Let’s face it, our horses are brilliant! We have such a lovely team of well trained, patient horses in a variety of colours. It takes years to get horses this good.
Carriages on the other hand, can sit in the shed for years, untouched and get pulled out for special occasions. This has resulted in the obvious question, ‘Can I use your horse to pull my carriage?’ The answer to this is ‘yes and no’. My horse can pull your carriage, BUT I will be driving it.
There is always a fair bit of research that goes into stepping outside of my comfort zone like that, we will look closely at the carriage, suss out a bit of its history and then make a judgement call on whether it is in the best interests to proceed. Then of course we select the most suitable horse to use. If possible we will arrange for a practice run, in order to familiarise the horse, and myself with the carriage.
As much as it looks like I’m just sitting holding the reins, there are lots of variables in play while driving.
On one particular job recently we had a near disaster while using someone else’s carriage. We had pulled this carriage before, and all went smoothly. This is a genuine old carriage, over 100 years old, but it has been stored correctly, used throughout this time, and had maintenance done when required. There was no reason to think there would be any problem.
This job was at a different location to the other one we’d done, with a few more hills to go up (I may have mentioned in other blogs, I don’t like hills).
Anyway, the job was to hitch up, travel one way, collect passenger then head back to starting point. A total round trip of approximately 500 meters.
Another problem we can encounter is different attachment points for the end of the traces (the bits that attach the harness to the carriage). Some have slots, some have buckles, some have rings. The carriages also have an array of options.
The traces I was using for one of the horses, were a ring, whereas a slot is what was required on this carriage. I connected the horses thinking I had made appropriate compensation for the variance, and asked the horses to walk on. Started heading up the first hill, and the traces came off. No problem, foot on brake, jump off, reconnect and secure more thoroughly.
This time as I walked the horses on, the drawbar of the carriage simply disintegrated! Pulled totally to part, leaving the swingle bar hanging behind one horse, and the other horse doing all of the work pulling this carriage up the hill. Reluctant to start on a hill, I made them walk on until we got to level ground.
On closer inspection, we weren’t really sure how we could continue. There was a lot of importance in completing this job however, so having a bit of a Macgyver moment, we improvised.
The carriage owner ran back to get some rope. My husband and I discussed the best way to use it. We came up with tying the centre of each swingle bar back to the base of the pole, using the remaining bit of draw bar, really just to hold it up.
The pull on the traces would then transfer to the rope, meaning the swingles bars may not swing, but that there would be even pull across all four traces.
With tape we stuck all of the shattered timber into position, and I nervously climbed into the drivers seat to test the improvisation. The horses, who had been standing like statues the entire time, stepped off as asked and we carried on.
There were more hills to navigate, and 3 corners, but miraculously, to drive, you would never know there was a problem. We stood and waited for our passenger, while my husband made a couple of adjustments to our improvisations.
Our passenger loaded, we nervously started on the return journey, fortunately mostly downhill. The brakes on this carriage aren’t the best, but they work enough.
Traffic was amazingly courteous on this journey, meaning we didn’t need to stop and start, taking the jolting pressure off of the rope. We made it back to the start point, passenger unloaded.
Client happy and relieved that we still managed to pull it off, horses as wonderful as ever, another feather in the cap for us!