The CAA Carriage Showcase was hosted in Duchess County from June 10 to June 12th. It was a magical celebration of tradition that has been passed down for generations and still thriving today.
As you approach the Wethersfield Estate, it’s hard to miss the painters tucked away in the vast green landscape. As you look closer, you notice their mini canvases delicately perched on easels, with what looks like impressionist art mimicking the likes of Monet. In an attempt at capturing the different angles of light hitting the rolling hills, these artists produce wonderful works of art inspired by their surroundings.
Much like these artists, fully immersed in nature and preserving this unique style of painting, the art of Carriage Driving is this community’s way of doing just that. Acknowledging that Milbrook’s history (the site of Carriage Driving) is rooted in horses and the horsemanship that goes with it. It’s about celebrating a moment in history where this sport comes from. It’s something powerful and is graciously recognized through the Sporting Day of Traditional Driving, year after year.
Dating back to the 19th century, most people were familiar with the style and skill of carriage driving. During this time period, horseback riding was growing in popularity too but required more specialized skills, thus making carriage driving the preferred means of transportation. Not only was this a way of getting from Point A to B, but also a social institution. A Sunday drive to visit relatives, a visit to the races, or a lady driving to a luncheon – all part of a simpler, gentler way of life than what we are used to today. But just for a weekend, we are taken back to that historic moment in our past, to experience that Sunday drive feeling.
The Sporting Day focuses on traditional driving and includes three phases: A Turnout Inspection, a Country Drive, and the Cones Course.
The Cones Course was a chance for the driver, their carriage, and the talented horses to show off their trot. Despite all carriages being accepted, antique vehicles or traditional reproductions of the same were encouraged. And boy, did the contestants understand the assignment. From Wicker Carriages made for the country drawn by spotted ponies to drivers dressed in elaborate outfits inspired by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth The Second, the Sporting Day phases were a spectacle not to be missed. As a mark to commence the Cones Course, each driver had to salute the judge and make their way through the obstacle. A small gesture that offered a glimpse into a tradition dating back to when Prince Philip was racing.
Carriage driving as a competitive sport dates back to Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh. Shortly after his retirement from competitive polo in 1971, he worked hard in adding structure to the loosely structured idea of carriage racing. As a result, Prince Philip became a high-profile participant in this sport, and many in attendance at Wethersfield either were the Prince’s driving coach (The events judge) or participated in racing alongside the Duke.
The purpose of the Carriage Showcase is to highlight the importance of carriage restoration and conservation, further continuing the importance and value of the art turned into a sport. Certain traditions, such as driving the horse on the right rather than on the left, proved to be an element upheld through the years despite the geographic norms. This transported you to a different era, a time where Royalty and wealth were enjoyed in Carriage Driving.
Observing the way the horses moved around the cones, against a backdrop of a 1,000 acres of estate, is a living expression of everything that its founder, Mr. Stillman cherished and believed in. He was an accomplished equestrian with a passion for nature, beauty, and proper stewardship of the land. This essence was so apparent and wonderfully frozen in time allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the traditions unfolding around you.
An honorary mention to Mrs. Tober, the most gracious and kind host with who I had the privilege of not only sharing a table at dinner but who welcomed me into her beautiful farm, the legendary, YellowFrame Farm with open arms. Her team showed me around the lovely estate, where I got to see ducks, pigs, foxes, deers, and other animals that called the farm home. It was the perfect place to kick back, relax and take in the wonderful landscape, in-between the festivities taking place at Wethersfield.
This community is passionate about their horses, believes in intangible qualities of good sportsmanship, and is eager to teach others about the magical world of Carriage Driving.