New Year’s Day is perhaps the most popular day of the year for a recreational pleasure drive. Many carriage drivers try to get their carriages out for a jaunt — which provides that perfect chance to clear your head after the excesses of Christmas and is great fun for other family members too.
Driving is a very social activity so all over the country members of the British Driving Society (BDS) gather to enjoy a friendly drive out. These drives take 2 main forms. There is the convoy drive where the carriages all go round the route together in crocodile file or the increasingly popular drive where the route is marked and turnouts set off at intervals singly or in pairs. This allows you to drive at your own pace and is more relaxing.
Some groups arrange for a pre-booked stop at a pub with hot toddies served in the car park. And yes… you can be charged with being drunk when on a bicycle, horse or driving a carriage so unlike bygone days best not to rely on your horse getting you safely home! Usually refreshments are offered on the return from the drive when horses have been taken out of their carriages and made comfortable with a haynet.
Taking part in a social drive is a chance to meet up with old friends and make new ones. Moreover the organised drive offers those taking part the chance to drive new routes, often through stunning scenery, sometimes using tracks that require special permissions from landowners or the forestry. Distances range from 5 to 15 miles, with the majority being 7 to 10 miles, enabling you to start off about midday and finish in good light.
To find out about the drives the BDS organise throughout the year visit their website. On the homepage you will find the area website links that list their drives and contacts. BDS membership gives you access to their events run across the country, provided you contact the organiser, and also provides basic public liability insurance for carriage driving on the public highway.
Remember that to be road legal your carriage should have 2 red reflectors at the rear! It is also essential to be clearly seen and only sensible to use plenty of high viz with reflective strips. You can get banners to put across the back of your carriage or you can fix up a high viz vest over the back seat. When driving out I tend to put on as much high viz as possible to make sure we stand out, especially in winter when the light is so often dim and weather conditions make for poor visibility.
Driver, groom and passengers can wear high viz tabards or jackets and hat bands and to make sure the pony is seen, especially as it is so far in front of you, in poor conditions I use leg wraps and a yoke piece, sometimes a quarter sheet as well. In the carriage we rely on hand signals so hand glove covers are easy and ideal.
Some drivers, especially those who use narrow lanes between high hedges, find a revolving light on a high pole attached safely to the carriage really alerts traffic as they then anticipate a slow moving vehicle round the next corner.
1 January is also a time for New Year’s resolutions. Among the usual list why not add an exciting new experience — maybe treating yourself to a session with a new driving combination like a pair, tandem or even a team! Or if you haven’t tried carriage driving yet, you could make 2014 the year you give it a try — it’s possibly the best and most life-changing resolution you will make!