American Driving Society, Headquartered in Cross Plains, to Hold Local Event

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MTT News's picture
Katherine Perreth
American Driving Society has a membership of nearly 2,000 across North America. Combined Driving events include three components: Dressage, Cones/Obstacle, and the Marathon.

VERONA–For Mary Ruth Marks, it’s the thrill of the drive. But not cars–horses. She owns 11, all but one a cross of Arabian and German Sport Pony, she said. 

“Makes for a Ferrari model,” she quipped, adding that on her latest carriage drive around the course with her horse, Adeszko, “He was flying! You gotta hang on or you’ll be gone and get hurt.”

For years, the 70-year-old has competed in, as well as organized, carriage driving events. In 2018, driving a “four-in-hand,” four horses, she nearly qualified for the World Equestrian Games; in 2010 she and Adeszko were first alternate for the U.S. team competing in World Championships, she said. 

For the seventh year, she’ll host an American Driving Society (ADS) event at her 40-acre Notara Farm, just outside Verona. She expects 25 participants, men and women of all ages, as well as children. Seated in a carriage, they’ll drive a single or a pair of Very Small Equines (VSE), ponies or horses, she said. 

“It takes all kinds,” both breeds, numbers of equines and people, she explained of the complex sport, and that’s what makes it so fun to watch. “One year we had a 12-year-old and 84-year-old (competing).”

Executive Director of ADS Abbie Trexler said the organization is now celebrating its 45thanniversary. With a membership approaching 2,000, scattered mainly across North America, ADS is run by its extensive network of horse-and-carriage lovers, 14 committees and a 26-member board of directors, she said. Some of whom are founding members now serving as honorary board members.

“We have a wealth of institutional knowledge,” Trexler explained. “We’re very fortunate to have our honorary board members, to advise us.”

The organization is unique, Trexler said, in that it has a staff of only two, relying upon its “incredible team of volunteers,” and that its website offers a wealth of free information on carriage driving. “We’re one of the leading educators for carriage driving in the U.S.” she said. 

Also, atypically, while Trexler works from home in Pennsylvania, the national ADS office fronts Main Street in Cross Plains. (The office moved from Michigan over a decade ago, to accommodate the then-executive director who lived in Cross Plains.) Stacy Carlson holds down the stable, as it were, and also works closely with the Licensed Officials Committee; each ADS-sanctioned event requires a licensed official to ensure rules are followed.

About 80 events are held annually across the U.S. and Canada, four of which are in Wisconsin: at the Walworth County Fairgrounds in Elkhorn, Wade House Historic Site in Greenbush, Notara Farm, and in September, at Villa Louis Historic Site in Prairie du Chien. 

According to the website, Combined Driving events can feature “single, pair, tandem, unicorn, and four-in-hand” horse configurations, with the driver holding the reins and whip, and another person or two on board, navigating. The extra people provide guidance and balance.

The event at Notara Farm will be a form of a Combined Driving Event, called an HDT (Horse Driving Trial) where three competitions will test the mettle and showcase the versatility of the human-equine partnership, displaying technique, agility, speed and endurance.

Trexler said that in the early 1970s England’s HRH Prince Philipcreated the Combined Driving event with its three components. The “focused, quieter” Dressage kicks off the day, Trexler said, as drivers direct their steeds in specified patterns to demonstrate discipline and athleticism. Cones/Obstacles follows, as tennis balls are placed atop a maximum of 20 cones through which the equipage must maneuver in a specific order, without knocking off balls and within the allotted timeframe. The Marathon requires fast completion of an eight to eighteen-kilometer course, punctuated with challenging obstacles and recovery time between. 

“Safety is priority, so vets and an army of volunteers are on hand to monitor the horses,” explained Trexler. It’s akin to the Olympic version, she said, only ADS horses pull carriages with seated riders equipped with whips. The whip is used only to guide the horse, and aggressive whipping results in a penalty, Trexler said.

ADS also publishes a quarterly magazine, aptly called “The Whip.” Trexler’s first employment with ADS was as editor. She’s been executive director for 18 months, but has been a horse person all her life, she said.

“I grew up with horses and wanted to train horses,” as an adult, she said. She moved to Pennsylvania and did so for four years, but a horse threw her, breaking her back. After further education, she spent 15 years in the publishing business, she said. While working for the Morgan Horse magazine, she became acquainted with ADS.

“I would see Morgan horses participating in carriage driving events, they’re very versatile and have great stamina,” she said. So, when she saw the ADS editor position posted, she jumped at it.

“I love ADS,” Trexler declared. She also obviously still loves horses, and owns two Morgans, who wait for their intrepid owner to restart her carriage driving career, after Trexler’s young children get a bit older, she said.

After all, as Carlson noted and Marks confirmed, “There is some speed involved in it.” 






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