In the driving seat
Fancy trying your hand at something new? Liz Harcombe encourages you to have a go at carriage driving
WITH a nod at tradition, a dash of adrenaline and a huge amount of fun and teamwork, carriage driving in East Anglia has something for anyone who enjoys equestrian events. There are many kinds of driving events, apart from the pleasant pastime of trotting along quiet country lanes, perhaps pausing at a pub for refreshment.
The sport of horse driving trials was the brainchild of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh in the late 1960s. It’s based on the three-day eventing format, combining dressage, cross country, and a course of cones, set narrowly apart, and against the clock. The sport suits any type of horse or pony and East Anglia boasts some of the country’s top venues. The East Anglian Carriage Driving Group encourages drivers of all levels to compete in regional events some of which qualify for the National Championships. Those with a penchant for winter sports can compete at indoor venues in a shortened format of the trials, which is perfect for spectators – in woolly hats, of course.
Synthetic easy-clean harness and purpose built carriages with low centre of gravity, disc brakes, metal wheels and clever hydraulic steering systems are the choice of the trials driver. For the traditionalist there are many showing classes to exhibit old carriages and leather harness. The Suffolk County Show draws drivers from the region to show off the movement of their horses in harness, and the correctness of the carriage, harness and driver’s outfits to the judges’ satisfaction. Some of the carriages have a wonderful provenance, up to 150 years old, restored to mint condition and carrying authentic and original accoutrements such as lamps, clocks and umbrella baskets.
A perfect hybrid of trials and showing is the relatively new sport of Attelage De Tradition. Derived in France, this elegant and friendly weekend of exhibiting traditional carriages and performing ‘difficulties’ for points, draws huge crowds on the continent and is increasing the value of older vehicles. There are four UK venues and two are in East Anglia, Sandringham and Euston, held in July and August. This is a genteel and stylish spectator event akin to Henley regatta or Goodwood.
Spectating is always free, and volunteering as a steward at an event is entertaining and interesting. Carriage drivers are a friendly bunch, and if you go to any event you will invariably find people willing to spend time talking about their animals, the history of their carriages, offering advice or even a ride on the carriage. Find out more at eacdg.co.uk or indoordriving.co.uk
TAKE THE REINS
If you fancy a go at taking the reins there are opportunities in Suffolk, Essex and Norfolk to drive well-mannered ponies and get a feel for the sport. World Horse Welfare, near Snetterton, runs occasional carriage driving taster days, and rehomes rescued and rehabilitated ponies suitable for driving (call Maxine on 07900802192).
Valley Farm near Woodbridge has a selection of ponies for driving days. Near Soham there is Snailriver Horse Drawn Carriage Company, which specialises in all aspects of driving, from weddings and funerals to training, and lessons for all levels of driver. Near Needham Market contact Liz Harcombe for a carriage driving experience and meet World Horse Welfare Yogi, the rescue pony who has surpassed all expectations and turned his hoof to many styles of event with success (07516958787). Ashfields Carriage and Polo Club is at Great Canfield in Essex and is home to one of the world’s top four in hand drivers, Wilf Bowman-Ripley. There you can visit events and an exhibition and shop for anything you might need to get started (01371 875792).
GO DRIVING! SAYS LINDSEY PUTTOCK, SECRETARY OF SUFFOLK RIDING CLUB
One Saturday, a group of members and friends from Suffolk Riding Club enjoyed a day with Liz Harcombe, learning all about carriage driving. Most of us had little or no experience of this sport and it was truly fascinating. Liz had also invited Lorna Ingram from the East Anglian Carriage Driving Group and Amy Last, an equine dentist and experienced carriage driver, to show us what can be achieved with lots of dedication, work and love for the sport. We spent the day learning about the harness, breaking the ponies to harness and carriage, the carriages themselves, and about a sport which offers a lot of excitement. What really shone through was how slowly and gently Liz trains her ponies with kindness and understanding. Her ‘superstar’ pony, Yogi, is from World Horse Welfare. To see him working and enjoying every minute was fantastic. It shows how smaller ponies can have a whole new life, and a one in which they will not be outgrown. We were all offered an opportunity to have a go, with close supervision, thankfully. It was an amazing experience. For those of us who don’t ride anymore, for various reasons, it’s given us food for thought for the future.
Elegant and enthralling, carriage driving in Suffolk