One of the favorite events each year is the four-in-hand coaching competition. Few things are more impressive then the sight of a beautiful antique coach entering the Dixon Oval pulled by four matched horses. The whip, the grooms and passengers all elegantly dressed, the entire spectacle evokes a bygone era.
The majority of the coaches used in competition today are antiques, though a few are high quality reproductions. There are three types of American coaches, the Park Drag, the Private Road Coach, and the Road Coach. While all of the coaches follow the same basic pattern, they would have been built to the specifications of the owner. The most prominent builder in the United States was Brewster and Company of New York. Many owners find antique coaches in need of restoration, a process that can take up to a year.
In competition, the horses are required to work as one unit, a difficult challenge as every horse has its own personality. It is like striving for perfection in skating compulsories, keeping a perfectly clean line, with four opinions in the mix. Building a team of four like-minded horses with similar conformation is a long term project, and will likely require more than the initial four horses. The training, from breaking, to drive, to showing at Devon can take five years or more. Susan Saltonstall, who many years ago showed four Welsh ponies at Devon spent twenty years breeding and training a host of ponies to finally get the four she considered good enough for Devon .
The whip, the grooms and the passengers must be as elegantly turned out as the coach and the horses. Passengers are neatly attired in accordance to the type of show and the time of year. Devon is a country show, after Memorial Day. Lighter colors and straw hats are appropriate for daytime. The gentlemen will wear darker colors in the evening with black top hats, while during the day the top hats are grey.
The coaching competition will take place Monday, May 30 through June 3 in the evenings.
Photo Credit: Phyllis Wyeth and Jamie O'Rourke Win at Devon