Gloria Austin

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A Prince, Horses and a Birthday Party

The flight was flawless and the British do know how to be on time. David Saunders picked me up at the airport and was my escort to the Duke of Edinburgh's Equestrian Birthday Party celebrating Prince Philip's 90th year as a blue blood and horse enthusiast.

Prince PhillipThe Prince born in 1921, it was fitting that guests contributed to a cigar box made in the year he was born, but newly embossed with an image of the Duke driving his Fell Ponies. As the Prince arrived at the podium, he fained not being able to support the weight of such a heavy silver box; but his slight frame and healthy demeanor show no signs of weakness, and his remarks at the microphone showed no signs of mental frailty either. He and the Queen, age 85, are my new role models. As my parents would have said, "What a spry couple."

The party was held at the beautiful Coworth Park Polo Field at the Dorchester Collection. We were able to park directly in front of the hotel's prestigious manor house and immediately met the young George Bowman and his statuesque Scottish lady friend. George, Jr. is as flamboyant and gregarious as his mother, so we did not lack for conversation as we entered the hotel's reception hall. We were met by waiters with trays of champagne and guests in gowns and tuxedos.

We proceeded to the terrace overlooking gardens, the green lawns and huge white tent with windows aglow with lavish table settings. We walked down the Lime Avenue (a walkway lined with lime trees making an arch above our heads) onto the grass carpeted area overlooking the polo fields where we were met with more waiters with Champaign and now tray, after tray, of hors d'oeuvres. I immediately recognized carriage builder Mark Broadbent and his wife, and then the elderly coaching driver, Peter Munt, who is frail but apparently determined to attend the party. The tall and impressive looking John Richards approached me with his beautiful American lady friend, Nancy, at his side. John is always talkative and complementing me on my carriage collection and knowledge.

As I was sipping from the champagne flute there was a hush over the crowd at exactly 6:30 as an announcement of the Prince's arrival was made. Every head turned in the direction of his Land Rover license number OXR 1. This slim gray-haired handsome gentleman graciously meaundered though the throngs speaking to as many guests as he recognized. He tapped David on the back and greeted him warmly and asked him what happened to his mushtash. (David acted as coachman to the Duke for 20 years, so the Prince always makes a point of making conversation with David. Together they won a gold and two bronze metals at World Championships.)

After the Coworth Park vs. The Guards polo match, the Band of the Royal Marines from Collingwood performed on the field as four coaches were presented by members of the London Coaching Club. The carriage driving presentation brought to our attention the dog cart that the Prince drove before he and David Saunders designed the first marathon carriage with a chariot type platform in the rear. Boyd Excel, Australian World Champion, surprisingly drove his four to a modern marathon vehicle out of the back of a horse trailer and impressed the crowd with tight turns that demonstrated the agility of the lead horses that leaped away from hazards.

We proceded back to the elaborate tent we had passed, to experience floors with plush cream colored felt and walls draped in elegant shear fabric.

We were seated at round tables of 8, each named for a combined driving competition location. The Louther table was our destination. Everyone remained standing and at the appointed time the room became silent. Sure enough, the Queen was arriving. She had been conspicuously absent before dinner to allow the Prince time to be the center of attention and interact with his friends. Once she arrived at the party all heads were turned in her direction. With perfectly coiffured hair and an aqua calf length dress, she took her position at the "Royal Windsor Horse Show" table at the center of the room. The Prince took his place at an adjoining round table, each facing the platform with microphone. There was no head table – the whole setting was reminiscent of a tented dinner at a horse show but with much more elegant trappings. Interestingly the waite staff come each with two plates and served the male guests first and females second. In America it would have been ladies served first.

After a starter of English asparagus with egg and truffle dressing, we had sirloin of beef, roasted carrots, fondant potatoes, and Lyonnaise onions. The best part was the English Summer Pudding we had for dessert. These must be Prince Philips favorites. The champagne toasts started with one to the Queen and later to the Prince as he accepted his silver cigar box. At the specified time the Queen took her leave, and only then were guests allowed to rise a exist the dinning area.

What an honor to have dinner sitting within feet of the Royals when there were 250 of the Prince's guests in the room. My hope is only to be as healthy as he, and reach the age of 90.

© 2011 Gloria Austin

Golden Carriage of the Austrian Emperor in Florida

The restored Armbruster Full Dress Chariot on display at the Florida Carriage MuseumLike all European monarchs, the Habsburgs had an extensive collection of carriages. Until his death in 1916, Emperor Franz Jozef I, married to the famous Empress "Sissi," almost exclusively used horse-drawn carriages. The Imperial stables in Vienna exceeded all others in their magnificence and size. Around 1900 there were no fewer than 600 driving and riding horses stabled at Schönbrunn Palace, mostly Lippizaners and Kladrubers. The Imperial Mews contained about 400 carriages; the state carriages for personal use by the Imperial family (some of which dated back to around 1750), other town carriages, all kinds of service carriages, and a large number of sporting carriages in all possible models. The Viennese Fiaker still say that no fewer than 250 carriages could be harnessed at the same time! About 400 members of staff including coachmen, footmen, grooms, and many different kinds of servants were permanently employed in the stables. Each stable had its own workshop for small repairs, a smithy, and a saddlery. The massive collection of vehicles and the incredible treasure of harness were permanently kept in perfect condition.

After the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a large number of the carriages were sold. Fortunately, most of the state carriages were returned, as well as the most interesting sporting and service carriages. They now constitute the world-famous carriage museum in the renowned "Wagenburg" at the Schönbrunn.

A dress chariot built in Vienna around 1850 by the Imperial Carriage builder, Armbruster, was sold around 1870 and was rediscovered 125 years later in the props of a Hollywood film studio. When I purchased the carriage, it was in a dreadful state of disrepair and decay. But those of you who know my enthusiasm, also know my passion for the historical significance of the horse and the carriage in history ... it was a challenge I was committed to undertaking.

Armbruster Carriage being guided on the grounds of its home at the Florida Carriage MuseumThe incredibly difficult restoration assignment was given to the Belgian restorer, Patrick Schroven from Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-Waver, who had already proved able to take on such massive jobs among other things by means of the reconstruction of the magnificent English Road Coach "Commodore."   He began work in July, 1998. After 10 months of research, travel and investigation, the actual restoration began. All the woodwork, ironwork and painting were carried out in his workshop. Due to the huge extent of the project, about 60 expert craftsmen were called in from 7 European countries (Belgium, Austria, Germany, England, the Netherlands, France, and Sweden) – among others: a metal-turner, a wheelwright, a wood-turner, a smith, a wood-sculptor, an iron-founder, a copper-founder, a gilder, an ivory cutter, a cane-weaver, a glass-turner, a patternmaker, a chaser, a braid-maker, a gold-embroiderer, a saddler, a passmentrymaker, a fabric-weaver, a tailor, a wigmaker, a whip-maker, a button-maker, a hatter, a lace-maker, a gold-leaf expert, a lamp-maker. The co-ordination alone for all these people and the personal supervision of each stage of the activities was a full-time job for Schroven for 18 months.

Such a magnificent carriage had never before been found in such a dilapidated condition and renovated completely. Techniques were used that had not been employed for 80 years. The restorer faced all difficulties head-on; no compromises were accepted. All materials used had to be identical to the original ... from the incredibly fine silk-velvet hammercloth that covers the imposing boxseat to the delicate coachlace that is used to trim the cushions ... from the real 23.5 carat double thickness gold-leaf that covers large parts of the undercarriage and the body to the buckles on the shoes of the coachman's livery!

Golden Coach PaintingAfter 30 months of effort, many sleepless nights, and thousands of hours of labor, the masterpiece reached its completion. The formidable carriage was exhibited during the open days in Achel, Belgium on November 17th to 19th, 1999, thanks to the famous harness-maker Henk Van der Wiel. It was Europe's final opportunity to admire this unique carriage before it left for the USA and to its home at the Florida Carriage Museum in Weirsdale, Florida.

This Armbruster Full Dress Chariot, or as it is called lovingly by some the "Golden Carriage," is the only full-state carriage in the United States, and it's right here in Central Florida.

© 2011 Gloria Austin

PART I – The Origins of the Harness

From the chariot races held at the Circus Maximus during the period of ancient Rome ... to the draft horse pulling competitions held today at the local county fair ... horses have been laboring to entertain and benefit mankind for over 6,000 years. Used for transportation, industry, commerce and warfare ... horses have been outfitted for the specific job they were to perform. A key to the efficiency of man's utilization of the horse was the creation of the harness.

Through time the harness has evolved, but the mechanics of the basic harness that we use today has not changed for generations. Contemporary drivers should appreciate how the harness has been modified over time for a particular job and appreciate the diversity of the various types utilized today.

The first harness was a modification of the yoke type harness used with oxen that were put into draft long before the horse was used to pull a wagon. This 'neck and girth' harness was light weight. Straps were place around the horses' neck and girth that met at the top, by the withers, where the yoke would come to rest connecting the two horses. The pole of the chariot would rest in the crotch of the yoke and be strapped securely so the horses could pull, stop and pivot the carriage.

Some time later the Chinese invented the breast collar type harness for pulling their heavier two-wheeled carriages with a single horse. The shafts often curved high above the horse's withers with the point of draft attachment at the horse's sides. Around 100 BC, the Chinese went on to invent the ridged full or neck collar that we are familiar with today. It took many generations for these innovations to find their way into western cultures. The ridge collar finally arrived in Europe around 700 AD.

This ridged full collar that was specifically designed for the contours and work of the horse, is considered by some historians to be more revolutionary than the invention of the automobile. It allowed one man and a horse to do the work of 50 men laboring in the fields to produce food. This left 49 men to invent new ways of doing things and to barter for food produced by the man with the horse and plow. It allowed the dark ages to evolve into the Renaissance and move to the Age of Enlightenment and then onto modern times. Through the efficiency gained by man utilizing the horse and the resulting increased productivity, a surplus of food begins to occur. This "surplus" contributes to the development of the social system called Feudalism (where the horse becomes pivotal in warfare and agriculture). Feudalism can be considered as the start of capitalism ... production ... surplus ... wealth created through that surplus. This increased productivity obtained by man utilizing the horse in early civilization to obtain "value or wealth" from the land, contributes to the value that is placed today upon land ownership for sites for farms, factories and homes.

The breast collar and full collar harness are the types we utilize today and their modifications can be appreciated based on the job at hand. The breast collar which rest just above the point of the horse's shoulder is more commonly used with light-weight carriages ... less formal carriages equipped with a movable single tree. Whereas the full collar, is generally used with heavier more formal carriages that have a fixed splinter bar and roller bolts. The breast collar has its advantages in that it is easier to fit to the horse, in comparison to the full collar which needs to fit each horse individually. In addition, just as we have a coat for enjoying cool summer evenings and a different coat for the windy snowy days of winter ... in years past a horse was sold with two full collars, one for winter and one for summer.

The style of carriage, the type of driving and the breed of horse all influence the driving horse's 'clothes.' Just as we wear formal evening attire to a gala ball and an athlete wears specialized shoes to play their favorite sport ... the horse has to be 'suited' or harnessed correctly for the job to be done. In Part II we will review the various types of driving seen in America today.

© 2011 Gloria Austin

The Greatest Show on Earth... Walnut Hill

Walnut HillNot from Cecil B. DeMille's Academy Award winning 1952 film about Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, this show is real and from the master minds of two upstate New Yorkers – Bill Remley and wife, Sue. Bill has always slightly reminded me of P. T. Barnum and through the many years I have participated in this grand event ... I have always called the Walnut Hill Farm Driving Competition "The Greatest Show on Earth." Bill's motivation for Walnut Hill was fostered by his love of showmanship, teaching, and the romance of yesterday. The two, Bill and Sue, created the biggest carriage driving show of all times on a small 15 acres in Pittsford, New York (near Rochester, NY.) Many might not know, but

Bill and Sue RemleySue was the horseperson and through the mixture of these two outstanding individuals, they brought a winning combination to the world of horse drawn carriages. Sadly this year, its 40th anniversary, the show had to be celebrated for its second year without Bill. Wife, Sue; Daughter, Trish; son, David; and Show Manager, Ed Young said the "show goes on" and in 2012, there will be a 41st.


Champions at the Kentucky Horse Park

What an opportunity — to present four Friesians to a Beaufort Phaeton by Binder of Paris at the Carriage Classic in Lexington, Kentucky. The Blue Grass State was not blue but just as green as Florida. The thoroughbred mares were with foals at their sides as we drove throughout the countryside, and the Woodford Reserve bourbon is still as good as my last visit. The secret is to enjoy the beautiful Kentucky weather ... the rolling countryside ... the beautiful farms ... and the opportunity to drive in such a horse oriented state.

The World Equestrian Games (WEG) helped to boost Kentucky tourism by 4.8% in 2010 and brought the beautiful new Altech Arena (air-conditioned, of course) to the Kentucky Horse Park. This arena was the venue for the Carriage Association of America's first pleasure driving show. On a hot summer's day there was nothing better than to watch the competition driving inside the cool comfortable arena.


Driving Diversity Appreciate All - Part III

Dividing light-horse driving into two forms is often helpful: modern and traditional driving. To understand these contrasting forms of light-horse driving a comparison can be made to automobile competitions ... Combined Driving is like NASCAR racing and

Stagecoach driven by Gloria AustinPleasure Driving is similar to the exhibition of classic cars.

Combined Driving requires the sturdy new carriages that have been built to handle the sharp turns and maintain the speed while navigating the hazards. In addition, the Combined Driving horse does not have to work in the company of other horse when exhibited. It works alone in the dressage ring, on the marathon and in the cones competition ... responding in partnership to its driver.