There are literally hundreds if not thousands of carriages of various types out there. What a carriage is identified as, and the class it gets put in, is often up to whom made the carriage. Today, in automotive terms, we have, vans, mini-vans, and SUV's. Since vans and mini-vans are becoming passé, auto makers try to come up with designs that cross into the SUV market. Carriages were, and still are, very similar. There are certain standard classifications that describe the bulk of carriages. Some carriage fall under more than one designation. Then there are hundreds of designs that carriage builders have come up with, that blur the lines between one and the next carriage. I will not go into every single type of carriage and its use, but the main carriages used today.
Most common carriages in this category are:
- Dog Carts (two and four wheeled)
- Light or informal Breaks
These two wheeled vehicles are seen in perhaps the greatest numbers through-out carriage driving. They are inexpensive, light weight, and easy to use maintain and store. These carriages are almost exclusively for the single horse, but have been adapted for pairs or tandems regularly. The sulky is the lightest of these. Mostly used for racing, it accommodates only one person. Usually the modern sulky rides on pneumatic tires with metal spokes such as a bicycle wheel. The road cart riding on wooden spoked wheels with a hard rubber tire will accommodate two people. Most of these simple, country/utilitarian vehicles are finished in the natural color of the stained wood, with brass furniture and black gear. The next step leads right to the Meadowbrook. This carriage originated in Long Island, NY. where it was known as an East Williston Cart. They have seatbacks that fold, a dashboard, and often times fenders. Meadowbrooks in general are considerably more comfortable than road carts.
Dog carts derive their name from the use that they were originally designed for. A country sporting vehicle, it carries four people, two sitting forward, two facing rear. The side body panels have louvers to allow ventilation for hunting or coursing dogs. These louvers became a popular detail and crossed over to many other carriage designs, often time showing up as false louvers. The rear passengers feet rest on a tailgate that closes, making the rear body panel of the carriage when no one rides in the rear seat. Behind the tailgate there is often a screen gate to keep the dogs in place while traveling with the gate down. A dog cart can be two, or four wheeled. The two wheel versions are popular for driving Tandem, while the four wheeled dog carts are often put to a pair or four-in-hand. At their inception, the dog cart would most likely be seen in natural wood finishes. These finishes are easy to keep under the rigors of country driving, and popular for the outdoorsman. As these vehicles progressed in popularity, painted versions emerged. Today in Pleasure Driving, and Coaching Clubs, it is not unusual to see very formal turnouts with painted Dog Carts with grooms in stable or formal livery.
A Gig by definition is a two wheeled vehicle with two people riding face forward. Through history the term “Gig” would have been applied to almost any two wheel vehicle. Today the height and body style will do more to define one carriage as a gig, and another as a cart. Nearly any two wheel carriage that has the floor and body mounted above the height of the shafts will be considered a “Gig”. In the times of horse and carriage travel, the gig was among the most commonly used vehicle. Travelers found them convenient as they had a good size boot for belongings. A Gig could be stored in little space, some of them even having iron feet trailing behind the body, so the carriage could be stored with the shafts up and out of the way. A Gig was inexpensive to drive, as it only required one horse. The height gives the driver a great prospective of the horse, and the ground before it. For this reason Gigs are a favorite among Tandem drivers.
While gigs come in all trims, the most popular are painted, and therefore turned out formally. Found in this class would be, the Stanhope Gig, Tilbury, Dennett, Spider, and Skeleton Gig. There are also plenty of Gigs in natural wood trims, turned out as for country driving. They are nearly exclusively drawn by one horse, or a Tandem. There are rare cases such as the Curricle that are drawn by a pair of horses. Other examples of Gigs drawn by a Pair would be the Cape Cart, and the Friesian Chaise known as a Friese Sjees. In such cases a special harness is required specific to each kind of Gig. A Cocking Cart is a very high two wheeled vehicle, said to be used for gentlemen to bring their birds to the Cock fights. These ostentatious vehicles were built in different sizes and driven to a Tandem, Pair, Three-a-breast or even a four-in-hand. While a two wheeled Dog Cart, Cape Cart, Curricle, Cocking Cart, and a Friese Sjees can be considered in the class of Gigs, they are not referred to as such.
Gigs are acceptable for almost any type or formal driving, including Dressage, and Pleasure Shows. Driving off of roads, rings or well groomed paths and yards may become precarious as Gigs usually have a very high center of gravity.
Geared specifically toward the sport of Combined Driving, these are tough vehicles that look good in dressage. While you can expect to give up some of the advantages that come with vehicles that are specialized to perform well in one specific phase of the sport, much is gained in affordability and convenience.
Combined Driving consists of three phases, or competitions. Competition "A" is dressage, where a formal vehicle is used. The driver and groom (if driving a pair, tandem or four-in-hand) are dressed formally. The look of the overall picture is important. Competition "B" is the marathon, in the section of which there are "hazards". This is where a carriage is put to its test for strength and stability. In competition "C", the turnout must be the same as that which was used in competition "A", back to the formal carriage and formal dress.
As you can imagine, designing a carriage that will perform in all three of the above described competitions is no small feat. Many of the formal, attractive carriages have a high center of gravity, are lightly built, and in general are unstable when driven at high speeds. The carriages intended to be driven in marathons tend toward the adage "pretty is, as pretty does" and are not very pleasing to the eye at all. They are low, heavily built and bulky due to the extreme stress and strain they'll endure in a marathon.
The biggest sacrifice a driver makes when choosing a carriage such as this is weight. The same elements that make a pretty carriage, often make a light carriage. When making a light carriage tough enough to work through the hazards it is often down right ugly. The two extremes can be compared by viewing the Marathon 160 and the Spider Phaeton.
The Spider Phaeton is among the most formal and elegant forms in carriage driving. This carriage design has been universally popular among those who drive at pleasure shows and combined driving events alike. The design is used for driving single, pair four-in-hand and tandem. In the early days of Tandem driving a Spider Phaeton was “the carriage” to drive.
The carriages that are rated as three phase vehicles on this website combine elements of beauty & stability. They do however lean toward the marathon type of carriage, since safety is of chief concern leaving vanity in the rear seat. That said these are carriages that you won't be embarrassed to drive into the dressage arena, or local pleasure show. They will withstand the rigors or cross country driving, and be stable at high speeds.
The advantages of owning one carriage to cover all the bases are significant. One carriage to load, unload and care for at home and the events is a lot less work. The space saved can be used for other things, or in the case of choosing a rig to haul your horses & carriages, it can be eliminated. When cost is a factor in your carriage choice, owning one carriage literally costs half as much.
Make no mistake about it. The marathon carriages are made for rough terrain and high speeds. So much so that they have been popularly dubbed "war wagons". These carriages are primarily steel construction, although some makers have experimented with aluminum, and alloys. This has not however been used widely. The challenge of the maker is to build a carriage as light and stable as possible, that is able to withstand the use, and often punishment of fast driving through unforgiving terrain and obstacles.
Most marathon carriages are equipped with four wheel disk breaks, though some may choose to forego the front breaks to save the 20-40 pounds they may add. Other special features of marathon vehicles include delay steering. This enables a horse to take a turn 10 sometimes 20 degrees sharper than that of the carriage. A driver can then cut the turns closer to objects, while the carriage is swept wide of the turn.