The Celebrities of Carriage Driving
Carriage driving is a very small community in relation to the other horse sports. It’s not uncommon for the beginning driver to be able to rub elbows with National or even World Champions just by nature of how the sport is set up. We are a congenial group where those who have accomplished higher-level driving can be the same people who are members of our local driving club, give lessons, teach clinics, judge competitions, or even volunteer at lower-level shows. It doesn’t take long for a particular driver to become a household name in our small industry. What I have found, though, is many times, they don’t even know it.
Upper-level drivers are just going about their business of driving for clients or achieving their own goals without realizing that they are being put on a pedestal by newer drivers. The beginners have seen their photos in the driving magazines, they’ve seen their names in the show results, they’ve watched the videos of the upper-level drivers. Many beginners, and especially the kids, look to those drivers to try to learn from them, emulate their driving style, and watch how they should do certain practices. This can create a situation that the upper-level driver didn’t expect nor is prepared for. They are under the eyes of a whole lot of people, especially with social media. Everything they post can be viewed, analyzed… and scrutinized.
Other sports do a better job of preparing their athletes for public media. Most professional sports figures generally have a certain decorum in front of the camera. If you watch a race car driver being interviewed, they are sure to say their sponsors’ names in the answer to a question. Professional sports figures know that whatever they say or how they act will become part of a public record and are more careful in phrasing their comments. They probably also realize that the cameras are always on them no matter what they do.
In carriage driving, we have less media cameras, but we still have quite a few personal cameras on the ground recording our actions, and even our own camera in the advent of helmet cams. What we say and do becomes a part of public record when we post something on social media. And the beginners take note. Even in my own business, I need to be careful of what I say, do, and post so that customers and potential customers are seeing best practices represented. If I happen to make a mistake, like once I missed catching a trace in the holdback strap before a class at the Villa Louis Carriage Classic, I avoid posting a photo that shows that (unless it is to illustrate an educational topic). In my opinion, to do less than that is irresponsible.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen some upper-level drivers become upset when a competition placing doesn’t go their way. While a lot of us can relate, and we realize that everyone is human, it’s not a good look. I’ve seen drivers do some unacceptable practices by industry standards because “that is the way I do it at home”. Yes, it may work for them there, but it's not a good way to promote best practices in public. The safety rules of carriage driving take into account the “what-ifs” that can, and have, happened, and look to avoid them happening again.
While I think that upper-level drivers appreciate the accolades and respect, I don’t think that most drivers desire or are prepared for the spotlight they eventually find themselves under. From my interactions and friendships with many of them, I surmise that they probably just want to be average people with an above average talent or skill. Again, many times, these drivers don’t even realize that they are in the public eye. Or if they do, they find themselves in uncomfortable situations. I’ve had champions in my store at horse shows & other events, and had other customers quietly whisper to me, “Isn’t that ______ ______ ?” while subtly pointing. It’s not long before that champion feels the eyes staring, and just leaves to avoid the awkwardness and to go on about being a normal person. Since I’ve talked with many of them, I’ve learned to treat them as regular people who put their pant legs on one at a time just like the rest of us. It’s amazing how much you can learn from them by doing this!
So what is my point? I’m not really sure. Actually…I do know my point. Upper-level drivers need to be aware of how much their actions affect lower-level drivers, and how much of a role model they have become through the process of their success, like it or not. They can have a lot to give to the industry, and their interactions with lower-level drivers can make or break someone’s increased interest in and support of the sport...at all levels. In the same breath, lower-level drivers also need to be aware that those drivers are real people who work hard to achieve a goal, and also are human and make mistakes just like everyone else. They have thoughts, opinions, and feelings and most can be very approachable, even just to say hello.
(In the photo, our student, Jordyn Anderson, meets World Bronze Medalist Joe Yoder at one of her first carriage shows.)
- Myrna Rhinehart