By Gloria Austin
Equine Heritage Institute, Inc.
Florida Carriage Museum
Visit our article archives.
Part III: Appreciate All
Dividing light-horse driving into two forms is often helpful: modern and traditional driving. Most people can understand the difference if one describes these contrasting forms by relating to automobile competitions: Combined Driving is like NASCAR racing and Pleasure Driving is like exhibiting classic cars. Combined Driving requires sturdy new carriages suitable for sharp turns and speed in the hazards. The combined driving horse does not have to work in the company of other horse when exhibited. It is alone in the dressage ring, on the marathon and in the cones competition,
The Pleasure Driving horse, on the other hand, has to be uniquely trained to work in the company of other horses and with a horse and harness suited to match the particular classical type of Pleasure Carriage. The term Pleasure Driving comes from the use of 'pleasure' carriages that were distinguished from the commercial peddler's wagons or farm wagons of years ago. Pleasure carriages were generally owner-driven and used on weekdays to go to town or on a Sunday drive to church or through the country-side. Sunday was the day to get out your best horse and put it to your best carriage to visit relatives, friends and neighbors.
Both pleasure and combined driving require the color of the metal on the harness and lamps match that of the metal on the carriage. Also it is generally accepted that a painted carriage require a black harness and a natural wood carriage, a brown or russet harness.
Traditionally, harness was made of leather and if cared for properly can outlast synthetic harness. Many drivers in modern competitions choose to use synthetic harness but it is best if lined with leather for the horse's comfort particularly at the shoulder.
Generally carriage drivers prefer horses that have been bred for generations to trot because it is the most sustainable gait over distance. It is the gait judged at three different ground-covering strides in the show ring and dressage arena. The confirmation of these horses is such that their necks are set high on their shoulders to be well away of the forearm as it stretches forward at the trot. Ambling horses have been bred for generation to gait for a comfortable long distance ride under saddle. Cantering breeds are great for the sprint work of herding or racing. The large-muscled draft breeds have been bred for years to walk and pull heavy loads. They make wonderful horses for city street work and pulling competitions.
We should celebrate all horses and their meaning in today's world as athletes and companions. As clubs of enthusiasts, we should be all inclusive and encourage all types of driving. It is only in competitions that "Dressing for Success" may be important. In the show ring we should strive to have the proper carriage, put to the proper horse, with the proper harness but the enjoyment of driving is vested in any horse properly trained to drive, put to any carriage, as long as it is safe. Let us appreciate the diversity and practice the safety.