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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