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grand oaks winter drive weekend & aiat test event

Celebrating a special, international gathering at Gloria Austin's beautiful estate in Florida which for years has served as a venue for enthusiasts, we hear from two of the organisers and Lester Dagge, who joined Sarah & her husband Richard to help adjudicate over the proceedings - March 2024

The Four in Hand Club was thrilled to host our UK friends Sarah Dance and Lester Dagge.  They provided expertise and training for the fledgling AIAT judges & turnouts during our Winter Meet at the Grand Oaks Resort.  Truly a memorable weekend and a remarkable step forward for all our drivers and grooms. Thank you Sarah & Lester! – Paul van Sickle, organiser

The AIAT Test event at the Grand Oaks resort was a huge hit with the attendees and the judges’ clinic proved to be very educational.  On behalf of the Florida Sunshine Committee and the CAA, I want to thank Sarah & Richard Dance, and Lester Dagge, for all their efforts which made it such a successful event – David Saunders, organiser

Lester Dagge writes – It was during a chance conversation with David Saunders about the success of the AIAT in Europe that David suggested that I come to America and share my knowledge of setting up the competition format in the UK. It was 12 years ago that I introduced the first AIAT Attelage de Tradition event at Picton Castle in Pembrokeshire and encountered many issues to overcome. The early days were a steep learning curve for event management with the challenges to develop a new relatively unknown competition format. Thanks to determination and a willing pool of enthusiastic competitors, the CIAT competition format has taken off and grown to become one of the most popular carriage driving disciplines in the UK.

Much of the experiences that I and subsequent event CIAT organisers have encountered in the UK have been replicated in the USA with their initial foray into AIAT, so I was happy to help address their issues and appease their concerns. David arranged an AIAT Training weekend at the Grand Oaks resort in Wiersdale Florida, where our trip would coincide with the Four in Hand driving weekend. This followed on from the AIAT AGM in Italy the weekend before, so we were well briefed on current AIAT activities. My wife Lynnie and I, along with Sarah and Richard Dance travelled to Florida in early February and delivered a couple of classroom seminars with a live practical critique to potential competitors and judges.

The seminars proved an invaluable resource as the presentation showed the history, reasoning, purpose and level of interest and success throughout Europe. The delegates were transfixed with both Sarah’s and my delivery ably supported with Davids encyclopedic knowledge of carriage driving. It was rewarding to hear delegates comments of astonishment, aspiration and intention! Many didn’t realise this type of interest was happening in Europe, many were amazed at the high standards in Europe and many were inspired to seek ‘new’ antique vehicles to embrace the CIAT competitions.

The Saturday set up day saw the potential judges and Technical Delegates ‘roll up their sleeves’ and help build the routier and difficulties. This was a good learning experience with many questions and answers being discussed. ‘Assumption’ was clearly a problem but easily resolved with a reference back to the simple rules. “If it isn’t written down, it’s not a rule!”

With Sarah’s experience commentating at the previous weekend’s FEI Driving World Cup final in France, she created an encouraging and gently flowing maniabilité (cones) course, adapted to the regulations and practicalities of a CIAT event and American buggies with restrictive quarter lock steering. Again, many CDE presumptions were discussed but reference was made back to AIAT regulations which weren’t as onerous as FEI and CDE regulations.

The Sunday Attelage de Tradition competition attracted 10 competitors, with a mixed field of traditional and modern vehicles. Sarah, with newly appointed AIAT judge Tom Burgess, manned two separate judging points chaperoned by the candidate judges. It was good to see that the competitors had embraced the previous teaching seminar and made refinements to their turnouts. The standards were encouraging with modern vehicle owners muting their desire to improve their chances next time with antique vehicles. The after event ‘wash up’ meeting proved a valuable exercise comparing results and opinions with the candidate judges and CAA director Jill Ryder. The information learnt will bodes well for the future of AIAT USA.