Carriage competition draws people from across the country

Dan Goldman

On an October morning in 1972, Pittsford, N.Y., resident Bill Remley and 13 others went for a carriage drive from Walnut Farm through Mendon Ponds Park.

“We thought we had done the most wonderful thing in the world,” said Remley. “The next year we had a few more (people) and a few more the year after that and it just kept going.”

The tradition eventually grew into the Walnut Hill Carriage Driving Competition — the largest pleasure-driving competition in North America, and maybe the world. A total of 220 competitors from across the United States and Canada came to Walnut Hill in Pittsford last week to take part in this year’s competition.

Larry and Vicky Catlett attended the event as spectators from Leeds, Maine.

“For pleasure driving, it is well known that Walnut Hill is the place to go,” said Larry Catlett.

Remley said around 29,000 people came to the event over five days. For those that came, it was a page out of a history book, as old-style carriages drove around the show ring and cross-country race.

“Our emphasis originally was to perpetuate the art and sport of driving for the improvement of the sport,” said Remley, “and for the appreciation of the American public for the contribution made by the horse and carriage to our social, cultural, political and military history.”

The competition included a variety of different classes and carriages. One was a cross-country obstacle drive. Turnout classes judged the presentation of the horse going through different gaits, and the reinsmanship division judged the skill of the driver.

On Sunday morning, carriages went on a pleasure drive through Mendon Ponds Park, remembering the origins of the competition. As always, visitors lined the park roads, watching for the horse and carriages to trot by.

Getting to the competition with horses and carriages is no easy task, said driver Mark Johnson of Boston, who came with four ponies and two carriages.

“It’s a nightmare,” he said. “We’ve got two trucks and one trailer and no extra space.”

However, the quality of the competition is enough for the driver’s to haul their gear across state and country lines.

“It’s first class all the way,” said Katherine Wilcox-Chapman, who traveled with her miniature horse from Gulph, Ontario, Canada. “They treat you very well. The level of competition is great and I'm having fun.”

Not only did competitors and spectators come from all over, but so did vendors of outdoors and horse-related products. Dubarry’s, a footwear store based in Galway, Ireland, even set up a shop at the festival.

“It's our target market,” said Dubarry’s marketer Danny Hulse. “Generally there are outdoors people. It’s a great way to meet and get feedback.”

Though the Catlett family didn’t take part this year, they did study the competition to see if their horses have what it takes.

“I like to compare my horses to other horses — see what the turnouts are,” said Larry Catlett. “What standard you need to come up to, to compete at this level.”

He said he would like to be competing at Walnut Hill in two years.

Contact Brighton-Pittsford Post writer Dan Goldman at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 270 or dgoldman@MessengerPostMedia.com.