Monday, September 20, 2010

Whoa, Nelly… er… Patrick!

Brace yourself -- you’re about to learn something*

Ok loyal readers, (may I call you my loyal reader?  regular readers?  semi-annual readers?) I’m throwing my professionalism right out the window for this post because I am just so excited about it!  Not excited in the same giddy way that teenage girls get over the Jonas Brothers (at least I don’t think so), but excited in an incredibly humbling way.

Here’s the scoop (that’s a newspaper term, “the scoop”).  Yesterday, I went down to the Johnson County Horse Park in Edinburgh.

My plan was to go and do a story on the National Drive, a gathering for equine drivers of carriages and carts and buggies (or for an all-encompassing term, vehicles), and then also do some sort of profile story on someone who was heavily involved in the sport in order to kill to birds with one stone… or in order to hitch two horses to one cart!  (ha ha ha!  I am too funny sometimes!)

But instead, what I got was quit a surprise.  

First of all, I had NO idea what I was in for.  Frankly, the name “National Drive” didn’t mean much to me and I had only decided it had something to do with horses because it was at the HORSE park -- I know, I’m pretty smart, right?!

So here’s the lowdown: these folks who drive carriages, carts, buggies, wagons…er… vehicles get together and practice, learn from each other, listen to professionals, teach each other and just spend some quality time together with other people who enjoy driving as much as they do.

Laura and Charley at National Drive 2009 (stole this off the ND Facebook page)

 Upon arrival at the horse park, I was greeted by Laura Nuessle, a new director on the board of the National Drive, Mary Jo Beckman, a certified therapeutic riding and driving instructor, Mike Lyon, president of the National Drive and Charley Lee, another director.

Lemme tell you, these folks treated me like a queen!  

Not only did they give me the lowdown on the National Drive (you’ll have to read AgriNews to get all those details), but Laura and Mary Jo took me on a carriage ride!  

Ok, now hold your horses (ha!), this wasn’t a carriage ride like you see newlyweds taking downtown at dusk in pristine white carriages.  No sirreeee!  

This is Charley hooking up his own team with his wife, Sherry.

(notice their dog in the back, along for the ride)  :)

This is Laura and Charley

 Driving is a SPORT! I do not use that term lightly.  These horses are trained athletes like nothing else I’ve ever seen.  Laura drove the carriage -- she was the whip, as the driver is called -- and was a trainer of Patrick’s (the horse we took).

She told me that this horse could easily go 15 miles on trails or roads at a trot as exercise multiple times per week!  That’s just EXERCISE, my friends!  Shoot -- I can’t hardly go 15 minutes without breaking a sweat and this big guy was hoofing it right along like we three grown women (Mary Jo was with us as our navigator) and a carriage weren’t hooked to him.  I had no idea that 1 horsepower could be so strong! Or so beautiful looking from the backside of him!

I didn’t take my camera along on the trail ride because #1. I didn’t know what I was in for, and #2. I didn’t want to break it or do something dumb that would spook the horse and tip the carriage over because of something goofy, like this particular horse couldn’t handle the sound of a shutter ‘click’ or something dorky like that.  I didn’t want to take the chance.  I didn’t want to look like a reporter, I guess.  (Sometimes I make dumb decisions, what can I say?)

Anywhoo, Laura, Mary Jo, Patrick and I went out for our casual little ride, or so I thought.  It was casual, sure, until Laura started showing me a glimpse of what it was like to do a driving competition.

Whoa, Buddy!  (That’s what I was thinking, but again, didn’t want to look like a total fool and start screaming)  We went a ripping and bouncing through the woods, over bridges, THROUGH A POND, through a makeshift house-obstacle-thing and all over the place.

Stole this one off the ND Facebook page, too. (Is it still stealing if you admit to it?)
And Patrick the horse was the coolest critter I’ve ever seen (don’t tell my dogs).  He and Laura had such a strong relationship that anytime he would start to get concerned about where the trails were leading or if the path got narrow, all she had to do was use her “trainer voice” and remind him he was a good boy and he’d perk up and not hesitate.

It was incredible to be so close to these two as they worked together.  It really was a testament to the trust he has in her and the numerous hours she had spent with him.

Don’t be fooled though - this sport is dangerous!  A quaint wedding carriage this is not! This vehicle didn’t even have any seatbelts… intentionally!  The seat of the carriages are designed so your body weight wedges you into it.  (Which made me breath a sigh of relief because when I walked up to that carriage and saw that tiny seat my butt was supposed to fit in, I was more than a little concerned!  But luckily, it was supposed to be that way.)

There aren’t any seatbelts because, according to my new friend Mary Jo (who was kind enough to give me a lesson on how to be a proper carriage passenger while my new friend Laura was harnessing up the horse) you need to not be strapped into the seat in the event the carriage loses control and I had to dismount quickly, i.e JUMP OUT OF A MOVING CARRIAGE BEING PULLED BY AN OUT OF CONTROL HORSE!  (told you this wasn’t a leisurely ride)

It was a great time… I mean GREAT!  My experience with horses is pretty limited, but once again, my awesome job gave me a chance to try something completely different that I NEVER would have any other way, I’m sure.

Stay tuned to read my next blog about Mary Jo and what the heck she was doing at the National Drive.  It’s a pretty cool story in itself.

Until the next time....

*disclaimer: if you read this and feel you learned nothing, bummer for you and sorry if I got your hopes up!


  1. Just FYI -- It wasn't really 'yesterday' I used the power of scheduling and wrote this post on Friday!

  2. Sounds like fun!
    FYI - I did learn something! Thanks!

  3. Don't you just love your job somedays! How fun.

  4. That is really interesting. I have only seen the races at the racinos here in Indiana, but this look entertaining as well.


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