Julie’s Carriage Driving
Passionate about ponies – A story of determination…
When I left Clifton High in 1978 I had my career all planned. I wanted to go to IM Marsh in Liverpool to teach PE! I would never have believed it possible that 30 years later I would be running my own hotel -(Alveston House Hotel)and that I would have represented Great Britain at 3 World Championships!!!
To earn some money during the summer before I went to Liverpool I took a part time job at Alveston House Hotel at Alveston near Thornbury. Little did I know this would change the direction of my career. I fell in love with the Hotel, working 90 hours a week for 60p an hour! I quickly realised that I wanted a career in Hospitality. I went to IM Marsh in September but returned to take up a full time job at Alveston House after just seven weeks. I was bitten by the Hotel Industry bug and quickly decided this was where my future lay. Hard work and determination culminated in reaching General Manager status and eventually led to me buying the hotel in 1998.
During this time another passion was being cultivated. I had always loved horses and eventing but I stumbled on a sport that I had not seen before ‘Carriage Driving’. I bought a small black and white pony ‘Victoria Plum’ and started to learn to drive. I started competing in driving trials with mum on the backstep! From club level competitions we progressed to Nationals – Victoria Plum became well known from Devon up to St Fort in Scotland. By the time I retired Victoria Plum she was twenty one years old! Driving Trials consist of 3 phases. First phase is the Dressage –similar to the ridden dressage but with a Carriage! The second phase is the marathon, this consists of three sections – Section A is usually 7 – 8 kms and can be driven at any speed but you get penalties for going too fast or too slowly – Section B is a 1km walk which you have to do in ten minutes. Section E is the exciting part and is usually 8-9 kms with eight obstacles. You get penalties for every second we are in an obstacle. It is fast and exciting to watch, all the obstacles are different some in water, trees or up and down steep banks. The person on the backstep of the carriage is vital to help keep the carriage upright. The final phase is the cones – again time penalties for being too slow and three penalties if you knock a ball.
2003 saw the first Combined Pony World Championships in Karlstetten, Austria. By this time my ponies were based with my trainer Robert Buck. I travel the 45 miles to train five or six times a week. I juggled training ponies with Hotel work (my day usually starts at 5am ) and to my amazement won the first two selection events and secured our place on the team. I had never travelled abroad with the ponies so travelling the three days in the lorry to get to Karlstetten was an experience in itself, but I will never forget the feeling of driving up the centre line at the start of our dressage test realizing that we were really representing Great Britain. We came second in the dressage and went on to finish in 12th place individually (in the world!!) I now have two fantastic welsh section D ponies, we compete at major international competition in Europe and have been very successful with wins in France, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden. A very special win was in Conty in France in 2007, standing on the Podium with the National Anthem playing as the Union Jack was raised was a vey emotional moment.
Carriage Driving requires skill, patience, determination and an incredible amount of commitment, but most of all is the relationship with the ponies who give their all. It is not a sport for the faint hearted and can be extremely dangerous at times as the carriages are pulled at speed through tough marathon courses. I have a fantastic back up team without whom it would not be possible. When we travel abroad there are seven adults, two ponies, two or three carriages, four sets of harness etc. I have an 18 tonne lorry and small trailer on the back but we still struggle to fit everything in.
The 2007 Worlds were in Dorthalyst in Denmark. We were 3rd after the dressage, had a good marathon and clear cones with just .95 of a time penalty in the cones. We missed individual bronze medal by .45 of a penalty – so near yet so far!!