PROCTOR – It all begins with a horse.
Today’s modes of transportation are touted for their horsepower, but early vehicles really were all about the horse power.
Members of Susquehanna Valley Whips and Wheels, a local carriage driving club, are out to preserve the pomp and tradition involved with hitching an equine to carriage.
“I’ve always had a love for horses,” said Cindae Wilson, a member of the carriage club for four years. “I always played pretend about horses when I was a child.”
At 16, she got her first horse.
“I rode for years but, as I got older, I tried driving and I was hooked,” Wilson said.
Now she drives her horse, Magic.
“Carriage driving is a different way to interact with a horse,” she said. “As I age, I can still enjoy my horse, but in a different way.”
Club President Diane Dincher agreed: “I’ve had a love of horses since childhood. I had a horse when I was younger, but then boys became more interesting. When I got my first job, I bought a horse. Later, I got into the carriage driving.”
Now, she particularly enjoys pleasure carriage driving.
Sue Andrews, a founding member of the group, has a family heritage associated with horses.
“My paternal grandfather was a harness maker in York County and my maternal grandfather delivered ice in Montoursville by horse-drawn wagon well into the 1950s,” she said.
Andrews began riding at age 5 and now logs many miles carriage driving.
“In the last three weeks, I’ve driven over 130 miles. It’s so wonderful! I could spend all my time driving. I’m a carriage nut,” she admitted.
Andrews also lectures on carriage driving, conducts clinics and judges competitions from New York to Virginia.
During the 1960s, the horse population was at its lowest, due in part to the mechanization of farms and the loss of horses during World War II, according to Andrews.
But now, “Carriage driving is one of the fastest growing sports, especially among the Baby Boomers,” she said.
To begin, you need a carriage, a harness and a horse and some means of transporting both.
The cost of the equipment and the time and money needed to transport the horse and carriage can be prohibitive, but, Andrews said, “It is possible to compete on a shoestring.”
As the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby becomes a memory, it’s hard not to be struck by the pomp and tradition that surrounds that event. It is this sense of connection with times that have gone by that the local carriage driving group seeks to keep alive.
Much like the Kentucky Derby, carriage driving brings with it a strong sense of tradition and history. Carriages, primarily made by hand, pulled by horsepower measured in the number of horses and not the size of an engine and driven by people who wear the clothing that is indicative of a bygone era are just a part of carriage driving.
Horses pulling carriages have been around for years. Several carriage companies carried on their business in Williamsport in the 1800s.
Peter Herdic, a well-known name in the city’s history, is credited with inventing the Herdic cab, a two-wheeled, horse-drawn carriage with side seats and a rear entrance. It’s considered by some historians to be the forerunner of the taxi.
As a sport, carriage driving began in the 1960s when a group of people interested in the preservation, restoration and exhibition of antique carriages got together and formed the Carriage Association of America. The main emphasis at that point were the origins and history of the vehicles.
In the 1970s, a number of people from that group decided there was an interest not only in the vehicles, but also in the driving horses. They formed the American Driving Society.
The local Carriage Driving Club, which began in 1994, is a member of the American Driving Society and follows its guidelines for competitions and shows.
According to the group’s website, the local club is “dedicated solely to the sport of carriage driving, whether it be for pleasure, competition or the collecting of horse-drawn carriages.” This includes pleasure shows and combined driving events for anyone from the novice to seasoned competitor.
The pleasure driving show consists of divisions for horses based on their height and size. The horse division is open to animals over 14.2 hands and the pony to animals 14.2 hands and under.
A very small equine division is open for horses 40 inches and smaller and at the other end of spectrum is the draft type, which is open to draft and heavier draft-cross horses. A novice division is for the less experienced driver or horse.
Horses are judged in various pleasure driving classes such as in-hand driving, turnout, working, super reinsmanship, pick your own route, and drive and ride.
Wilson said horses are judged on how they move and respond to their driver’s cues. They are judged not just on driving ability but also on things such as the suitability of the horse to be a driving horse and the appearance of not only the horse but the carriage and the driver.
“They want to see if the carriage is polished, how the harness fits and if the driver is dressed appropriately,” Wilson said.
The apparel of the driver also is rich in tradition. Drivers must wear driving aprons, which keep them clean and prevent the reins from falling.
They wear brown gloves. In the past, Wilson said, the dye from black gloves would stain the drivers’ hands, so brown gloves now are the standard.
Hats or helmets are worn, too.
“Like (at) the Kentucky Derby, the hats can be elaborate,” Dincher said.
“They show off the personality of the driver,” Wilson added. “It’s like playing dress-up.”
Another pleasure class is called town and country obstacles, where drivers must navigate their carriages through a course that is decorated not only with cones, but with obstacles that horses might encounter while driving in the town or country.
“The idea is to create a distraction for the horse, so the obstacles can be any size. We’ve even used plastic pink flamingoes,” Wilson said.
The horse-driving competition includes dressage, timed obstacles and cross country.
The carriage driving club members are eager to share their sport with others.
On Saturday and next Sunday, a spring clinic will be held at the Lycoming County Fairgrounds in Hughesville. Robin and Wilson Groves, of Vermont, owners and operators of R&W Horsedrawn Services, a teaching and training facility for drivers, riders and horses at all levels, will conduct the clinic.
On Friday, a free, informal talk will be held from 6 to 7 p.m. at the fairgrounds.
Anyone interested in learning more about carriage driving can attend the weekend events for a small fee. Information about registering for the clinic is available from Diane Dincher via email at email@example.com.
It’s important to educate the next generation on the sport of carriage driving, Wilson said.
On June 1 in Troy, a driving horse day camp will be held. It is sponsored by a grant from the Triple Trotters 4-H and Triple Crown Feeds and is open to anyone, ages 8 and older, who are interested in learning more about driving horses. Topics will range from the parts of the harness, how to train and select a driving horse to ground driving and how to harness and hitch.
There will be an opportunity to drive a variety of horses. Horses and equipment will be provided. For more information, email Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The club will hold a pleasure driving show on June 28 and a horse driving competition on June 29 at the Hughesville Fairgrounds. Viewing is free for the public. Those interested in competing may email Jackie Zaloga at Jingleszal@gmail.com.