It’s more of a trick riding yard than a carriage driving establishment during the winter!” exclaims George Bowman, as he schools Neptune, a striking bay stallion and one of the leaders in his son George jnr¨s team of Lusitanos.
“I wouldn’t say theLusitano is the world¨s best driving horse,” adds George, who will be driving his trademark black Cumberland Cobs in a bid for that elusive individual gold medal. “But if I could only choose one horse to ride, drive and be a good family horse which was also nice to look at – it would have to be a Lusitano. Young George has done well with his team (he was a member of the four-in-hand horse squad along with his father for WEG in Rome) and they will keep on improving.”
George jnr, who had earlier beenriding his latest acquisition from Portugal, a dark grey stallion, Zorro, bought at the Golga Fair last November, was mounted on another handsome bay, Muskateer, the other leader in his team.
Father and son were working the horses in the indoor school to the backing of The Big Country at trot and canter, executing shoulder-in, half-passes and flying changes. At one point, George snr walked Neptune over a giant seesaw, pausing at the point of balance, while young George jumped Muskateer up on to a wooden platform, where he performed a piaffe.
As a finale, they got both stallions to lie down, then rise into the sitting position, before both father and son climbed back into the saddle, galloped across the arena, halted and the horses bowed down on one knee.
The movements are carefully choreographed to show the horses¨ obedience, lightness, suppleness and extravagant natural cadence.
Back in his office, George is relaxed and full of enthusiasm for his 28th driving season, and the prospect of competing at his 15th horse teams World Championships.
“I don¨t really start working my driving team until March, because it is a very long season,” says George. “But we’ve been having a lot of fun with the Lusitanos and the ridden work is an important part of their training.
“I’ll have two new horses in my team this year, Salesman and Joe. I change at least one horse every year. In fact, I’ve never won the national championships twice with the same four horses. [George has been British four-in-hand champion 19 times – once, he famously, swapped a championship-winning team of chesnut Welsh Cobs for a Rolls Royce].
“I’m always trying to improve the team. I don’t change horses to handicap myself ¨ only a fool would do that!” he laughs. “At the same time, you have to enjoy what you do and a large part of the pleasure is in training young horses.”
George only drives horses he has broken and trained to harness himself and it is a lengthy process which has been refined over the years.
“We have a system now that, when the driving season finishes in September, my team go out to grass and we bring in the young stock. At 2« years old, we mouth them, long-rein them, back them and introduce them to single harness. We concentrate on bringing the young horses on in the winter months, then we throw them back out to grass in the spring and start work on the driving team. We are constantly bringing young horses on and every year there are one or two horses good enough to introduce to the team.”
The first important selection event is at Brighton driving trials at the end of April. “We start training gently and build the fitness work up, but it doesn¨t take long to get them fit with the hills round Penrith,” says George. “The ridden work in the school is important, too.”
The 2000 season the Bowman team is sponsored by Jack Brignall’s Wykeland Group.
“We’re pleased to have Jack on the team again,” says George. “Sponsorship is important – it’s expensive keeping a team on the road. The shoeing bill alone for six horses every two to three weeks is frightening and there are hidden costs.”
“Well, you can¨t compete forever at the highest level in FEI driving,” says George. “But, as long as I’m enjoying myself, I’ll keep Will this on going.”