I think the scariest thing about what we do with our horses and carriages, is doing something for the first time. Years of training, working towards a certain picture, is all put to the test in how the horse responds to a new environment or situation.
Our young Clydesdales have been working towards commercial work for a number of years. They have been very obliging and always very calm. Having recently graduated to wine tours, you could say they were nearly ready. But then there are weddings. By nature weddings are a high stress, anxious environment! And the pressure!! What if the horse misbehaves, or carries on like a pork chop. The last thing we want is to take the attention off of the bride or proceedings. We want to arrive gracefully and proudly but then blend in. That could be a very tricky thing for a young horse who doesn’t understand the ‘wedding feel’.
When a good friend (who happens to be be heavily involved with the Clydesdale association and showing Clydesdales for many years) asked me to use Angus and Henry, to pull his magnificent carriage for his sons wedding, I was initially thrilled! Then the doubts started to creep in. This carriage is significantly larger than anything they had pulled before. It would require collars instead of their usual breastplates- not to mention collars and leather harness is a complete different feeling for the horses.
My friends (Russell and Kerry-Anne) were acutely aware of my boys level of training. They have seen them regularly throughout their journey. They were also Guinea pigs for us in one of our practice wine tours. The fact they were prepared to trust my boys with their harness, carriage (and not to mention their future daughter-in-law) was very reassuring. Sometimes I think, even if you doubt your own abilities, a push from a trusted friend can go along way in helping progress along the journey.
We had a training run, using collars and the big carriage in Langhorne Creek- familiar territory, where the boys have been many times before. Not only was it a new experience for them, it was for me also. I had never driven such a large vehicle. It was very smooth, but very noisy. The wheels are wooden with steel bands, whereas our carriages all have steel wheels with vulcanised rubber. We trundled along the main road in Langhorne creek, making a magnificent rumble. Henry and Angus proudly marched along, particularly Henry seemed very happy pulling such a large load.
The big day arrived, the weather was ideal! We packed the car with clothes, top hats and boots, then I set about washing horses! Each horse takes about an hour and a half to wash to wedding standard, and wow do my arms know about it by the time I’m finished! On arrival at the wedding location, there was more cleaning and preparations and through all this my beautiful clydies stood patiently and took it all in. The carriage and harness had already been delivered to the set up point. We went for a bit of a walk to familiarise them with the location, and make sure they wouldn’t freak out at the golf carts, then returned to the float to plait them up.
I honestly have no idea how to do a Clydesdale mane roll! Fortunately another friend was on hand to help with this and Katrina set about presenting them beautifully, plaiting wool into their mane, then decorating with roses. I keep telling myself I’m going to learn how to do it at some stage. We harnessed up, adjusting the harness as we went, as they hadn’t worn this harness before. Then the final touches of the ‘housen’. Honestly that was the icing on the cake for me, you know those frilly decorative bits that sit at the top of the collars on the brewery horses? Those things. They really just complete the picture, of my baby horses all grown up!!
The challenge with using someone else’s gear and equipment, is there is always something that you can’t figure out. For us it was the traces. I knew they were too long, but couldn’t work out how to shorten them. Fortunately Russell came up to check on proceedings, and fixed it for us. (Maybe he was feeling a bit nervous too).
The bride and bridal party arrived, and we set off, I don’t think I have ever been more proud in my life! Angus and Henry knew they had an important job to do, and they did it proudly. I did have 2 handlers ready in case of ‘scary things’ which proved helpful, when some rubber mats were covering an extension cord, which hadn’t been there on our familiarisation walk, but after a bit of reassurance they continued on. We were at the drop off point, the bridal party and bride disembarked, and we were all blown away, when she sang her way down the aisle. Henry and Angus stood perfectly and waited. The ceremony concluded, we turned around. Family photos nearby, guests wandering up to pat and talk. Children running up to see them, people coming and going. Angus and Henry stood and waited.
Finally the newly married couple, and their large bridal party came and climbed on the carriage. The return journey was slightly up hill, so they were warned that if the boys were struggling to make it up the hill, I would be kicking people out. I didn’t need to worry. We stopped for a photo, then commenced the hill and Henry found a new gear! The power in that horse is incredible. He was pulling, like he was born to do. Angus was happy to let Henry do the heavy work, but the eagerness and enthusiasm shown through Henry’s whole body was just something to be admired.
It has been a long journey to get these horses to the point they are now. I have learnt so much along the way. Sometimes it is easy to say no to scary things for fear of messing them up, but without a doubt the only way to overcome that fear, is to tackle it head on. The first time is always going to be scary, but with out the first time, you will never make it to the 10th or the 20th. The old adage is true- Practice makes perfect.
To Russell, Kerry-Anne, Kristian and Nanhi- thank you for trusting me with such an important role, on such a special day. It was a privilege and an honour.