Megan Kaiser fills us in on the grand traditions of the largest annual pleasure driving show in the world, taking place August 8-12 in Pittsford, NY.
I grew up and still live very close to the largest pleasure driving show in the world. So every year, in August, I have always gone in some way, shape or form to the Walnut Hill Driving Competition. Most of the time I am a spectator/shopper/eater, but in my younger years I served as a Jack Russell catcher for the races that were held around lunchtime. For a year or two I served as the groom in the carriage with my trainer’s mother. (For a long while I thought I was pretty cool to be picked out of all the barn rats, but later found out that I was the chosen one only because I weighed the least.) There was a year a drove in the Junior division. I am proud to say that in the obstacle class I squashed a cone so badly they had to replace it.
But when I talk about the show to horse people or even those who have lived in the area, many don’t know about it at all. A coach with four Friesians pulling it, their harnesses all polished up, the driver, grooms, and passengers decked out to the nines, and even the carriage dog seated happily atop the entire thing–it’s really quite grand. You have to appreciate it: the skill of driving multiple horses at a time (I have trouble navigating mine from his back some of the time), the training of horses that all match perfectly, the time taken in grooming and turning out the horses (and people), the labor of cleaning all that leather and brass!
Walnut Hill isn’t a small operation; it has been run by the wonderful and gracious Remley family for over three and a half decades. There are over 250 entries from the U.S. and Canada, 300 portable stalls, a fleet of wonderful volunteers, more flowers that you can imagine, a carriage museum, and a trade fair with great shopping of all sorts. Competitors start moving in on Sunday, and classes start Wednesday and run through Sunday. Two of the biggest highlights are Ascot Night on Friday–there is a fancy dress competition, a coaching class, a fancy picnic competition, and my personal favorite: the carriage dog class. This year there is also some sort of dog and miniature horse obstacle pro-am that I am intrigued to see. On Sunday the carriages go for a drive through a nearby park. Hundreds of people come out to picnic–some with rather elaborate breakfast setups (we are talking candles, table clothes and china)–and watch them all go by. There are always visitors to the park who didn’t realize this was happening and are rather confused when dozens of carriages start going by, but they seem to enjoy it.
So here is my plan for this year: As usual I will attend, shop and eat, but this time I will take extra pictures of some the cool things and share them with Horse Nation! If you’re in the area, stop by for a look–it’s truly a sight to behold!
The Walnut Hill Driving Competition takes place in Pittsford, New York August 8-12. More information at www.walnuthillfarm.org.
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