I was at judge’s clinic in Texas, when an interesting conversation cropped up over lunch with a couple of colleagues, Simon Rosenman and Marceau LaRose. The conversation was inspired by the training that we were engaged in as judges. We were all there as clinic participants to keep our credentials up to date. It was a good clinic, with lots of good classes and discussions. Sure, we were there to fill a requirement, but it was fun, interesting, and from what I’ll share with you here, it must have been inspiring.
It started with a lament. With all of this good coaching we were receiving, we’d get a letter next to our name in the directory of judges. That letter would indicate to show organizers that we had demonstrated the knowledge and skills required to judge at various driving events, according to our degree of accreditation. Essentially, it makes it easy for organizers to find judges for their events.
The lament was, that there was no such accreditation available for drivers who are not judges. Sure, competitors have their show records to stand on, but that’s an in-precise standard because there are too many variables. And what about the vast majority of drivers who don’t compete at all? What could they show for their many decades of skill and knowledge?
The more we talked about it, and shared examples, the more pressing the subject became. We shared stories of competitors who had all the ribbons someone could want, but regularly displayed shortcomings in horsemanship and knowledge of safe driving. Then, of course, there are the instructors. Really, anyone can be an instructor. All you need is the willingness to tell someone else what to do, and the cunning to get them to pay you to do it.
There was no way for anyone to assess their own skills in such a measured way as our skills as judges were being assessed at the clinic we were attending. Each of us on our own had been thinking about this on our time and again over our years as drivers. So when the three of us started the conversation, it continued on over lunches and dinners for the remaining days of the clinic.
London is Calling
When we left the clinic, we agreed to brainstorm on the project of putting something together that would lead to a solution to that need. Not too long thereafter, I got an e-mail from Simon with the subject line of “London is Calling.” I opened it right away since I had a pretty good idea of the implication.
Simon had been busy at work making contacts with our project in mind. The Carriage Association of America liked the idea of a system of recognizing driver’s skill levels, similar to the one used by The British Driving Society. So they agreed to help us design such a system, and there would be no better way model the BDS, than taking part in their program.
I’d actually considered getting my BDS certificate for years, and this was just the spur that I needed to make good on that idea. On a freelance horse trainer’s wages, an extended trip to England was a stretch, but one that I felt would be worth it. Within a few months of our first conversation, I was in London, enjoying a coffee waiting to meet up with Simon and Marceau.
The President of the British Driving Society, John Parker, had agreed to help us with our project. We stayed at a bed & breakfast just around the corner from Swingletree Farm, John’s farm which is also a BDS Test Center.
John put Marceau and me through all the paces of the BDS examinations from the very first level, all the way through Assessor Training. We drove several times a day with all kinds of turnouts, single through four-in-hand. In between, we discussed carriages, harness, horse care, and more. As was required, we also started a horse to driving that hadn’t been driven before.
By the end of our stay, we had earned our BDS certificates (11 in total.) We were now certified with the BDS as Light Harness Horse Instructors and Assessors through Advanced Level. Of course, we took a wealth of knowledge and experience beyond that. John was enthusiastic about the project and agreed to help us see it through. While the hard work for Marceau and I was done, Simon’s was just beginning.
With John’s help, Simon set about the task of adapting the BDS system to something that would work well in North America. There was plenty of translation to be done from British-English to American-English. Some of the standards wouldn’t quite work as well here either, for example: In the BDS system, drivers are expected to hold the reins in the Coachman’s position from the very start. Also, 11 levels seemed to be a bit much for a new program.
This doesn’t mean that this a “light” version of the British system. In fact much of the program is directly mirrored off the BDS system. The standards are just as robust as those that I was held to in my examinations. Even now, ten years on as I write this, I can still hear words of advice from John as I am evaluating candidates for America’s Driver Proficiency Program.