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The Carriage Commentator




With her customary honesty, Sallie recounts an eventful season on the driving trials circuit with Raz, both winning and tipping up - September 2021

Sallie & Raz at Sandringham with June Hales as groom

In the early 1980s, there was some talk about a driving society being formed in New Zealand and there was a possibility that I might be invited to go there to teach. There was apparently considerable interest in driving trials. I decided that I had better brush up my knowledge from a competitor’s point of view. I had competed a few times with the tandem and judged consistently for years but had not competed with a single.

So, in 1982 accompanied by a friend, June, we went to Windsor Park club events. On two occasions we won the dressage but got lost on the marathon. I have absolutely no sense of direction. At one event, we had recced the marathon in the Land Rover, as was allowed in those days, and written that in one hazard ‘A’ was difficult to see. That was not much help when we arrived at said hazard. I was reaching the exit and still had not found ‘A’, then I saw a red flag and went round it and on through B, C, D and E.  June queried my decision, but I was sure that I had gone through ‘A’.  We had twenty penalties in hand from our nearest rival after the dressage, so were in with a good chance of winning.

I can’t remember his name, but I will call him Bob, and he later told us that he had broken a trace and the rubber had come out of one of his wheels. We drove a clear cones and really thought that we had probably won. We were sitting on the trailer ramp, drinking tea before packing up to go home, when Bob came up to us and said, ‘What happened to you? I see you got the big E (elimination)?’ He had won. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. We had, apparently, turned round the red flag into ‘A’ for teams and tandems, not for singles and pairs. I learned a lot more from losing that competition than I would have done from winning, so it was a good thing. We had our consolation at the end of that season by winning the Windsor Park club championship.

We decided to try, in 1983, to qualify for the driving trials national championships and entered for Brighton trials which were the very first qualifying event. We were very fortunate to win, in spite of Raz having to pull my very heavy Harewood Gig round the course. I bought a lighter vehicle, known as a John Willie cart, which had metal wheels and shafts but virtually no suspension. It was hard on our backs but much better for Raz. We took the gig for dressage and cones and the John Willie for cross country. Transporting both vehicles in the back of the Land Rover was a challenge but was made possible by taking the shafts off the John Willie and squeezing its wheels between those of the Gig, which we padded to prevent damage to paint.

We went to the Sandringham trials for practise before the Nationals and managed to end in 3rd place. Training continued to keep Raz fit, and we went to the Nationals full of hope. We were in 3rd place after the presentation (which was judged separately in those days) and dressage. We had recced the marathon and made copious notes about timing and hazards so set off full of confidence that we would not get lost or miss out any flags. As we cantered out of the second hazard, I hit a pothole and we capsized. June landed on her feet, and I hung on to the reins but let go when I was run over by a wheel.  Raz happily cantered away across Smith’s Lawn. She was not frightened or kicking and I shouted, ‘Raz walk.’

Amazingly she turned in an arc and came down to a trot towards me. Someone grabbed a rein and she stood quite quietly as if nothing was amiss. People started to undo the harness but I shouted to them to put the cart back up as I was going to continue. Others gathered my spares which were littered over the grass and someone brought my whip back to me. They had found it on the exit flag confirming that this had all happened in the hazard resulting in a huge number of penalties.

Anyhow we set off again and noted that both stopwatches had zeroed.  When we approached the ‘driver frightening’ sandpit hazard June said that according to her watch, and our list of timings, we were only two minutes late. Raz slid down the steep slope negotiated the terrifying concrete bollards at the bottom before cantering up the outward slope. It was a relief to go through the finish still all in one piece, with the harness holding together, in spite of the shaft being lodged under the trace.

After the marathon it was not long before an announcement came that the cones course was ready to be walked and that we had two minutes to do that. I was feeling very sore, with what turned out to be a broken rib, and walked painfully round the course. Luckily no one knew that we had turned over because if anyone had come up and sympathised, I would have burst into tears. It was lucky that we had the Gig for the cones because the John Willie was distinctly bent. We drove a clear cones. I later discovered that we had only lost one minute and 36 seconds on the marathon and amazingly we ended up in 6th overall in a strong class. I now had plenty with which to help the New Zealanders, if asked.

Sallie, June & Raz at the National Championships with the shaft inside the trace