A classic summer event

Visitors to the Hamilton County Fairgrounds may have felt as though they stepped back in time Saturday morning with horses and carriages trotting around the grounds. The occasion was actually the fourth annual Summer Carriage Classic, sponsored by the Best of Iowa in Traces Society. Drivers from as far away as Wisconsin and Nebraska, and as a near as Ames, arrived with carriages, carts and horses of many breeds for the two-day competition.

Organizers said the Webster City venue was well-suited for the Carriage Classic.

“These facilities are to die for, “said Katie Rhinehart, show organizer. “You’re no more than 100 yards from anything. We are able to have this nice big ring here, and another over here,” she said pointing to an area set up with cones. Nearly 40 entries took part in this year’s event, she said.

The classic involves a variety of different divisions that tests the driver’s skill and the horse’s responses. At mid morning, the women in the competition were taking their turns around the course.

“What you are looking at here is our ladies to drive class,” she said. “You want everything to look pretty and look good as a package with driver, horse and carriage.”

Part of looking good is the driver’s ensemble. A hat is required in the ring, and the competitors strive to match their attire to the horse and the carriage.

“We don’t want it to look like we’re in costume. The competitors are not in period dress. They go into their closet and select something they would go to church in with long sleeves,” she said. “You want to match your pony.”

Rhinehart said each competitor also wears an apron. That stems from horse and buggy days when carriages traveled along dusty roads.

“When you travel down the road, you would get all dusty. But when you take your apron off, your clothes would still be neat and clean,” she said.

Rhinehart said that the competition also takes into consideration the horse’s performance. The ring announcer calls out commands such as “walk” or “trot” and the driver is expected to transition into the new move quickly and seamlessly.

“The judge is watching those transitions. They need to be smooth and not jerky. And it needs to be good to look at.”

The class is a working pleasure class, Rhinehart explained. The driver, horse and cart work together at ease.

“A non-horseperson wouldn’t mind getting into the carriage and try driving. It looks like it might be a pleasure to drive,” she said. “The horse is standing nicely and reacting to commands and not acting out.”

There are as many makes and models of carriages and carts as there are breeds of horses at the show. Some of the carts are vintage and other drivers use reproductions.

Some are more of a utility cart and others — like gigs — are taller and allow the driver to look out over the horses’ backs. Some are two-wheeled meadowbrook or road carts. One of the more unique carts was operated by Terry Hooten of Waterville. She drives a wicker governess’ cart which features seats along the side for the governess’ young charges.

The classic brings out not only adult drivers, but also junior drivers. Beth and Luke Dahlberg, Solon Springs, Wis., travelled to the carriage event with their parents Julie and Mark. The family takes part in about six carriages competitions each year.

“Mark and I have been around horses since we were teenagers,” said Julie Dahlberg. “The children have been around this all of their lives. That’s one of the nice things. With the carriage driving, they were able to come along even before they were able to walk.”

Luke Dahlberg said he’s been driving carriages since he was “old enough to hold the reins,” and enjoys all aspects of the competitions.

“Especially winning,” he said, grinning.

The Summer Carriage Classic continues today from 8 a.m. to noon.