driving · sleigh rally

Green Mountain Horse Association Sleigh Rally

The Green Mountain Horse Association, or GMHA for short, is a really special organization. They steward hundreds of acres of horse property in South Woodstock, Vermont, and host dressage, eventing, hunter/jumper, endurance/trail rides, and driving year-round. Their barns, offices, and other outbuildings are wonderful, and they are set in some of the most beautiful country in an already beautiful state. I’ve never been to another facility quite like it (and that includes the Kentucky Horse Park).

Yesterday, Hannah and I met up to spectate at the GMHA Sleigh Rally. We weren’t sure what we were getting into – other than a stated goal of seeing some cool sleigh driving – but it was an incredibly special day. We saw most of the classes through the day, and I couldn’t stop staring at the gorgeous horses, gorgeous sleighs, and seriously fancy outfits. I remain a bit mystified at what they were judging – class list is here, if you’re interested – but it was cool to see. Some basics carry over across sport: even driving horses ran the gamut of engaged, obedient, coming through their back, etc. Some things confused me a great deal.
In short: amazing day. If you are even remotely close to GMHA – and we met people who drove 3+ hours to spectate – I can’t recommend it enough. We even got lucky with the weather: sunny, clear, and no wind, comfortable weather to stand outside for 4-5 hours even if it was in the high teens/low 20s.
On to the pictures!

The last of the light. Note Hannah taking video in the middle ground. 
The streams at GMHA are pretty even in the winter.

I don’t know if the above picture really captures the utter gorgeousness of that particular sleigh, and how seriously fancy the horse was with his matching not-quite-quarter sheet.

I was absolutely enthralled by the way the trailers had been modified to hold carriages and sleighs. Every one was different.

This pony’s name was Mr. Wee. I am so not making that up.

Look closely. Yes, yes that is a greyhound in a top hat and Baker sheet rocking the sleigh dog class.

These guys came out of nowhere and absolutely crushed the Currier & Ives class. There were audible gasps in the crowd when they drove over from their trailer to enter the class. It was the only class they did all day, I think. They clearly came to win!

This pony’s name was Edward. Look closely. There is a Corgi wearing a scarf in the sleigh.
Later, when they came back in from the cross country pace, the driver pulled him to a halt and announced loudly “That was so much fun! This is the best pony ever! I have to get out and hug him!” And so she leapt out of the sleigh and gave him a huge hug. It. was. adorable.

GO MR. WEE GO. That quarter sheet was about the size of a regular horse saddle pad.
Go and check out Hannah’s blog for more photos and a video. Joan of FlatlandsFoto was there, too, and I’m sure she’ll post some gorgeous stuff, so if you don’t follow her on Facebook you should do so.
driving · equestrian history · shelburne farms

The Webb Family of Vermont

Subtitle: “It’s Hard Out There for a Vanderbilt.”

It is miserable and wet and cold and we are predicted for #@@%#@$@ SNOW on Sunday. Instead of complaining, have some photos. In the last few weeks I’ve visited both the Shelburne Museum and Shelburne Farms, both institutions founded by members of the Webb family, descendants of the Vanderbilts. Basically instead of building the Breakers or Biltmore, this branch of the family came to Vermont, built staggeringly gorgeous farms, founded museums, and were really, really obsessed with driving. They bred their own line of Hackney crosses and had dozens of carriages shipped back and forth between Vermont and New York City so they could drive whatever they wanted, wherever they wanted.

The Shelburne Museum, nicknamed the “Smithsonian of New England,” is a really terrific museum but what caught my eye was its unbelievable carriage collection. Easily over 150, ranging from unbelievably luxurious to everyday delivery wagons. Not all of them were owned by the Webbs, but the majority of the more luxurious ones were.

Oh yeah, and they collected equestrian art, too. This particular statue is meant to be of a cowboy bailing on a horse that’s just had enough. I hope it wasn’t done from life.

One of the Webbs foxhunted and had a private hunt called the Shelburne Hunt, and there were a few dozen paintings of his favorite carriage horses and foxhunting horses & hounds.

Next up, Shelburne Farms, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. This was the actual Webb homestead, the Olmsted-designed site of their mansion and breeding operations, and today it operates as a conservation education center.

I didn’t do much looking about – I will have to go back for the Farm Barn and the Breeding Barn, the latter of which has an indoor arena that was used to exercise carriage horses in the winter, and is supposed to be the largest indoor space in Vermont. But the meeting I attended was in the Coach Barn, original home to some of the carriages that are now at the museum.

Interior of one wing, box and straight stalls, now used for storage for special events.

Central courtyard, main entrance.

View of the whole structure.