Topic: Carriage Expert Shares Skills

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THERE’S definitely more then meets the eye to Thames bed and breakfast owner, novelist and awardwinning carriage driver Vicky English. Her story appeared in the Hauraki Herald on 5 July 2011.

Although now retired from the sport, the American-born woman has driven, judged, competed in and won countless carriage driving competitions in the United States and New Zealand.

Carriage driving is the oldest competitive equestrian sport in the world, consisting of drivers – as opposed to riders – who sit on a carriage drawn by a single horse, a pair, or a team of four and compete in a variety of events. Mrs English’s event of choice was Combined Driving. Combined Driving consists of three separate phases – dressage, marathon and cones – completed over three days of competition and is similar to the riding sport of eventing. Each phase is designed to test the training and ability of both horse and driver in different ways.

Mrs English, the former president of a regional carriage driving association in the US, said she became involved with the sport after revisiting her love for horses in her thirties. ‘‘When I was a small child I was horse crazy. . . but we were boaties and my parents said ‘no the money is going into a boat not a horse’,’’ she said. But more than 20 years later, after taking horse riding lessons to prepare for a mule trek through the Grand Canyon, Mrs English and her husband Phil were hooked.

 ‘‘A half an hour became an hour and an hour became a lesson, lessons became like lessons three times a week and then we were leasing a horse. We then bought a horse and then came the first driving horse,’’ she said.

Mrs English can recall feeling nervous at her first Combined Driving event at age 42, where she ended up taking out second place. ‘‘I remember going to it and being scared out of my wits, not so much about what I was going to have to do but just the competition. . . but what I discovered when I was there was that I was the competition.’’

While carriages may seem like a slightly out-of-date concept, Mrs English insisted they are actually high-tech and certainly not cheap, with two-wheel carts in the neighbourhood of $1500 to $2000 and four-wheelers ranging in excess of $5000. ‘‘These things are incredibly high-tech. I had one which had hydraulics and suspension.’’

Mrs English left behind a 20-year career in advertising and moved to New Zealand from Arizona around 10 years ago. She continued carriage driving in New Zealand, which she said is relatively popular with an event held just about every weekend throughout the country. She has since sold her horse and traded in her days as a carriage driver to concentrate on her bed and breakfast business. ‘‘Horses are a lot of work and I knew the B and B was going to be too,’’ she said.

Mrs English has been at the helm of The Heights Bed and Breakfast, alongside her husband, since ‘‘falling in love with the town’’ and relocating here around six years ago. She now spends most of her free time writing novels which she hopes to publish but still fondly recalls her days as a carriage driver. ‘‘I absolutely loved it, it was fabulous fun. It was my passion.’’

Mrs English has been invited to share her carriage expertise at an international writing conference in August this year, the Romance Writers of New Zealand Annual Conference – Love and other Crimes. She is to present a carriage driving workshop, detailing how carriages and driving techniques have changed through history – right down to how drivers treated their horses and what they wore. ‘‘Getting details right is important for writers of historical novels and this is doubly important with carriages and driving. ‘‘If your reader knows anything about horses, the wrong detail about horse behaviour can set her shaking her head and saying, ‘No horse would ever do that’,’’ she said. The conference will run from August 19 to 21 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Auckland.

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Carriage Expert Shares Skills

First Names:Vicky
Last Name:English