) known as the BHDTA are the governing body for driving trials, which can be described as three day eventing with carriages. This is a thrilling sport, and caters for everything from single novice ponies to Advanced Four In Hand teams, culminating in World Championships held in a different country each year. Here, though, we will be concentrating on driven showing classes. Many of these classes are run under the rules of the British Driving Society (http://www.britishdrivingsociety.co.uk )
Exercise Class - this is an 'entry-level' class and, as the name suggests, is open to all turnouts driven to an exercise vehicle.
This type of vehicle is generally a utilitarian vehicle, without the frills and refinement of a Private Drive vehicle.
Turnouts driven to an Exercise vehicle can be shown in either synthetic or leather harness.
The emphasis is on the correct way of going rather than on turnout, although safety of the entire turnout is extremely important, and there is no excuse for worn or unsafe harness or carriage.
Single pony put to a wooden exercise cart
Country Turnout - this class is run along traditional lines, and horses are often shown to a varnished carriage and with brown leather harness, although not exclusively. Turnouts should be smart, and the horse should go in a correct manner. Confusingly, Country Turnouts can be used for Private Driving classes, but will be hard pressed to beat the top class PD turnouts.
Pair put to a wooden Wagonette
Pleasure Driving - Pleasure Driving classes are growing in popularity, and many of them are now hotly contested! They are generally for those people who do not show regularly in Private Driving classes. A wide array of vehicles will be seen the Pleasure Driving ring, ranging from exercise vehicles to elegant Gigs and Phaetons.
It is, in effect, an intermediate class, and a useful transitional class between Exercise and Private Drive.
Private Driving - Here, tradition and true elegance are the name of the game. Carriages must be traditional vehicles, or very good reproductions. Disc brakes and modern marathon vehicles have no place in the Private Driving ring.
Turnouts range from two-wheel gigs and Dog Carts, to four-wheel Phaetons and Ralli Cars. Black patent harness is most usually seen in this class, and carriages should be fully equipped with a spares kit and carriage lamps. Turnout for the driver is extremely smart, with gentlemen wearing Morning Suits and Top Hats, and ladies wearing a vast array of attractive outfits with matching hats! Qualifiers for the Horse of the Year Show are run by the BDS throughout the year, culminating in the crowning of the Harness Horse of the Year. This is a fiercely contested contest.
Friesian put to a Spider Phaeton
Gelderlander put to a Van der Heuval Phaeton (note the brown harness)
Other Showing Classes
There are a number of other carriage driving classes, including Young Driver, Ride and Drive, Hackney Wagons, Coaching Four in Hand; basically, there is something to suit any taste and budget.
Format of Showing Classes
For the majority of driven showing classes, the format is the same. All turnouts will enter the ring together in walk. Once given the command, all turnouts will trot, and at some point the steward will signal for a change of rein (drivers may give a whip signal here, with the whip held out to the right to indicate the change of direction, and then held over the head pointing towards the left to show the left turn). Once the judge has seen all turnouts trot on both reins, turnouts will be called in in a preliminary order, before going out to do an individual show. This should include a one handed circle, with the reins held in the left hand and the whip held away from the driver, a rein back, and an extension of pace, generally shown across the diagonal. The horse should show obedience and suppleness, and should be moving happily in harness.
Leather reins used for carriage driving should always be brown, even when used with a patent leather harness. This is in keeping with tradition, when brown harness had a flesh coloured underside, thus being unable to disguise flaws in leather. Drivers should always wear gloves and an apron, and should always carry a whip. Expensive holly whips are often seen in the Private Driving ring, but for everyday use, fibre glass whips are readily available at a reasonable sum. Grooms should be smartly turned out, and if carried on the carriage, should sit unobtrusively with their hands on their lap. When turnouts are called in to the line up, grooms should dismount and stand quietly at the head of the horse. Grooms are often liveried, e.g. they wear liveried coats and brown top boots, together with a top hat.
Dales put to a Dogcart
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