Horsham Carriage Occasions of Copsale
It was like stepping back in time...
Two freshly-bathed Friesian horses, with braided hair and gleaming tack, pulling an immaculate Victorian
carriage with exquisite, polished accoutrements down Horsham's historic Causeway.
It was an unusual sight for 21st Century Horsham town centre, but one that complemented the themes of the launch day for the newly-enhanced West Street. A number of equine-themed plaques and decorations now adorn the paving and furnishings of the town's shopping heart.
But the company running the coach trips that day is, in fact, in its infancy. Horsham Carriage Occasions was only set up last year by Michael Hartland, who has grown up around horses and coach carriages, thanks primarily to his mother.
Joanne Hartland is renowned as one of the leading carriage designers in the country. It may not be to Joanne's own personal taste, but the ludicrously wonderful 'Cinderella' coach hired by Katie Price when she married Peter Andre was originally a Hartland Carriages design.
But Michael now provides the family business with another element, by acting as a Coachman so people can hire out the carriages for weddings,anniversary drives, proms, funerals, and all manner of special events. He said: "For many years, we have been driving coaches and riding horses for fun, and we've been to lots of shows.
"We've driven at the New Forest Show, South of England Show, Horse of the Year Show, Royal Windsor, Suffolk County Show and many more.I was at the London Olympics for the opening ceremony. Right at the beginning they had five Shire horses with omnibuses, and I was part of that, working for another company based in Ashford.
"This experience spurred me on to do my own commercial work nearer to home, so I thought I might as well use the horses we have. Horsham Carriage Occasions set up about a year ago, but the horses are very experienced as we have used them in many competitions, events and parades. This is very important as they need to have a lot of experience under their belt.
"It's not always ideal to take a young horse to events such as the West Street launch as they are more likely to
become excited and pull a carriage. On that day, a man suddenly came around a corner in front of us carrying
hundreds of balloons, and that might have spooked a young horse! In the past, a lot of people have wanted to buy our horses, and we have sold one or two to a nice home, but generally we like to have them here if they have a good temperament."
The business is based on the well-guarded family farm in Copsale, where there are six Friesian horses used for pulling carriages. The breed are imported from Northern Holland, and are a popular horse to drive because of their stepping patterns and their gentle temperament, even compared to Gelderlander and Hackney horses.
But it takes a long time to prepare them for a special outing, and special skill to drive them too.
Joanne said: "First of all they need to be groomed, so you trim them and on the day before the event they will be
completely bathed with shampoo. The girls plait their manes and put conditioner in their coat so they gleam, as Michael is hopeless at that! He cleans the carriages to within an inch of their life. They look immaculate, and the harnesses are always scrubbed too.
"All of the accoutrements which go on the carriages, like the lamps, baskets, hampers and glasses, all need to be cleaned and polished. Then you need to load it and unload and hope it doesn't all get dirty! Driving a carriage requires great skill too. What's the worst thing that happens with riding a horse? You fall of and a horse gets loose.
"The worse thing with a carriage is that you lose control and the carriage careers off course. It's far more dangerous. Sometimes you'll have experienced riders who say 'When I retire I'm going to learn that.' But it's not an old man's sport.
"There's a lot to manage and you're responsible for a lot of people. To control four horses, with four sets of reins all moving together, is very hard. It takes a long time to do it well. Michael is a very good 'pairs' rider and he is also doing well at unicorn riding, which is two at the back and one at the front, and tandem driving, which is one at the back and one at the front. The next level is to have the two pairs.
'This is the most physically demanding, which is why most Coachmen are these great big burly men. Aside from me, there are not many lady coach drivers in the country. But the fact I can do it well goes to show that it's not all about strength; it is technique too.
"I do feel wrecked at the end of the day though. I always have to go and see the physiotherapist afterwards!
But I love doing it, as we all do, as horses are a way of life. People look at us like we drive around on the
carriages all day! Somebody once said to me after we'd been on the Coach Drive at Knepp Castle that 'I was out with all the toffs!' I laughed out loud and said 'If only you'd known who was there! We have lorry drivers, HGV drivers and all sorts of people. They just happen to be wearing a Top Hat and a bit of tweed!"
There are a variety of different carriages used too, although the main ones used for special events are the 'Wagonette' and the 'Cinderella' carriage.
Michael said: "The Wagonette is a body style with seats along the side for people to sit on. There are several different styles of coach. The Pumpkin coach is something people either love or hate, but the demand is out there.The Roof Seat Brake is another traditional coach vehicle. We have one that we restored about three years ago. It is a very elegant vehicle.
"People would use it drive to races or point to point venues, and they sat on the top with a picnic hamper tucked away. This was very much the Rolls Royce of its time. English carriage manufacturers were renowned for their elegance and refined styling.
"But the ones we use are built to a more modern design with modern materials such as disc brakes. Due to insurance purposes, you need these elements in order to be able to carry people on them. With carriage driving there is a lot of tradition and correctness, especially with the competitions, where it is a bit like veteran car competitions.
But when you are working with the public, safety has to come first."
If you'd like to find out more visit www.horsham-carriage-occasions.co.uk or call 01403 730244