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A World-Class Tradition

Posted On January 25, 2019

Carriage driving in the Sandhills has grown into a popular sport that helps bring millions of dollars into the local economy

By RAY OWEN

Moore County Driving Club Southern Pines NC

Horses-drawn carriages have been a defining feature of the Moore County landscape since the days of colonial settlement. From the late 1700s through the 1920s, artisans in the Carthage area crafted wagons, carts and buggies. Today, there are likely more horses-drawn vehicles in the Sandhills per capita than any other place in America. Some of the greatest figures in competitive carriage driving live in the region along with a flood of followers, making this one of the most important districts for the sport in the world. 

Until the age of the motorcar, everyone traveled in an animal-drawn vehicle unless they walked. For as long as recorded history, an almost bewildering variety of carriages have been used for transportation. Prehistoric horse carts have been found in Celtic graves and carriage-like chariots were used in Mesopotamia as early as 1900 BC. 

The 1850 Moore County Census lists more than thirty individuals engaged in wagon, carriage, and coach making, including associated blacksmiths, mechanics and wheelwrights. Among the largest early industrial complexes was the Tyson & Jones Buggy Company, a Carthage-based factory established in 1859. 

At its zenith in the 1890s, Tyson & Jones produced 3,000 units a year. According to local lore, Henry Ford visited the operation and wanted to convert their assembly line to produce his Model T, but the factory owners refused saying that horseless carriages were a passing fancy. Soon after, the popularity of automobiles led to the demise of the firm and the last buggy was reportedly delivered in 1925.

As one door was closing on the horses-drawn carriage, another was opening wide. The Tufts family of Pinehurst and the Boyd family of Southern Pines were instrumental in sustaining carriage driving as a leisure and sports activity. The founding of the Moore County Hounds in 1914 attracted foxhunters to the Sandhills, and many of the riders came with harness horses and ponies. This led to the formation of the Moore County Driving Club (MCDC), its roots reaching back to the 1920s.

The MCDC is one of the largest and most active clubs of its kind in the nation, with more than 200 members. Skill levels range from newcomers to veteran competitors and everyone with a sincere interest is welcome. The group hosts schooling shows, pleasure shows, fun drives and social events throughout the year, along with an annual holiday parade in downtown Southern Pines.

Carriages have paraded through the streets of Southern Pines since it was chartered in 1887. For more than 32 years, the MCDC has continued this grand tradition, bringing good cheer as the caravan makes its way through the heart of town. More than twenty drivers participate in the spectacle, going to great lengths in decorating their carriages that are pulled by an assortment of horses, ponies, mules, or donkeys.

Moore County Driving Club Southern Pines NC

Events like the holiday parade have become defining aspects of town life, so much so that municipal studies have found that protecting its equestrian heritage is a prime concern of the citizens, with horse-related businesses bringing more than $165 million to the county annually.

Pleasure driving shows are an important activity for the MCDC, which host several events each year. Shows may include ring classes, obstacle driving, and pleasure drives on roads or trails. Horse and ponies of all sizes and breeds are eligible, usually competing with others of similar size and experience. There can also be divisions defined by the number of animals utilized, such as singles, pairs, and multiples like four-in-hands and tandems. 

Visually striking, pleasure driving reflects the customs and rituals of a bygone time with beautifully designed vehicles and elegant costumes. In addition to the driver’s skill and ability, participants are judged on their attire. The driver’s apparel is expected to be in harmony with the color of the horse and its bridle, harness, and carriage. Fashions range from classical conservative to outfits inspired by the Gilded Age. Both women and men are required to wrap their mid-section and legs in an apron, and they must wear a hat and gloves. A whip is also required for safety reasons to help guide the animal.

Another category of competition is combined driving, formalized as an international sport in the early 1970s under the leadership of HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. The contest is intended to showcase the talents of drivers and animals in a challenge reminiscent of a human triathlon. Drivers and equines of any size or breed participate in the competition that is held over one, two, or three days. Participants utilize equines in singles, pairs, or four-horse teams. Grooms or navigators ride along as the second or third persons on the carriage, providing strategic support in addition to balance and ballast. The event consists of three phases: Dressage, Marathon, and Obstacle/Cones.

Dressage is the foundation of combined driving, with equines and their drivers demonstrating skills in specified patterns and gaits, judged appropriate to their levels of training. The Marathon tests the ability of drivers over set distances. Along the way, competitors negotiate challenge “obstacles” as they choose their paths through “gates” in the correct direction and sequence. Here, the help of the navigator is critically important, as this competition requires quick thinking. In the Obstacle/Cones phase, drivers and their steeds move in correct sequence between precisely spaced pairs of cones over a prescribed course with up to twenty “obstacles.”

A number of world-class carriage driving professionals call the Sandhills home including Bill Long, Keady and Randy Cadwell, Megan Binge, Fonz Hargrove, and Craig Kellogg. This constellation of stars is always present, coaching and guiding students, and lending encouragement or advice. Such generosity of spirit has helped make this the place to be for anyone serious about driving.

Bill Long is a true ambassador for the sport of driving and he has been one of the most successful American drivers in international four-in-hand competition. Horses are in his blood. In his youth he worked as a blacksmith and farrier just like his father before him. He started driving and competing in 1974 after taking a job as a farm manager in New Jersey. In 1991, he moved with his wife, Linda, to Southern Pines where he started his own driving training center.

Moore County Driving Club Southern Pines NC

When Bill first arrived, driving was not as prevalent as today but he says, “I feel pretty good that I was able to get a lot of people from the North to come down and buy farms. Folks enjoyed driving here better than other places because they don’t have the dirt roads and nature preserves open to equestrians.” Highlights of his career include being selected to compete in eight World Championships. He was also the first American-trained driver to win the Royal Windsor Driving Grand Prix in England and placed seventh in the World Four-In-Hand Championship in 1984.

Remembering his time at Windsor, Bill says, “It was the best thing that ever happened to me. I’m up at the Muse with my team the first morning, and Prince Phillip comes around the corner and says ‘Bill, you’re going to go out with me.’ So, the Prince and I drive up the ridge, and the other competitors see us and they razzed me about it all evening.” Bill won the competition, and when the prince presented him with the prize, he joked “Bill, I invited you over here, but I didn’t think you were going to beat us!”

Of the many people Bill attracted to the Sandhills are sisters, Randy and Keady Cadwell. World-champion drivers themselves, says Randy, “there’s nowhere else in the world with thousands of acres that you can just go drive on. We have this funny thing we say when asked why our horses stand so well. We say ‘it’s Southern Pines training,’ because you drive to someone’s farm and stop to chat, then go to someone else’s farm and stop to chat – it’s a very social thing.”

Reflecting on the quality of her life in Sandhills’ horse country, Keady Cadwell says, “We have beginning drivers, world champions, and everything in between. Horses are the best people. If you fell down in a field of our horses, they’re so friendly they would sit on top of you. They listen, they're forgiving and they love you unconditionally – they're the real stars.”