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Camp Black Prong 2022 is the result of the longstanding relationship between the Florida Whips Driving Club and Black Prong Equestrian Village. This year is the tenth Camp Black Prong, and brought drivers of all levels from across the state to take part in this highly educational carriage driving experience.  Held October sixth through the ninth, Camp drew 110 participants and 71 equines to Bronson, FL for a four-day event that included indoor lectures, demonstrations, one-on-one lessons with clinicians, and fun classes.

“Last year’s event went so well, that when we put the date out we had 32 people make reservations, without classes even announced,” said one of the Camp Coordinators, Janet Carswell. “So Camp is something everybody looks forward to, they love it because it’s nonstressful for the most part. It’s not a competition, it’s based more on the fun of driving. It gives them a chance to meet with their friends, the food, of course, it’s fantastic. And I mean, people literally look forward to this event all year, it’s like a carriage vacation.”

An inflatable monkey hanging from a tree.

An inflatable monkey hidden for Safari Scavenger Hunt Drive.

This year Camp is bigger than ever; there are more participants, more classes, and a whole extra day of activities. New this year are the indoor lecture-style classes after lunch, whereas in the past there had been only private lessons for those who scheduled them with a trainer. Carswell noted that while the equines can only be driven so much, the participants are still interested in learning more aspects of the driving sport. This year, these lectures included topics such as carriage maintenance, understanding a judge’s perspective, and learning more about adaptations for para-driving. In addition to lectures, demonstrations took place across the four days, and two new contests were added in, the crazy cones and the safari drive.

Aletta and her pony Shotzee at Camp Black Prong.

Aletta Muller and her pony, Shotzee.

“With eight youth participants, I wanted to add in some extra fun activities for them,” Carswell said. “Everyone gets to participate and will get a kick out of it, but it was important to me that the kids had a really fun experience here. It’s important for our sport to make sure there are kids interested in driving.”

For 13-year-old Aletta Muller, this year’s camp activities changed her perspective on carriage driving. Aletta has been riding for a little more than four years and previously preferred riding over carriage driving. “This week I kind of got into the competitive stuff, which made me think, you know, this is actually pretty fun,” Aletta said. “My favorite part about Camp was trying a lot of new stuff that I’ve never done before, everything was new but I think the Derby is really my favorite.”

While Camp welcomes all levels and has clinicians suited to both beginner and advanced drivers, for many, Camp is their first big outing away from home, Carswell explained. It is their first time driving off property, taking lessons with different trainers, and experiencing what it might be like to compete. The crazy cones and derby competitions introduce these participants to competition in a casual atmosphere among friends. For example, the Derby competition is held in the same arena that is used for the Black Prong Driving Derby series. That way, participants who have never driven in an All-Weather arena will have that opportunity to try it out before they actually come to do it in a competitive atmosphere.

Gary Yeager (left) giving a lesson to Nathanael Gaedtke (middle) with Chris Carswell (right).

According to Carswell, the most unique element of Camp Black Prong is that it brings a variety of trainers together for a unique opportunity to engage with several high-caliber trainers with different specialties. Outside of Camp, a driver would have to travel around and schedule individual lessons with these clinicians if they wanted to learn from more than one person.

Horse pulling a carriage and splashing through a water obstacle.

A Camp Black Prong participant splashing through the water obstacle.

“We have some that are known for dressage work, some that really know how to teach a hazard, and some who are really great with beginners,” Carswell said. “So you come to camp, and you’ve got this collective group of carriage professionals that you don’t ever get in one place. Camp is where you might be able to try a hazard for the first time or drive through a water obstacle under the guidance of a professional. Most people don’t have these features at their homes. Camp lets you try something new, and build your skills and confidence, whether or not your goal is to compete.”

Participants travel from all over to experience Camp and learn from a variety of professionals. For Delight Craddock, who has only been carriage driving for eight years and will be traveling from South Carolina to participate again next year, events like Camp Black Prong are a game-changer for those who are getting started in the sport. Craddock attended Camp Black Prong for the second time this year and attended every possible clinic.

Two women on a carriage.

Delight Craddock (right) and her friend Louise Blankinship (left), a noted 4-in-hand driver and trainer.

The clinicians were incredibly knowledgeable and everyone can learn something from each of them, explained Craddock. “Camp is a really good opportunity for people who love the sport to get together, meet new friends, and share stories. I’ll be back next year,” said Craddock.

This year’s Camp clinicians included Bob Giles, Boots Wright, Muffy Seaton, JR Hall, Gary Yeager, Elizabeth Keathley, Charlotte Trentelmen, Heike Bean, and Larry Poulin.

Thank you to the volunteers and sponsors who made this event possible! Sponsored by Coast To Coast Truck & Trailer Sales, Nelson’s Truck & Trailer Sales, The Yard Stop, TT Distributors, Oak & Sage Realty LLC, Craig Bost Insurance Agency/Farm Bureau Insurance, A-Z Horse Driving, Lane’s Yardware, Bit Go Round, Harriett Downs Real Estate, Drummond Financial Group, Chrysalis Acres, and The Hoopes-Addis Educational Trust.

If you would like to learn more about carriage driving, check out our blog about Combined Driving, or visit the American Driving Society website. Black Prong Equestrian Village hosts several driving events from November-March, you can find out more on our events page.