Fancy a bit of carriage driving?
And just like that it's 2023. Have you already discarded your new year's resolutions? Thinking of taking up a new hobby? Or just trying something new for a change?
I know I'm keen to expand my horse-riding horizons beyond hacking and the odd attempt to do something a little bit more adventurous. There is one thing I haven't tried yet and whilst it intrigues me, to tell the truth, it's doubtful I will ever actually try it because quite frankly the thought of it scares me!
Now, what on earth can be scarier than sitting on a large creature with a mind of its own? Well, how about sitting behind one on a carriage and trying to control it from the end of a very long pair of reins?… Maximum respect to all carriage drivers out there!
The stable yard I frequent started life as a carriage driving centre, and there's something just so majestic about seeing someone aloft their carriage, being pulled along by their trusty steed(s). Multiply that into a team of eight large, stunning Clydesdale horses - as per a rather well-known brewery company - and the result is something jaw-droppingly spectacular.
Carriage driving as a sport and pastime has been popular for centuries with evidence of it dating back to ancient civilizations such as Egypt and Greece. The first versions of carriages would have been what we know as chariots.
The chariot was a fast, light, open, two-wheeled cart drawn by two or more horses that were hitched side by side, and was basically just a floor with a waist-high guard at the front and sides. They were initially used for ancient warfare during the Bronze and Iron Ages, then eventually for travel, processions, games and races, evolving into the carriages we are familiar with today.
Of course, if we're talking about horse-drawn chariots then we can't possibly miss out the Romans. Here's a little bit of history for you; Romans called them "carpentum," and they were used for transportation and as a status symbol. The carpentum was a two-wheeled vehicle typically pulled by a team of horses. It was used by high-ranking officials and wealthy citizens for travel within the city and for travel to and from the countryside. It was also used in ceremonies and parades, as well as for the transportation of goods. They were also used for some rather dubious entertainment purposes in wild chariot races but let's not dwell on that. Some were fitted with a folding hood to protect their passengers from the sun or rain.
Apparently, the Roman carriages were not as refined as those which were also being used by now by the wealthy in Greece, or Egypt.
Fast forward a few centuries and we find horse-drawn carriages being used for transporting people, goods and also for advertising when many companies used them to deliver their products. The aforementioned iconic Clydesdales started being used for advertising campaigns for their famous brand in the 1930s. I do love a Clydesdale horse. At one point in time, I looked after one. I can vouch for their strength. Just ask me about the time he took off with me through a forest. It was like trying to pull up a locomotive. The only reason I didn't fall off going around the many bends was his sheer size – thankfully there was a lot to sit on! I digress …
Horse carriage driving is a beautiful and historic tradition that dates back centuries. The sight of a horse-drawn carriage on a city street is something to behold. The driver makes it look easy – but for those of us who know the slightest thing about horses – we know it's a lot of work!
I'm writing this in the UK. We Brits love a bit of pomp and ceremony that includes horses and carriages. However, I have to admit to a guilty pleasure of watching any televised processions to spot that one horse that decides to have its moment during the proceedings. Guaranteed there's always one! I remember clearly one procession about 4 years ago with a grey horse right at the front, in front of the main carriage. Well, he decided to be THE star of the show that day. I swear the rider must still be saddle-sore. Why walk when you can prance? Then, you can go sideways instead of straight on, and almost take out a standing policeman on guard along the way with your hindquarters - were clearly the thoughts of this pony. I felt for the carriage driver immediately behind! I truly take my hat off to them in these sorts of situations. How on earth they keep control of the horses and their own composure has me in utter awe.
So, here's to all the carriage drivers out there! Whilst we don't offer actual carriages here at Blackjack Saddles – we do have a selection of driving bits and harnesses. Just search for "driving" in our search bar to see a whole array of items. Plus of course, we have plenty of clothing, hats, saddles, gloves etc. etc. As ever, shout if you need any help.