The man who has everything need not despair. A suitably expensive hobby has again become fashionable. That old sport of driving a horse or, better still, four of them, is enjoying a revival and is now a prestige symbol in the show ring. At the recent Devon, Pa. horse show, for example, no fewer than 11 four-in-hands were shown in classes, while 35 vehicles, ranging from a pony cart to an English coach, competed in the show's third private driving marathon. In fact, driving is suddenly experiencing such a renaissance that there will be two new shows devoted entirely to the sport this year—one at New Brunswick, N.J. and the other at Newport, R.I.
Devon gets the credit for keeping the event alive through the years when only three entries turned up to compete. One of those traditional enthusiasts was James K. Robinson Jr., chairman of the show. "I've always liked to drive," he says. "I'll drive anything—draft horses on the farm, mules, anything I can get my hands on." What he and his wife, also an accomplished whip, now drive for both show and pleasure is a team of Canadian crossbreds, half Clydesdale and half Hackney. "We need big horses," he says, "because most of the time we use our coach for picnics. It weighs 2,700 pounds. We load it up with food, drinks and guests, then drive through Pennsylvania's Amish country and eat and drink while we enjoy the drive."
Robinson does not consider himself a carriage collector, like many of the sport's devotees. He keeps only seven or eight, just those that can be used. Most, he says, were given to him by people who wanted to find a home for the vehicles and an owner who would not let them rot away unappreciated.
While Robinson collected his coaches locally, before the boom, Philip Hofmann of New Brunswick, N.J. went abroad for most of his. Hofmann, 59, decided he was a little old to risk falling on his head, so he changed from riding to driving. He started fooling with a team of Canadian half-breds which, he says, almost killed him. Slightly daunted but not discouraged, he went to the international show in Aachen, Germany with his daughter Carol, who was a member of the U.S. Equestrian Team. There he not only bought the German driving championship team of horses but imported the master as well for six weeks of instruction. He was so pleased with the experience that he returned to Germany to buy still another team of Holsteiners, which he showed this year at Devon. Hofmann's road coach, shown with brass-fitted harness, and his park drag, shown with silver-fitted harness, are valued at $15,000 each. The harness, hard to find, costs between $3,000 and $5,000. Reviving the Dickens scene is not uncomplicated or cheap.
For collectors, the Philadelphia area is a mother lode because it was a center of wealth at a time when the horse and carriage were in their heyday. It has become so well known among carriage fanciers seeking vehicles that last year a drag needing refinishing was sold by a local resident for $20,100 and a footboard lamp brought $1,100.
Still, most four-in-hand drivers cannot resist adding to their collections. J. Cecil Ferguson of Rhode Island has amassed 35 assorted vehicles over the years. A Morgan horse breeder, he shows his home-bred team, three of which were sired by his champion stallion Parade, who traveled with the Lipizzaners when they were in this country four years ago.
One of the most beautiful restorations now to be seen is the Brewster park drag of New York's Chauncey Stillman. Nineteen coats of paint and varnish on the carriage were hand-rubbed to a rich gloss, and the equipage is drawn by four imported Hackney horses. For occasions like the Devon and Toronto shows, Stillman also imports a driver from England, Mrs. Frank Haydon. This combination has been retiring challenge trophies at a fast clip. Unlike other coaches usually piled with guests and a brightly clad footman to play calls on his yard of tin (an English coach horn), the Stillman drag is shown austerely empty. The owner, in fact, is usually to be found among the passengers atop someone else's coach.