Aside from The Bandit who was maturing and beginning his driving career, I was enthusiastically embracing all that Alby and Pippa (mum and aunt) could offer me. I was quite interested in learning to drive them as a pair, but needed a new carriage and harness, so instead settled on driving them in tandem. That is, one in front of the other. In my faulty logic I figured I could use the same carriage, get away with only buying some extra bits of harness, and extra long reins, and away we would go. I also figured that as Alby was so unsuited to driving single, she could be my wheeler. (i.e at the back). In this way, as the younger of the two she could pull the weight, and really only had to follow Pippa about.
How hard could that be??
My sensible side did think it would be good to get some lessons as two sets of reins to hold took a bit of getting used to; so I booked us in. I gaily said to the instructor that Alby had only been driven a couple of times. “in tandem?” she asked. “ no …ever” I replied as her colour changed. Anyhow she was up for challenge and so off we went. I still have the photos of that first lesson, which to be honest was pretty good considering. You know, considering that none of us knew much, apart from the instructor.
In carriage driving it is considered good practice for safety reasons to have a “groom”. That in the traditional sense was a groom in all senses of the word; for me it really meant having someone along who could jump out and help out if things went wrong. In the early days I had a regular queue of children but really needed a lightweight adult for shows and more serious events.
I found my groom one day as I was trotting along with The Bandit and passed a woman walking along. She said ”I’ve always wanted to do that “ to which I replied “get in if you want?”. She did, and so began a long term friendship where she not only “groomed” for me, but drove the ponies and generally became a wonderful friend and helper. We had such fun, both having a slightly irreverent air for the more serious side of carriage driving and the pomposity which often accompanied it. Hard to be pompous with Shetland ponies ; although some still managed it 😊
Anyhow once I was a newly qualified expert at tandem driving (cough) we went to some events and drives. Most people who drove tandems drove elegant horses with flair and style, often to beautiful traditional carriages that looked truly jaw droppingly beautiful.
We were less impressive, it has to be said.
My ponies tried so hard, making up for a lack of elegance with their try and the smile factor. Pippa was a perfect leader going wherever she was pointed at, and Alby…well I suspect although she never really, truly, understood what was happening, she was seemingly content to follow along as I had hoped. We even managed obstacles and tight turns without mishap. Looking back I have no idea how.
One day we took ourselves off for The Tandem Club meet . The current Tandem Club was formed in 1977 by Sallie Walrond and Lady Vivien Cromwell with the aim of maintaining and promoting the art of tandem driving in a “coachmanlike style”. (that refers to correct rein handling, which despite only having Shetlands, I could still do, even though we did not look very “coachmanlike”).
Prospective members are scrutinised during a drive at the annual Meet and assuming that this is completed satisfactorily they are then entitled to wear the silver tandem bars badge of The Tandem Club. There is neither entrance fee nor annual subscription to the Club, echoing the principles of the first 19th Century Tandem Club.
Despite my enthusiasm I was a bit daunted at the prospect. It was a grand Country Estate setting for the meet, the drive was quite long for my ponies, I was driving in some pretty esteemed company, and I was being assessed! I need not have worried as they performed to the best of their ability and we gained our tandem bars, which I still proudly own, although never have occasion to actually wear. After the drive there was “tea”. There is always “tea” after a drive, and Cake. After this drive we were escorted to a dark oak panelled room with a huge table laden with cakes of every description, it was cake heaven indeed! Just as well the ponies were not pulling us along afterwards!!
Meantime The Bandit had survived being “put to” the carriage and was still saying Yes at every opportunity.
Our driving adventures could really begin.