We all love Hollywood stories because they usually have a purpose along with a beginning, a middle and a reasonably happy ending.? My first adventure with driving a horse and carriage took place in real life, though, and it certainly did have a purpose--?Don?t let the casting director know how little you know or he will never call you again!?
The years have long gone, but I still remember snatching the ringing phone from the hook to hear the casting director asking me to double Anita Louise on the My Friend Flicka TV series. ?He wanted me to drive a carriage with a single horse and cause it to almost turn over as I raced down a dirt trail at Fox Ranch.
?Uh, sure I can,? I said. I dared not tell the casting director that I was not too knowledgeable about driving fancy carriages.? I was the new darling of the horse stuntgirls and would one day win the Golden Boot Award, but in that moment I was terrified of looking like an idiot. I just had to drive a running horse while trying to wreck the carriage, wearing a long dress that wrapped itself around my legs--and make it look like just another day at the office.
I was breaking all the stunt safety rules. I wasn?t even familiar with the equipment! But off I went. The special effects people on the set put a large rock to the left of center on the trail for me to hit with my left front wheel to almost up-end the fancy carriage. The impact threw the carriage over onto the right wheels where it balanced momentarily as it continued forward at a rapid clip. Eventually it righted itself as the horse kept running.
Over all the noise I heard, ?That's a print!?
Looking back on it, I am embarrassed to say that I thought ?job? first instead of ?safety? first. Many years later I was thrilled to meet Kayo Fraser who, with her husband Alex, have a driving school in Deer Lodge, Montana. http://drivehorses.com/
Joe Yoder, a young man who worked for the Frasers, went on to compete in the World Equestrian Games, and was on the U.S. driving team competing in Europe. Joe says he thought he knew all about driving horses before working for the Frasers, but found out he didn't know anything compared to what they taught him.
Of course, I was hesitant to tell them my story! I learned that they can teach you how to drive any type of equipment- theirs or yours. And, they stress safety. They love to work with people who are driving horses now but want to improve their skills to get the most from their horses in a confident and relaxed state. One of my favorite things is that they teach you how to be better prepared for when the unexpected happens . . . and it will sooner or later.
I got lucky winging it on the My Friend Flicka set, but now I know how important it is to learn the basics of driving horses, to understand what the driven horse needs, andabove all to understand the equipment. With the proper skills you can develop?better communication with your horses, be more comfortable with the lines, and be a confident, competent, safe driver.
Even commercial carriage drivers are surprised at just how much there is to learn about what to do when things go wrong. That's why the Frasers? Safety Clinics? for commercial carriage, wagon and sleigh ride businesses are so popular.
In the stunt world we were often asked how many times we had gotten hurt. To keep accidents and injuries to a minimum, we always knew and understood every piece of equipment and knew where we were going before we began to work. Usually!
The best piece of advice I ever got?and I?d like to pass on to carriage drivers--came to me from Joe Yrigoyen, perhaps the top stuntman in the business: Know what you are going to do if what you have planned doesn't work.
Drive safely and always look for the happy ending.