Ed Young had already developed an interest in horses when he arrived in Geneseo decades ago to study math at the state college. He had been riding with friends – western style and with no formal training – growing up on what was then a mostly-rural Grand Island, Erie County. In college, he took riding lessons for the first time, began jumping horses and soon was involved with showing horses and fox hunting with the Genesee Valley Hunt.
As an adult, the interest only grew – to the point that Young, who had a lengthy career as an educator, competed in cross-country, dressage and show jumping, and now travels internationally for competitions and meetings with the various federations and associations of which he is affiliated. This week, Young is back home and after a two-year hiatus overseeing the 45th Anniversary Walnut Hill Carriage Driving Competition. He is manager of the show, which he has been involved in for nearly three decades.
“This is a hobby that went bad, but in a good way,” said Young, who was introduced to carriage driving years ago when a friend invited him to the Walnut Hill competition. “At first I couldn’t imagine putting a wagon on a horse and driving down the road,” said Young, who taught math for 12 years at York Central School and in the 1990 started alternative education programs for Livingston-Steuben-Wyoming BOCES and its post-merger Genesee Valley Educational Partnership.
The Walnut Hill competition, the nation’s largest pleasure driving competition, features everything from single pony cart to elaborate road coaches. There are 250 competitors this year, ranging in age from 8 to 82. They come from 20 states and three provinces.
Pleasure driving, Young said, experienced a rebirth in the 1960s as carriage collectors began to restore old vessels and put them on the road for people to see. As interest grew participants developed competitions to test their driving skills and sought out original accoutrements to reflect the authenticity of the 19th century-era of many of the restored carriages. “I admire people with perfect talent, and produce the best work hard,” Young said. “I find talented people very interesting.”
The intent of the Walnut Hill show is to create a country fair atmosphere where the horse show was one aspect of an entertaining outing. A serious competition that is also audience-pleasing entertainment was the vision of the late Bill Remley who started the competition. Remley had a passion for history and his wife had a passion for horses. They married those interests into a five-day event that offers an experience much like stepping back in time to the Victorian era.
Young worked along side Remley for 25 years, after the show founder recognized Young’s math, organizational and leadership skills. Remley asked Young to help out with the scoring in a competition, and would eventually pass reins of the show to Young. Remley died in 2010. “Bill and I had a great relationship. He was the man with the vision who worked on it 12 months out of the year. He didn’t let up,” Young recalled. “I assisted in any way I could and managed the show.”
Remley, Young said, “inspired people with his passion and left people with a desire to continue that momentum.” “Having worked with Bill for so many ways, I understood his passion and his vision,” Young said. “I’m excited to re-ignite Bill’s vision and add even more to an already established and distinguished event.”
Young first came to Walnut Hill as a spectator, then a competitor, a volunteer and finally as the show manager. “I never intended to do more than was fun, but I got sucked into it very quickly,” said Young, who competed in combined-driving and international competitions and was involved in U.S. national teams.
His early experiences at Walnut Hill only increased his enthusiasm for the equestrian sport. He became an expert driver and served as chef d’equipe, or manager, of the U.S. national team. Carriage driving, he said, “just presented me with all kinds of opportunities.”
“I’ve been very fortunate to go to the top levels. I enjoyed it immensely for the love of the sport,” he said. “A lot of people offered great opportunities and elevated me to a position that was not even part of my wildest dreams.”