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    History of carriage turnout: the WOW factor

    By Patricia M. Demers / Horsetrader columnist - May 19th, 2016 - About Driving

    About DrivingPrivate carriages have been around for hundreds of years. In the beginning, they were status symbols of the times, as only the very wealthy could afford them.  The whole “turnout” was reflective of status and wealth. From the horses, their harness, the footmen and their  livery or special clothes  to the vehicle itself, it all made an impression to the average person, as if to say, “Look at ME, I’m SPECIAL!”

    So what does this have to do with modern driving? It’s all about the history and traditions of the past!

    A definition of turnout might be this: Harmony of detail, quietness of color and ornamentation, appropriateness of vehicle and equipment — competent for the purpose intended. Most aspects of a turnout that are not purely practical are influenced by fashion, convention, and tradition. A fashion can be fleeting, but if it sticks around long enough, it becomes convention. A fashion is a whim that is introduced by a notable person and copied by others. A fashion that lasts more than 10 years usually has a practical side and becomes a convention, which then after a long number of years (decades) becomes tradition, and is thus hallowed and zealously preserved.

    This is all well and good, but WHO was the person (or persons) who decided WHAT we use — and WHY?

    It’s an interesting history that originated in Europe. In status-conscious societies, carriages were a symbol of wealth, rank and privilege. In the United States, the newly rich American “royals” (Astors, Vanderbilts, Duponts, etc.) copied the royals of Europe and brought the traditions here in the mid- to late 1800’s.

    A very brief history
    It was an industry called “jobbers” who supplied everything a person or business would need for transportation, from common freighting to the royals’ needs. They supplied everything at a price, itemized — from the “turnout” to shoeing, vet and feed. Think of these guys as the retail, rental, and used car salesmen of their era — one stop shopping! At the end of the year, they would have clearance sales of everything used in order to make way for the next year’s trends and “fashions.” As a result, this equipment trickled down from the status conscious to the middle class, to the cabbies, to country folk. From the color and type of the vehicles to the shape of blinders and the metal of buckles. The rising middle class copied the wealthy. The wealthy didn’t want to look like the middle class, so they were compelled to constantly change — until they motorized.

    A lot of this wonderful equipage ended up in dusty barns, later rediscovered by following generations interested in the past history of driving, from humble country vehicles to private coaches. The Amish were commissioned to copy the old and rotting harnesses. They standardized them and offered them in their catalogues. Most drivers purchase the harness they can afford versus one that would be truly appropriate. The various disciplines (breed type — Saddlebred, Hackney Pony, Miniature, Draft, Mules etc.; pleasure driving — western, etc.) all use their own types of vehicles and harness based upon history and practicality.

    Things to remember: when you show
    All metal buckles should be matching — brass or “white” metal (stainless, nickel). The harness should be in good condition, clean, fit properly and be appropriate for the style of vehicle. Bridles should fit snugly to prevent catching on the vehicle or other pieces of harness. A throatlatch and a noseband or cavesson are required for pleasure driving.

    Black harness is considered appropriate with painted vehicles or a natural wood vehicle with iron parts painted any color except brown. Dash, fender, shaft and pole trimmings should match the harness.

    Russet harness is considered appropriate with natural wood vehicle with brown or black iron, or a painted vehicle with natural wood panels in any color iron, or a vehicle that is painted brown with brown iron. Dash, fenders, shaft and pole trimmings should match the harness.
    There are many publications available as well as the ADS rule book that explain proper turnout. http://www.americandrivingsociety.org/. See the section on coaching and appointments.

    Preparing your turnout to show:
    A few days beforehand, you will need to clean and polish your harness. This includes taking it completely apart. You can take the opportunity to re-dye any worn and faded spots, oil all dried leather and re-nurture it. Lastly, you’ll need to polish all metal buckles and hardware. Set time aside, as this will take a while. A sure way to lose points in a class is to have a poorly cleaned or dirty harness with unpolished and tarnished metal work.

    Many competitors have chosen to use “white” like nickel and stainless steel because it doesn’t need polishing.

    However, a really nice and shiny harness with brass fittings, glinting in the sun, can hardly be beaten! It shows the judge that you a serious about being turned out proper!

    If you are inexperienced at showing, ask an experienced friend or trainer to help. Clip and groom your equine to breed standards, or at a minimum clip bridle paths, whiskers, beards, and lower legs, and the outer edges of the ears, for that nice neat appearance. Sand the hooves in preparation for hoof polish at the show. The first couple of shows you go to can seem like a huge task, but the better prepared you are, the less stress you’ll have at the show. Being organized can make or break a good show.

    Take time to plan on how you are going to transport your carriage and secure it. Secure seat cushions so they don’t blow off.

    I’ve forgotten numerous things in my haste including my show clothes, harness parts, carriage parts, and even once, I pulled out without the horse! Have that long list handy and check things off as you load and pack. Being prepared will keep the stress level to a minimum so you can enjoy yourself and your equine. Good luck, have fun, drive safely and smartly!

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