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The Carriage Commentator




In the second part of her examination of what resources are available for carriage drivers, Minta lists some classic titles, DVDs, and other options which can help the enthusiast - March 2024

An image taken from Sallie Walrond's classic book 'Breaking a Horse to Harness'

Education a key part of learning about horsemanship and driving, and this should include the practical as well as the theoretical.  As previously discussed, there are plenty of resources which help to deepen that knowledge and understanding, and if you are thinking of putting together a collection of books, here are a few suggestions.

Going back in time, there were some great tomes such as Fairman Rogers’ Manual Of Coaching, Francis T Underhill’s Driving Horse Drawn Carriages for Pleasure, The Duke of Beaufort’s Badminton Library’s Driving and Capt. C Morley Knight’s Hints on Driving, which is great book used by a lot of us in the early 70’s.  Hugh McCausland’s The English Carriage and Old Sporting are slim books whose contents are easy to absorb while being packed with gems.  These are classic, illustrated guides to coaching, driving, harnessing and stabling, and although of their time, they certainly have plenty of guidelines that are still very useful.  Equally, they give the reader some history, a sense of tradition and reinforce how important the horse and carriage once were to British life.

In living memory, another classic is by prolific author Tom Ryder, The Road and the Ring, which documents the driving and coaching adventures of the renowned lady whip Sylvia Brocklebank (a relation to our very own Sarah Dance) and it is a charming account of a bygone era.  Tom also wrote another ‘bible’, On the Box Seat, and his titles remain available from the Carriage Association of America, which is still run by his daughter Jill Ryder.  Tom’s regular columns ‘Memories… Mostly Horsey’ in the CAA Journal are also packed with pearls of wisdom.

Founders of the British Driving Society, Sandy & Marylin Watney also added some important titles to the lexicon of books, such as The Elegant Carriage.   Max Pape’s The Art of Driving was pivotal to the start of one of driving’s most illustrious careers, that of the late HRH Duke of Edinburgh, who himself penned some entertaining books which are still available.  In them his voice rings clear, not least when he is being self-depreciating about his results, but they are important accounts of the early days of FEI and competition carriage driving.  Equally, other founding fathers of the modern sport, Tom Coombs and John Cowdery, authored books which although talking about the format of the day, such as presentation and five phase marathons, have enough timeless information to remain valuable resources. 

In the 1970’s with the resurgence of driving and growth of those involved, a slightly more modernised approach was taken and the great Sallie Walrond set about writing some of the best books which are still in print.  She wrote from her own experience of breaking, teaching and training in her clear no-nonsense way, and she drew on the wisdom of her mentors, such as Bert Barley and Sanders Watney.  Sallie has written prolifically in a way that not only upheld the standards of traditional driving but also opened the door to the start of some more modern pursuits.  Many of us cannot be without the Encyclopaedia of Carriage Driving or Looking at Carriages, and her excellent Breaking a Horse to Harness will not be bettered.  So many of us have used this super educational and hands on approach to successfully training their horse or pony, while clutching the book and referring to her well-illustrated stages of progress.

Another of Sallie’s book that could do with being read more is her guideline on judging a driving class.  It’s an essential refresher for even the most seasoned of judges and she talks about how to manage a class, the differences between the types of turnouts, the importance of the class wording and personal turnout and conduct. These books really set the ball rolling for the new generation of drivers, judges and officials joining the sport and undoubtedly there are many well-thumbed copies sitting on shelves around the world.  Sallie’s prolific writing encouraged others to dip their toe and so there were many more books that were either reprinted or broken down into subjects.  New authors stepped up and wrote about their area, such as carriages, harness-making, schooling, the highway code and welfare of the animals, all before the explosion of the internet.

Still as in demand as ever are Jane MacInnes’ films which demonstrate the practical side of harnessing up, putting to and driving safely.  Companies such as Bennington and Hartland Carriages include ‘Between the Shafts’ as part of their starter packs for those new to driving, and the CAA is one of the biggest sellers to the American market.  Being live and visual is such a clear way of sharing the message and it’s surely a must for all drivers.  For those who mutter (unbelievably) that the content is not relevant to modern vehicles and ways are completely out of touch.  The process is the same as it has always been and Jane’s extensive experience as an assessor, trainer and competitor will never go out of date.  Perhaps there are more options nowadays in terms of some of the straps or shaft shapes, but for the basics, it can’t be beaten.  Once the viewer has mastered that, then they can strive to gain knowledge of how their chosen equipment works, such as telegraph, looped shafts or quick release breeching straps.  The method and process is tried and tested, and as relevant today as was 20 years ago.

In the 1980s, the British Driving Society was forward thinking and produced many pamphlets on all sorts of areas of driving, as well as some excellent certification pathways that really encouraged people to research and gain fundamental knowledge. Hopefully, we will see these standards maintained and the thirst for knowledge for both traditional and modern pursuits catered for by the society, which still offers a good starting point for drivers with their assessments and tests.

Don’t forget the resource magazines such as Heavy Horse and Driving which became Carriage Driving and we all mourned the demise of this institution which was published for the last time recently.  In its day, under the guidance of the great Richard James, it was a bible for all drivers.  Richard brought all his experience as a prolific driver, judge, technical delegate and show organiser to the publication and we salute what he has done for driving in the 20th/21st centuries.  At its height, the magazine was monthly and had the vision to cover all aspects of driving as well as supporting the publication of books such as my own and Sally Taylor’s Learn to Carriage Drive, and Progressive Carriage Driving by Sally and Sara Howe.

Nowadays printing and reprinting, self-publishing and creating videos for the internet mean that lots of resources are readily available, although the quality of the content can vary.  Another great way of imparting and sharing information or provoking discussion is via video meetings, now just known as ‘Zooms’.   Jill Ryder has been doing it for some time for CAA members with her ‘Tea and Tales’ or ‘Thursday Learning Sessions’ and recently British Carriagedriving has joined in with their latest session which had vet Rosie Mould talk about prepping your horse for the competition season, with over 100 participants. 

And not forgetting this, our own Carriage Commentator which is wholly internet based.  Someone described it this week as ‘Wikipedia for Carriage Driving’ which we were delighted with!  Our original ethos was to cover ALL driving pursuits as well as provide interactive learning tools, which after five years, we have managed to do.  There are the very popular podcasts and short videos, which are often the first place our members go to when logging on. 

There are many ways of learning, teaching, sharing and absorbing information.  Education and knowledge provide a platform to set off from, develop and improve.  In driving, we have many ways of making ourselves better informed and some of them are very old fashioned, and others, like The CC, are quite modern.

The latest edition of The Carriage Journal