Ask a dozen people in the world of carriage driving about Mark Broadbent’s involvement with the sport and you would get a dozen different answers.
Mark has been champion scurry driver in the late 1970s; daredevil whip of a team of chesnut ponies, unbeaten in driving trials for three seasons in the 1980s; British Driving Society Show champion for two consecutive years in the mid-1990s; coaching marathon competitor; international instructor and trainer of harness horses; national event course-designer and -builder and private driving, horse driving trials and coaching judge.
The answer could even be that he is the first liveryman whose trade is making horse-drawn carriages to be invited into the Worshipful Company of Coachmakers for many decades.
Nowadays, it is with making carriages that Mark’s name is most widely linked – with Fenix, the carriage building business he began 25 years ago in his parents’ garage in Horley, Surrey.
Hands-on in competitive driving and training as well as making vehicles, which came first for Mark – the cart or the horse?
“Definitely horses,” he laughs. “As kids, my brother and I had riding ponies with which we spent all our time. A thrill for me, though, was being lifted on to the carriage next to an old chap who used to come past our house driving a Hackney. That, coupled with an obsession with the stagecoaches in cowboy films, turned me to driving.”
Mark’s first venture into competitive driving was at a local show, which he entered with his riding pony harnessed to an old milk float bought for him by his father.
“I was way down the line,” he recalls, “but the judge – Pam Stewart-Smith, a leading light in the BDS in those days – was incredibly kind to me. She found us after the class and, as she lived quite close, offered to help me. That was it – I spent every spare moment with her and she taught me so much, so correctly.”
As Mark progressed through driving pony pairs and tandems to a team, also getting involved with restoring old carriages and ultimately building them to accommodate his competitive activities, so a dream began to take shape ¨ that of presiding over a “driving centre”.
This meant having a carriage building business running alongside facilities for breaking and training harness horses and giving instruction. Parental aspirations for him to study law dissipated and, instead, in the mid-1980s, Mark relocated to the Devon hills, opening the Fenix Carriage and Driving Centre.
“The idea of a driving centre was a new phenomenon in those days,” he explains. “I’ve always believed that carriage building and competitive carriage driving go hand-in-hand, with modifications in carriage design coming from what is needed for the sport. What we have here is pretty unique.”
What he has, set in 150 acres, is a thriving carriage building business employing four full-time craftsmen, a carefully-designed stable block for his horses and for those he takes in to break and train, a manŠge and tracks and obstacles laid out for driving.Although he has been involved in competitive driving for more than 30 years, Mark can easily run through the gamut of horses and ponies he has owned.
“I’ve always felt that you should persevere with whatyou’ve got,” he explains, acknowledging that, in part, this is down to the fact he has simply not been able to buy countless replacements when things went wrong.
He continues: “So often, people chop and change their horses, particularly if they’re not getting the results they want, but it takes horses time to learn and achieve.”
Today, he owns and drives a team of black Gelderlanders, which he bought in Holland seven years ago as unbroken youngsters. With them, he has competed driving a team and a pair, taken them coaching, done countless displays and parades and taken top honours at the BDS Show, once with a tandem and once with a team.
On both occasions he was driving Fenix vehicles – first, a cocking cart, an eye-catching two-wheeled sporting vehicle popular in the late 1700s, and then a handsome roof seat break.
“It was a huge buzz to take the championship twice with horses I had broken and schooled myself, driving carriages we had made,” he says.
Mark is quietly looking for a new team to put together. “Something a bit more nimble than our coaching team, although they are in their prime,” he says. “I’d like to compete regularly in FEI, ideally with a team, if I could find a sponsor.” For Mark, jack and masterof so many trades, the dream is not yet completed.