Each year for the past three years, the Nova Scotia Driving Society and The Nova Scotia Museum of Sherbrooke Village have teamed up to put on the Sporting Day of Traditional Driving Event. Sherbrooke Village is a perfect place to host this event with scenic streets, no car traffic, excellent facilities for the horses and trailers, and many visitors to enjoy the spectacle. Beautiful weather, many volunteers and the efforts of numerous sponsors make this the best driving event in Nova Scotia.
Seventeen competitors attended the 3rd Sporting Day of Traditional Driving at Sherbrooke Village, representing a variety of horse breeds including Morgan, Canadian, Welsh, Connemara, Haflinger, and Standard Bred and Very Small Equines (VSEs). Horses, ponies and VSE were shown in single harness and one team of two VSE hitched as a pair. Drivers were of various ages from eight to eighty. Youth drivers were required to have an experienced driver travelling with them and most carriages had a groom or passenger travelling with them to offer assistance if needed.
“The purpose of a Sporting Day of Traditional Driving is to preserve and celebrate the carriage-driving style of bygone days, which encompasses horsemanship, driving acumen and care and preservation of carriage and harness and the intangible qualities of good sportsmanship.” This event includes three phases: a Turnout Inspection, a Country Drive with Driving Tests, and the Cones Course. Traditional or reproduction carriages are preferred as well as leather harness but all types of carriages or carts and synthetic harness are acceptable. The focus is on celebrating traditional driving, but there is an element of competition among the drivers and their grooms. Each turnout is competing against an ideal rather than each other and the points earned in each phase determine the winner of each class and the overall winner of the event. An overall score out of 100 is earned from a possible 50 points in the Turnout Inspection, 25 points in the Country Drive and 25 points in the Cones Course.
The Turnout Inspection grades the complete turnout and is usually done first when horse, carriage, driver and grooms are not dusty or windblown. It is scored in each of the five categories of Horse/Pony, Harness, Carriage, Driver/Groom or Passenger and General Impression; each category having a possible 10 points.
The Country Drive “allows participants to demonstrate their ability to drive safely in a variety of conditions and situations.” The length of the Country Drive is between 5 and 10 km and may include a variety of Driving Tests. The Country Drive is timed and each turnout must complete it within a specified time that is different for horses, ponies and VSEs. The Driving Tests may include driving a figure of eight, rein back and park, execute a proper salute, demonstrate appropriate road signals, collecting mail from a mail box, and moving a full glass of water from one table to another while driving with one hand.
The Cones Course “allows participants to demonstrate their ability to drive through a set course of cones and to demonstrate the training of their horse.” The cones are set wide enough for each carriage to pass through with a small margin beyond the wheels. Each cone has a ball perched on the top of the cone which will fall if the cone is bumped. The course must be completed within a set time which usually requires the driver to take the horse quickly and accurately through the course without breaking into a canter.
The Sporting Day of Traditional Driving at Sherbrooke Village took place this year on Sunday, August 11. It began at 9 am with breakfast for participants and volunteers sponsored by St. Mary’s River Smokehouse and included a delicious breakfast of smoked salmon, bagels, cream cheese, fruit, yoghurt and coffee, tea and juice. After a brief drivers meeting the horses, ponies and VSEs were harnessed and hitched and began the competition.
The Turnout Inspection took place in front of the Tea Room and the various Driving Tests took place throughout the village. The five Driving Tests proved to be difficult and a challenge for many drivers and their horses. Each test, placed strategically throughout the village was judged by a volunteer in a red shirt donated by Sherbrooke Home Hardware Stores. Test one was to pick up the mail from one mailbox and safely deposit it all in a basket on the ground some distance from the first mailbox. Test two proved to be the most difficult requiring the driver to stop the vehicle beside a table, transfer the reins and whip into the left hand and pick up a wine glass of coloured water and then proceed to another table where the glass was placed down, without spilling a drop. The judges at this test were kept very busy replacing the broken plastic stemware, refilling the glass with more cool aid and avoiding the splashes of green ‘wine’ that was liberally flung about. Test three was to drive a figure of eight through a wooded paddock, remembering to salute the judge before and after executing the figure. Test four required the driver to scoop an apple from a large tub, using a long handled slotted ladle; the one golden apple was worth more points than the more numerous red or green apples. Test five was to accurately back up the cart or carriage between cones and to avoid knocking the ball from some cones while intentionally hitting others.
The timed Country Drive continued out of the village, and past the senior citizen’s residence where we stopped and saluted before driving along the scenic Sonora Road beside the beautiful St. Mary’s River. The Country Drive challenged drivers and horses as there were painted lines on the road that looked scary to a horse, bridges to cross, dogs, lawnmowers, cars, and motorbikes to pass, all the other horse and carriage turnouts to see and hear and the usual assortment of biting insects to contend with. We all made it back safely!
The final event was a demanding cones course set in center of the village in the common pasture. The damp uneven ground gave the drivers and horses an extra challenge as they accurately and quickly drove through the twelve cones without knocking the balls from any cone. Each driver was given two chances to drive the cones course and their best score was recorded.
Now it was a time for the horses, ponies and VSEs to rest, have a drink of water, and cool off while the drivers, grooms, passengers, and volunteers took in a lovely lunch at the tea room. Staff at Sherbrooke Village provided a delicious lunch of soup or chowder, homemade rolls, sandwiches on homemade bread, salad and a delicious blueberry buckle for dessert with tea and coffee.
After a relaxing lunch we returned to our horses and again prepared them for driving. Grooms have an important role in this task as the horses must be held safely while they are harnessed and put to the carriage. Everyone returned to the village green for the awards presentation. Spectators gathered along the fences and cheered each turnout as they were presented to the public introducing the horse, the driver and groom, and describing the carriage type. A fine gift of smoked salmon from St. Mary’s Smokehouse was presented to each turnout for participating and prizes for top points in each class were given. The overall winner of the day was declared by adding up the points for each class and a trophy, was presented. The results were: Turnout Inspection 1st place was Max, driven by John MacMillan, with Jeannette MacMillan, as groom; Country Drive and Driving Tests 1st place was Flaxen, driven by Gillian Allan with Abigail Bidwell as groom; and Cones Course 1st place was VSE Spirit, driven by Daryl Green. The Overall winner of the 3rd Sporting Day of Traditional Driving at Sherbrooke Village was the Haflinger Horse, Flaxen, driven by Gillian Allan and groom, Abigail Bidwell from Missouri, USA.
Many thanks go to the all the sponsors of this event including: Sherbrooke Village Museum, Sherbrooke Home Hardware and St. Mary’s Smokehouse. Volunteers at this event included Elaine Wescott, Peter Jackson, Angie Jacks, Jamie Benoit, Emma Tenbrinke, Margaret Brown, Janet Phinney and, of course, the staff at the Senior’s Home who marked the times for the country drive.