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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Lovely Old Carriage Prints

My friends at Rubita Carruajes in Andalucia brought to my attention these lovely old prints and I wanted to share them here because they are some of my most favorite carriages.  Enjoy...
Cabriolet, according to Francis T Underhill: The cabriolet requires a single horse of great size and beauty, with extraordinary action, especially in his slow paces.  The groom, who stands behind, is so small as to be of little use save for effect.

Curricle according to Francis T Underhill: The curricle was for years one of the most fashionable town carriages, and is in many respects similar to its successor, the cabriolet, although the latter is drawn by a single horse and the former by a pair. [A further difference is the grooms rumble seat, which is abscent from the cabriolet.]

Stanhope Style Phaeton, according to Francis T Underhill: ...the Stanhope phaeton , which was originally produced by mounting a Stanhope gig on four wheels and adding thereto a boot for the servant.  It is smaller than either the mail or demi-mail and has an arch which admits the front wheels turning under.  It may, if desired, be used with one horse.

Tandem Gig, according to Francis T Underhill: The practice of buckling it tight has made many a novice decide that he does not care to have his indigestion upset by the jolting of a tandem cart, whereas, if the cart is well balanced, it is a most delightful vehicle to drive.

Tilbury Gig, according to Francis T Underhill: the tilbury was originally designed by the Hon. Fitzroy Stanhope and built by a coachbuilder named Tilbury.  It is one of the oldest and handsomest two wheelers.
These images were originally published in 1942, by J. Robiquet and illustrated by L. Caplain.  For those of you who speak French or can handle the incomprehensible internet translation, visit attelage-patrimoine's excellent blog dedicated to these images here:

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Europeans Enter Masterpiece Carriage Classic

Fashion Waits: Where is my Prince, in his High Flyer Phaeton?
The scene is set at breakfast.  Tradition is intently reading an article on Posting in Provence in the Carriage Journal, Fashion is staring out the french windows dreaming of days gone by when Prinny and Lord and Lady Lode tore up and down Rotten Row in High Flyer Phaetons, drunk as skunks [she sighs: Those were the days...] and Innovation is skimming through the Association Francaise d'Attelage Newsletter, when he slams his fist on the table, making the tea cups quake.

"What in damnation will they want to stop next- Time itself?!?" He exclaimed.

"What is it, Inny?"  Fashion batted her long [false] eyelashes at him.  Innovation was the heir apparent, and should she become his wife- Lady of the Manor, the world would absolutely have to take her seriously.

"Bloody Preservationists," Innovation said under his breath, instantly regretting the outburst as it would undoubtedly rile Tradition, who leveled a game gaze at him.

"Do tell.  What are the dusty old men, sitting on leather Chesterfields in private clubs in Mayfair insisting now to handicap your purpose built Marathon vehicles?"  Tradition was not against him, Innovation knew, but her bloodlines were rooted in history.

"It is not just the Old School English, it is the French and I'm sure we'll hear from the Germans shortly,"  Innovation said with resignation.  "Read for yourself."  He passed the journal over to Tradition and excused himself to the carriage shop, where his latest design would be tested before it was powder coated with the most modern technological advances.

Tradition picked up the journal and read a letter from her French friend, the charming Dominique Posselle:

[Eloquence has been lost in translation for this script.  My apologies to the French and Mr. Posselle]

About fifteen years ago, I remember a letter from  IAFA [Association Francaise d' Attelage] giving advice stipuling that the braiding of horses' manes was not to be recommend in Traditional driving.

I agreed, but wanted to verify  it and searched through a great number of old photographs.  In fact, I found only one photo with horses that had manes that were braided.

The great idea of our association is to preserve our inheritance in order to pass it on.  So I allow myself to ask this question:  Is the AFA able to take a clear position about braiding, and try to make the judges’ work easier?

They must know that braiding in some countries (Spain...) is correct for heavy horses, but not correct for traditional turnout.  Over the question of judging, we would be closer to authenticity (old photos are proof) and we would not see any more manes looking like leeks and we could make allowances for competitors  wishing to adhere to breed standards.

And following my logic, I  also would like to speak about the traditional way of driving: what legacy will we pass on to future generations if they see actual photos of drivers handling reins as if they are pushing a wheelbarrow?  The same observations can be made of drivers asking to their  passengers to quit the carriage before obstacle tests so as to improve performance with lighter over all weight.  The regulation still does not exist to address this practice.

Is this the goal of the AFA? Of course: no! If the AFA doesn’t take care about the modern practices and techniques of handling the reins, the art of driving will be amputated like the mission of the association which must take care to favor Tradition over Competition.

Well," said Tradition, "I don't know what he is so upset about.  Monsieur Posselle is quite right."

"What could this Frenchman have against braiding manes?!!?" cried Fashion.  "It makes the horses look pretty!"

"It is an affectation and makes them look like dandies," replied Tradition.  "But, we all know pretension is your mantra.  Must dash, I'm going to tea at Granny's." [Tradition glides out of the room.]

"Her and her big words," huffed Fashion as she delicately fingered the french braid encircling her crown.  "This is war!"

Will Innovation realize that Tradition is style and substance, form and function and that Fashion is fickle and flighty, assuming and affected before it is too late?

Francis T Underhill wrote in Driving For Pleasure, "An avoidance of extremes in all such trifles will keep one within limits for many a long day."  Underhill encouraged Americans to study the Europeans and calculate a formula for style.  One hundred years later, his counsel still echoes in the carriage halls.  We should take heed.

I have no strong opinions on braiding.  Done well it is lovely, done poorly, I agree with Monsieur Posselle, it looks like poorly sprouted leeks. Further, I do not believe that braiding a draft pony's mane will make him appropriate put to a park gate gig.  I do also agree two handed driving looks sophomoric.  Call me un-American, but I feel emanating the Europeans by following tradition will not quash our individuality, but enhance it. More importantly, I think this debate underlines the big picture question: where are we going and what are we going to hold onto? The saga continues...

A Sincere Note of Gratitude to Monsieur Posselle, whose letter inspired these last blogs, whose correspondence is a delight and whose manner is as impeccable as it is genuine.  Merci, Monsieur.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler

Monday, January 21, 2013

Masterpiece Carriage Classic: A Period Drama

David E Saunders: An Englishman Sometimes In America-
 Old School Is the New School

Our series depicts the two stereotypes of people involved in the sport of carriage driving: the pleasure show people who are Preservationists that want nothing to change and the combined driving people who are Innovators that want everything to change.  Of course, this is a sweeping generalization, but that is the very nature of stereotypes and superb drama.  If you watch Downton Abbey, you will know that to which I speak.

Being an Anglophile, I cling to the Golden Age of Coaching, quote directly from His Grace the 8th Duke of Beaufort's Badminton Library: Driving, and would sell a kidney to show at Royal Windsor.  There is, however, a duality to my nature and I long to be "a Modern American Girl".  I positively swoon at Frey Carriage Company's artistic, innovative, modern vehicles, certain I am that they will be the antiques of the future.

Tradition did not stop evolving at ox wagons, it went on to produce road coaches, park drags, C-spring Victoria's...it is a century since horses were emancipated to luxury items; how do we find Tradition?  Have we kept her well, fostered her future?  What will be our legacy to the sport of carriage driving?  The drama unfolds.

Tradition is in danger of gathering dust on the shelf in the library, while Fashion flaunts herself as Style to the uninitiated in the drawing room.  Tradition without Innovation is a witless dowager countess [the antithesis of Countess Grantham].  Innovation without Tradition is a crass tin heiress [as opposed to Lady Grantham].

I'd like to see a Big Picture Philosophy emerge in carriage driving, where all the little details of Tradition fall in love with the strategies of Innovation, they work out their differences [after Fashion abandons Innovation at the alter], marry and beget many Stylish offspring who save the Carriage Driving Estate for future generations by making it self sustainable.

Yes.  Oh, yes.  I know...[insert and cue: Laura Linney]...sounds like [with ever so slightly raised eyebrow]... the Europeans.  Stay tuned for Episode 2.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Jingle Bells

This is a lovely rendition of the James Lord Pierpont's One Horse Open Sleigh, as the song was originally entitled when it was published in 1857.  Although not a hit from the start, it was renamed Jingle Bells two years later and lore has it that it was the first Christmas song recorded in 1889.  No evidence exists to support this theory and the more accepted date of recording was 1898 by the Edison Male Quartet.

The lyrics circa 1857 were slightly different than those we sing today:

Dashing through the snow
In a one-horse open sleigh
O'er the hills we go
Laughing all the way.
Bells on bobtail ring
Making spirits bright
Oh what sport to ride and sing
A sleighing song tonight.
Jingle bells, jingle bells
Jingle all the way!
O what joy it is to ride
In a one-horse open sleigh.
A day or two ago
I thought I'd take a ride
And soon Miss Fannie Bright
Was seated by my side.
The horse was lean and lank
Misfortune seemed his lot
He got into a drifted bank
And we — we got upsot.
A day or two ago
The story I must tell
I went out on the snow
And on my back I fell;
A gent was riding by
In a one-horse open sleigh,
He laughed as there I sprawling lie,
But quickly drove away,
Now the ground is white
Go it while you're young,
Take the girls tonight
And sing this sleighing song:
Just get a bobtailed bay
Two forty is his speed
Hitch him to an open sleigh
And crack! You'll take the lead.

Kind Regards,

Michelle Blackler

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Black Brigade: Funeral Horses of Victorian London

The following are excepts from one of my favorite writings on Victorian London: The Horse World of London, by W. J. Gordon, 1893 about the funeral business which is charming and amusing...

"A GOOD many of the coal horses are blacks and dark bays, and by some people they are known as the 'black brigade'; but the real black brigade of London's trade are the horses used for funerals. This funeral business is a strange one in many respects, but, just as the job-master is in the background of the every-day working world, so the jobmaster is at the back of the burying world. The 'funeral furnisher' is equal to all emergencies on account of the facilities he possesses for hiring to an almost unlimited extent, so long as the death rate is normal. 

 Dottridge's are 'at the back' of all the big funerals in London. They buried Mr. Spurgeon; they buried Mrs. Booth; years ago they buried Cardinal Wiseman, the biggest 'black horse job' ever known, for the Roman Catholics will always have black horses if they can get them. 

Altogether there are about 700 of these black horses in London. They are all Flemish, and come to us from the flats of Holland and Belgium by way of Rotterdam and Harwich. They are the youngest horses we import, for they reach us when they are rising three years old, and take a year or so before they get into full swing in fact, they begin work as what we may call the 'half-timers' of the London horse-world. 

 Here, in the East Road, are about eighty genuine Flemings, housed in capital stables, well built, lofty, light, and well ventilated, all on the ground floor. Over every horse is his name, every horse being named from the celebrity, ancient or modern, most talked about at the time of his purchase, a system which has a somewhat comical side when the horses come to be worked together. Some curious traits of character are revealed among these celebrities as we pay our call at their several stalls. General Booth, for instance, is 'most amiable, and will work with any horse in the stud' ; all the Salvationists 'are doing well,' except Railton, 'who is showing too much blood and fire. Last week he had a plume put on his head for the first time, and that upset him.' Stead, according to his keeper, is 'a good horse, a capital horse - showy perhaps, but some people like the showy; he does a lot of work, and fancies he does more than he does. We are trying him with General Booth, but he will soon tire him out, as he has done others. He wouldn't work with Huxley at any price!' Curiously enough, Huxley 'will not work with Tyndall, but gets on capitally with Dr. Barnardo.' Tyndall, on the other hand, 'goes well with Dickens,' but has a decided aversion to Henry Ward Beecher. Morley works 'comfortably' with Balfour, but Harcourt and Davitt 'won't do as a pair anyhow.' An ideal team seems to consist of Bradlaugh, John Knox, Dr. Adler, and Cardinal Manning. But the practice of naming horses after church and chapel, dignitaries is being dropped owing to a superstition of the stable. 'All the horses,' the horsekeeper says, 'named after that kind of person go wrong somehow!' And so we leave Canon Farrar, and Canon Liddon, and Dr. Punshon, and John Wesley and other lesser lights, to glance at the empty stalls of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, now 'out on a job,' and meet in turn with Sequah and Pasteur, Mesmer and Mattei. Then we find ourselves amid a bewildering mixture of poets, politicians, artists, actors, and musicians.

'Why don't you sort them out into stables, and have a poet stable, an artist stable, and so on?'

'They never would stand quiet. The poets would never agree; and as to the politicians - well, you know what politicians are, and these namesakes of theirs are as like them as two peas!'

To read the article in its entirety:


Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Story Of My Life In A Photo

Timeless: Tyngwndwn Lovespoon of Here Be Dragons Welsh Ponies and me on the 2011 Metamora  Pleasure Driving Show Country Drive.  Photo by Peter Gilles
Every once in a while, something perfect happens.  

In 2011, I journeyed to Metamora, MI to show a pony for Martha Stover and Cynthia Laurence of Here Be Dragons Welsh Ponies www.herebeponies.com

Tyngwndwn Lovespoon, aka Lisa, and I had a very good show with several memorable moments.  I had only driven her a handful of times before the show, but she was a great partner.  On the cones course, there was a small failure of communication between us and instead of trampling the left hand cone on a right hand circle, Lisa saved the day, jumped over the cone for a clear round and much cheering from the spectators.  What a pony!  We very proudly presented Here Be Dragons with a reserve championship ribbon.

But that is just the beginning of the story.  Local photographer, Peter Gilles www.metamoraphoto.com was on hand at the show, snapping mementos.  After the show, he chose the above photo, his "very favorite", to put on show at the Merge Gallery in Oxford, MI.  This autumn, when asked to donate an auction item to the Metamora Driving Club's annual event, he chose the mounted photo again.

Long Story Short: Cynthia and Mack Laurence [co-owners of Lisa] were at the fundraiser and bought the photo, which they in turn sent to me as a gift.  I generally regard sentimentality as an affliction, but when I held the photo in my hands, I cried.  The combination of the memories of the show, my affection for Lisa and her owners, the Laurence's generosity, the virtuosity of Mr. Gilles' lens was a perfect storm of sentiment. 

If one photograph can tell an entire story, it is this one.  It is a sublime representation of why I drive and show horses: a beautiful summer day, a happy pony, moving gloriously through time.  One hundred years from now, I will not be surprised if people are cooing over it on whatever social forum exists for driving enthusiasts.  But it tells a still bigger story.  Lots of people do lots of really brilliant things for me, and I try to be worthy of all of them.  If you are one of those people, gaze upon this photo and see your own reflection in it.  Whether you have lent me a book, helped me unload a carriage, given me a kind word or saved me from certain death: you are in this photo.  This photo is for you.  This photo  is something perfect.

I wish you all enormous returns on the riches you have bestowed upon me.  [And... if you are looking for a present for a horse lover, you just might find something perfect from Peter Gilles' camera.]

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Late 20th Century Driving

David E Saunders and HRH Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh
Carriage Driving's friend, historian and former royal coachman, David E Saunders [http://www.davidesaunders.com] has shared this lovely video of Prince Phillip and Sandringham Horse Trials from 1983.  In it, the Duke of Edinburgh guides the viewer through the steps of driving with an excellent demo on rein handling of a four in hand.  The rest of the footage follows the Prince, Karen Bassett [http://www.karenbassett.co.uk], and Andy Mills through the driving trial.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

The moral of the story is to be found in how much has changed from last century to now: style of vehicles, design of driving events, speed through obstacles and what has remain unchanged: passion for the sport, the traditions of driving itself and the spirit of competition.

It is my ardent hope that 30 years hence, we will find the sport of carriage driving thriving in the 21st Century through innovation infused tradition with the propagation of fine deportment as evidenced by the modern sport's patron, Prince Phillip.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler