Carriage Driving, an equestrian discipline mainly dominated by adults, has seen a recent increase in youth participation in Florida.
The Growing Youth Carriage Driving Movement
Many parents want to see their kids find an outdoor passion, something that pulls them away from the computer screen and encourages them to be active, and what better way to accomplish that goal than by sparking a love for horses in today’s youth? For Karen Cherry, the Youth Director of the Florida Whips Driving Club, encouraging young kids to become involved in carriage driving was a unique way for her to do that and instill valuable life lessons.
“I think of horses as an avenue for learning life lessons,” said Cherry. “I think horse management is such an important part of that too, not just the driving but everything that goes into taking care of your pony. Those are the life lessons that help make you a good human, you learn to be caring, and to be selfless, and build a strong work ethic.”
When Cherry started her quest to increase youth involvement in the sport, her first stop was the Pony Club. Although the U.S. Pony Club recognizes driving as a discipline, there are very few competitions and opportunities for kids interested in learning. Cherry saw the need for more youth driving opportunities, and from there the first youth clinic was born.
“We were just kind of blindly going forward trying to figure out how to get kids involved so I thought, let’s do a free clinic,” explained Cherry. With a few Girl Scout and Pony Club members planning to attend, they had hoped for eight kids to participate but were shocked when 38 kids showed up to the clinic. From there, the youth carriage driving movement began to take off.
After the clinic, several kids have taken an interest in the sport, many of which are now attending regular training lessons. Some kids are already asking about plans for future clinics. The first clinic was designed to gauge how many kids were interested in the sport and their experience level. “Now we have a better idea of the local interest, and we will try to keep this going,” said Cherry.
One aspect of the sport that makes it difficult for kids to get involved is the costs. Owning and caring for horses can be quite expensive, especially when you add in the costs of purchasing and keeping carriages well-maintained Cherry has recognized this issue and is working on ways to alleviate those costs for the kids that are interested in driving. However, getting involved with the sport does not have to be expensive. While owning and caring for the driving horses may be costly, each driver still needs a navigator, an aspect of the sport that doesn’t break the bank. Navigators are needed to help counterbalance the carriage throughout the course and help guide the driver through obstacles.
While some carriage driving enthusiasts prefer driving, 13-year-old Nathanael Gaedtke prefers navigating for others. Gaedtke has mainly been driving miniature ponies and navigating for others for the last two years. He found his passion for the sport through his mother, who trains carriage horses. “Navigating is my favorite because I’m a person who has to have something to do,” said Gaedtke. He explained that he gets more of a thrill from navigating and helping counterbalance the carriage through the twists and turns of each obstacle.
The Kids of Camp Black Prong
With more kids showing an interest in carriage driving, it was no surprise to see a few kids show up this year for the first time at Camp Black Prong, a four-day educational carriage driving event hosted by the Florida Whips Driving Club. With some activities designed with youth participants in mind, the eight kids that attended this year’s camp were able to have fun with friends, all while learning from some of the top clinicians during one-on-one training sessions.
Having opportunities available for kids to learn about carriage driving is important to Cherry, most kids do not know that it is an equestrian activity available to them. Aletta Muller had been riding horses for years but is just now learning about the sport of driving. Under the guidance of a new trainer, Muller began driving to become a more well-rounded equestrian. When asked about her Camp experience, she explained that her love for carriage driving is growing. “This week I kind of got into the competitive stuff, which kind of made me think, you know, this is actually pretty fun,” said Muller.
While many kids are just starting out in the sport, 12-year-old Sarah Batstone is already competing against adults, mainly due to the lack of youth competitions available. Batstone attended Camp Black Prong for the first time this year, where under the guidance of her trainer, Bob Giles, she was able to try her hand at cantering through hazards and obstacles. She found a passion for the sport through her mother and grandmother and is trying to encourage her friends to get involved as well. “I have one friend that I’ve taken her to shows with me, and I’ve let her on the carriage with me and she’s started to consider that it’s pretty fun,” said Batstone.