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So you’re thinking about driving a horse and buggy?

By PATRICIA DEMERS - Horsetrader columnist - May 15th, 2014 - Special Section

So what does driving mean to you? Is driving a romantic idea of times past, recreating a simpler lifetime when time and speeds were slower-paced, before the combustion engine?

The allure might stem from the old west — cowboys, Indians, covered wagons with buckboards driving into town — or perhaps from carriages seen in the background of almost any time-period movie.

Many people are interested in driving a horse and buggy. Are you one of them? After all, the horse-drawn vehicle came before the car!

What is driving, exactly? It’s the act of controlling an equine that is hooked to an implement or a rolling vehicle like a cart, carriage or wagon, and there are a few different types: working or farming type, harness racing, and pleasure or carriage type. In my Horsetrader column, I’m going to focus on carriage and work types of driving.

Work, city, or farming-type of driving is based on the types of vehicles and implements used in agriculture, everyday living and the transportation of goods. This includes delivery wagons like the Budweiser Clydesdales, a delivery wagon once seen in everyday city life. Like modern delivery vans and semi trucks, they came in various sizes and were pulled by a pair of heavy or draft-type horse, like Percherons, Clydesdales, Shires and Belgians. The harnesses used were heavy duty with large collars to allow the horses to pull the heavy vehicles.

Farm horses used similar harnesses when pulling farm implements like plows, harvesters, cultivators, seeders, and hay wagons. Both of these types of “work” and “city” type driving was done at a good, working walk, or a slow trot. Draft horses are not meant to move beyond a working trot, but provide a lot of torque or power to move those goods.

Today, you can find representations of this bygone era at horse shows featuring draft horse classes. These classes are broken down into breed type, hitch and vehicle type, which means the number of horses hitched together, and the type of vehicle they are hooked to. Also judged is the skill of the driver to drive these hitches. Classes are broken down by gender: gentleman or lady, or junior (those under 18 years old).

You can also find these horses in many cities around tourist areas. This type of driving is called “commercial,” and is a sightseeing, taxi-type ride. These types of rides may be in a more formal type carriage called a “vis a vis,” or possibly a “people mover omnibus,”, or maybe a wagonette-type where passengers ride on upholstered benches, facing each other along the sides of the wagon.

Carriage and recreational-type of driving represents what the private citizen would have driven. It was no different then. There were ponies put to small carts for children and adults; there were slow horses and fast horses. Vehicles were small, medium, and large, depending upon the amount of seats needed to move your family and friends. It’s no different today from our desire to have compact, sedans, station wagons, SUV’s, luxury cars, sports car models, convertibles and hardtops! Even the names and terms of some of our modern cars come from carriage names: cabriolet, landau, phaeton, station wagon, sedan, coupe, touring vehicle etc. Carriages came in all types and sizes and prices, and they were easy to find — they could be bought from Sears and Roebuck’s in a crate, ready to assemble for under $30, to everyday vehicles for town and country, to luxury models which could easily cost an average working man’s annual salary!

Many of these original vehicles and reproductions of these vehicles — carts and carriages and wagons — are still available today. So, if you desire to pursue driving, all sorts of opportunities exist.

In today’s modern world there is still room and opportunities for carriage driving, and everyone from the young to “vintage” adults can drive. Driving is especially desirable for those with physical disabilities that may preclude them from riding, but not from having a good horse experience. You don’t need a “big” horse, either. Many adults even drive with miniature horses and small ponies.

Once you’ve settled on a type of driving you are interested in, you need to get all the equipment and equines together and take some lessons. Keep an eye on this column as we drive down this path together.

Patricia Demers is a trainer based in Lancaster, Calif., who specializes in carriage driving. You can submit questions or reach Trish at driving@horsetrader.com.

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