Just for a change for my blog I would like to share Nola’s story and how thrilled she is to have discovered carriage driving.
Nola has been disabled since birth, yet is passionate about horses. She could “just about manage to get on the childhood family cob with assistance and was happy to plod along in walk” but with poor balance, found trot impossible. When her own daughter had a pony, they kept it at a riding stable and that’s where Nola got her first inkling that she would like to try driving when she saw the local driving group’s cones event on the outdoor arena.
Nola recalls: “I was very impressed to see the ponies manoeuvring around the cones and there were very few fallen balls. I was particularly impressed when a beautiful big coloured stallion (below right) completed the course as deftly as the smaller ponies had.”
As it happened I was able to call in to take part on my way back from the Welsh National at Erddig where Mr J (pictured that day, above) had just won the intermediate pony class and she “was entranced when Jack, also a stallion, went round in extended trot — he looked like he was floating above the ground!”
After chatting that day back in 2011 Nola decided they would break their little pony to harness so the family could enjoy driving together. As Nola says, “I love that my girls are able to go out and enjoy themselves on their ponies, but after they’ve gone I do feel a tinge of sadness that my disability prevents me going with them. I sometimes feel like a spectator in their pony lives.”
As often happens when people are busy, time moves on and plans get put aside, but in November Nola did get to drive and she’s now got the driving bit between her teeth! Nola was one of several people interested in driving who came to the lunchtime training session at our monthly indoor driving day.
She relates: “After the dressage, it was long reining, Lily [my daughter] and Gordon [my husband] were invited to have a go and they both enjoyed it immensely. Lily was very taken with Charlie, the pony she was long reining, and she was soon trotting along between the cones — she took to it like a duck to water. Gordon was quite enthralled too, and every time he passed me remarked at how responsive the ponies were, requiring only the subtlest movements to change direction.
“After the long-reining the ponies were harnessed back up and I saw Ann putting out the cones. A lovely lady called Wendy said I could sit by her for a ride around the arena, I found it very easy with some assistance to get into her carriage — it had a little step and a wider area in front to allow easier access.
“With the slightest command we were off. You could see Basil the pony’s ears, listening all the time. We were soon into trot, though my only previous experience of trot had been on a friend’s 15hh+ horse; it consisted of bounce, bounce fall off! I was amazed at how fast it felt and I immediately understood what Gordon had meant when he commented on how responsive the ponies were to very slight movements, Wendy’s hands hardly seemed to move yet Basil was in and out of the cones so niftily.
“We slowed back to walk and stop and Wendy handed the reins over, I was thrilled to be able to have a go at driving (left). When Wendy asked if I’d like to trot I must admit I was a little apprehensive due to my inexperience, but Basil looked after me so well, l bless him. It was so exhilarating!
“I felt like I was flying! I even managed to get through some cones, but that was thanks to Basil, it was almost like driving a car, he was so responsive. It was one of the most liberating experiences of my life; it was quite simply wonderful.
“Lily also had a go at driving and her smile was a mile wide. She’d never really been that interested in driving as she likes to ride as fast and jump as high as she possibly can! But after that afternoon at Usk, driving was the topic of conversation for days and Lily was up early on Sunday morning long reining for 2 hours!
“There is now a Pony Club badge for driving and Lily is eager to do this particular badge so who knows, it could mean a whole change of direction for her equine activities (I’ll always be there cheering her on whatever she does). Perhaps it will lead to driving parents too! There certainly seems to be an increase in interest in driving in both our local riding club and Pony Club.
“Now I’ve had a go at driving I’ve definitely got the bug and daydream about Gord and I going on romantic picnic drives (the reality would probably be having to fight the sheep and the fat pony off the strawberries and champagne!). More than that I’d like to go out with my family when they are out riding; I’d be content to pootle along behind them in an exercise cart.
Nola is coming to further training and driving sessions with the club and bringing Lily, who is very keen to take up driving too. It won’t be long before she realises her dream of driving her own pony and such is their enthusiasm Gordon is talking of breaking in his part-Shire cross to harness to take the whole family out in a carriage.