The sport of carriage driving
PUBLISHED: 01:16 08 July 2011 | UPDATED: 19:40 20 February 2013
Sharon Chilcott spent a day watching an ancient sport that is racing ahead in the popularity stakes
To the spectator, its a visual feast of what would seem to be equestrian nostalgia, yet for its participants, carriage driving is seriously competitive and in fact, one of the fastest growing sports in the equine world.
Nowhere could its popularity or the passion of its enthusiasts have been more evident than at The British Driving Societys Hereford AreaSpring Carriage Show held against the stunning backdrop of Hampton Court, Leominster.
Entries were well up on last year, with an average of eight competitors in each class coming from Powys, Shropshire and Worcestershire as well as all over Herefordshire. A highlight for spectators was The Concours dlegance, so well subscribed that 16 entries had to be split into two sections. The overall winner was Julie Wedgbury from Bridgnorth with her Welsh cob Pentrefelin Romeo driving a Whiskey. Julie, a member of the Herefordshire Driving Group is the Indoor National Four-in-hand champion with her team of Shetlands. She ended her successful day at Hampton Court by taking the BDS Supreme Show Championship.
The wide range of carriage turnouts in the Concours included Katja Jones from Cusop, Hay-on-Wye, who earlier in the day had been awarded fifth prize in the Purebred Registered Welsh class open to registered Welsh ponies and cobs, driving Neville Joness Conygar Caradog.
Said Katja: I am from Holland and when I lived there I drove a Norwegian Fjord for a couple of years. When I came to England I started driving him a lot until sadly he had to be put down. Although we have our own young Welsh Cob; this is my father-in-laws horse Conygar Caradog. Hes eight years old and he is a fourth generation home-bred Welsh cob.
Katjas groom was husband Richard, whose father Neville was disappointed not to be driving himself. He suffered a back injury two days before which prevented him competing. Neville explained the origins of the carriage which Conygar Caradog was pulling: Its a Jones of Hereford Ralli Car dating from 1912. It has never left the county. Doing up carriages is a hobby Ive done six. The Ralli Car was everyones vehicle. It is capable of holding four people as there is a seat at the back which you can drop down. Mum and dad would get in the front and the kids would ride on the back to go to town, the market or church. It took me two winters to do it up and I found it on a farm in Peterchurch. Fortunately, it had been stored inside, so there was no woodwork to repair at all.
Another competitor in the Purebred Registered Welsh Class was Sandy Blackmore from Titley driving a handsome American Studebaker Phaeton dating from 1898, built by the Studebaker Corporation before they made cars. I have been carriage driving for a long time, said Sandy. I took it up when I realised I didnt bounce as well as I used to do when I fell off a horse!
The carriage was drawn by her pony, Elcon Tugelo, aged seven and new to the show ring. She added I dont know what hes going to do. This may be the last time you see the vehicle in one piece! In fact, Elcon Tugelo behaved impeccably, the carriage remained intact and Sandy was placed sixth. The class was won by Julie Wedgbury and Pentrefelin Romeo.
One of the spectator highlight of the Concours was Pat Dutson with Moelgwyn Ceridwen, a Welsh Cob, driving a Ladies Phaeton and followed by a Dalmatian carriage dog which ran beautifully with nose right under the carriage, just as it had been trained to do.
Sue and Raoul Beaman, from nearby Luston and Jane Friend from Kingsland, Leominster, also drove with carriage dogs. Sues involvement in carriage driving has developed through her love of Dalmatians: I have always been interested in their association with driving. Ive done a bit of driving and I joined the British Carriage Dog Society when it was founded a few years ago. Then I had a phone call from Jane Friend who lives five miles along the road and I have been helping out at trials with her. When I took on Benson, who was a rescue dog (his owners couldnt cope with him), I then had a dog who was the right age to start training and Jane down the road with a pony and trap. Benson is now two, he is still a novice but he obviously has a natural instinct and he is coming along nicely.
Throughout the event the commentary from Mary Nicholson was peppered with fascinating facts about the sport and its traditions and etiquette. Mary, from Upton Bishop near Ross-on-Wye, commentates at about six regional carriage driving events a year including at the Three Counties Show, Burwarton Show and Kington Show.
She explained how she first got involved in commentating: It was a total fluke. I did some commentating for a carriage driving demonstration at Herefordshire Country Fair and someone heard me and asked if I would do some at Kington. That was six or seven years ago and I have been doing it ever since.
I do a bit of carriage driving myself but I dont do much in the way of competing. I am on the BDS list of commentators and my husband, Andy is a BDS steward. They call us the BOGOFs because you get a commentator and a steward! It is our way of putting something back into the sport, so we dont charge. We get around, meet a lot of people and learn a lot!
True to form, the main ring steward at Hampton Court was none other than Marys husband Andy!
Full results: www.hddg.co.uk You can see more of Richards photographs at www.richardweaverphoto.co.uk