I was recently the lucky
winner of a half day carriage driving course in a competition run jointly by
Stephanie Dale of Learn to Carriage Drive.co.uk and Carriage Driving magazine.
This was an amazing experience and I was very glad that I had bought the rest
of the weekend to consolidate and deepen my learning.
Stephanie’s yard is
situated in the beautiful scenery of the Cotswolds, a short drive from the
ancient Roman Fosse Way, which is an ideal location for carriage driving.
introduced me to her five friendly, well trained cobs and I could see
immediately that she had a strong rapport with each horse and understood their
individual needs and strengths.
Stephanie is a proponent
of natural horsemanship which entails developing mutual respect and sensitive
communication between horse and human. This approach has resulted in horses who
are willing and responsive to work with and very pleasant company when at rest.
Over the course of the weekend I had the opportunity to handle each horse in
different ways from ‘join up’ and grooming to harnessing and driving.
Stephanie teaches the
traditional English Coachman method of carriage driving as recommended by the
British Driving Society. She used a selection of exercises to familiarise me
with the technique before getting me to try this out with a real horse and
carriage in a field. Roger, her patient Clydesdale Cross, responded to the
smallest aid and soon let me know when I was sending him the wrong way.
Stephanie is a very
thorough and professional trainer and tailors her training to the interests and
ability of her students. We covered health and safety, communication by voice,
body language and rein handling and preparation of the equipment and the horse.
We went out on long drives down the Fosse Way and then drove along quiet
country lanes through beautiful stone built Cotswold villages. This was a
timeless experience connecting me to the countryside and the horse in a new and
very satisfying way.
Stephanie encouraged me to
do most of the driving but kept a very close eye on what I was doing and
intervened whenever necessary.
I also tried ‘back stepping’ ~ acting as a
counterweight by standing on the back of the carriage and leaning from side to
side to balance the carriage. This was another new sensation and I can imagine
how exhilarating this could be in competitions.
I was a complete novice on
Saturday morning but by Sunday evening I had learned the basics of an exciting
and very rewarding sport. This has been a weekend to remember and I cannot
recommend Stephanie and her wonderful horses highly enough.
Stephanie and Issy with Gigi at Barbury Castle, Wiltshire, Sponsored Drive
Heather from Lincolnshire came for carriage driving training in the English coaching method in order to take the Road Driving (safety) Test. Here is a copy of her e-mail following her test:
Just to let you know I managed to PASS my road driving test last weekend.....in fact the examiner wrote a comment at the end, very competently driven and well presented..!!!!!
I must to say a lot of what you taught me must have stuck, as I did feel very at ease doing all the harnessing up and adjustments, and explaining why things worked the way they did. As for the test drive itself all went well and nothing seemed to go very wrong, and I remembered to do all the hand signals correctly, AND keep a look out behind!!!!!
I had been driving almost every day the previous week, (coachman style of course, which is now almost instinctive), mostly my own pony but also out on the roads a couple of times with the pony I used for the test. It was a lot of hard work but I really enjoyed the test day, and THANKS to your teaching I am a lot more knowledgable about everything, and even managed to help a few others who were unsure too.
I will keep driving the way you taught me, and hope to have improved a lot more by the end of the summer. Even my 'team of helpers' said how different I seemed to be now with a lot more confidence, so again a big thank you for all you help and advice.