As I write this, it takes me back to a time of adventure, excitement, and learning. I’d just joined Andreas Nemitz of Coaching in Bavaria as a coachman. As a thirty-something who had driven tandems, pairs and teams in England, in my mind I already definitely had some good skills, combined with youth and enthusiasm.
I had been with Nemitz for probably two months when we set off on the longest coach trip of the year, The Lindau Messenger tour. This covered 325 kilometers and followed the historic post route from Lake Constance to Lake Como over the Viamala and Splügen Pass, with nine guests and a five-horse team. Prior to this tour starting, I had been able to practice driving a five-in-hand a few times, but it was still completely new to me.
As we prepared to leave Lake Constance, I excitedly jumped onto the coach in my Bavarian post livery and took my seat next to Nemitz, welcoming aboard our nine guests. As we left Lindau in Germany, Nemitz blew his post horn to signal the start of this journey, which would cross five countries in nine days, climb 6,270 ft into the Alps, and descend one vertical mile in an afternoon in an antique coach using traditional braking methods.
After lunch, it was my turn to take the reins of the coach and show my skills as a driver, so as we trotted down the gravel road beside the riverbank, I slowly began to smile and felt my confidence grow (ooooh boy!). I prepared to meet my first challenge of the day: we would have to make a 90-degree left turn onto a bridge, then quickly make a 90-degree right turn off the bridge, from what at the time felt like a fairly narrow road. Bear in mind, I was still coming to grips with the Achenbach method of rein handling and had little experience with a five-horse team! As I started to make my turn, Nemitz looked at me slightly sideways, and now it was his turn to smile. It was at about this point that I realized how little skill I had in driving a coach and five, as I turned too sharp and found myself with too little space to complete the turn! Fortunately for me, Nemitz’ horses were super responsive and smarter than I was, as they just stopped. I began to blush as Nemitz roared with laughter and asked, “Soooo, what are you going to do now?” “I’m going to listen!” was the only response I could muster. He patiently instructed me on how to back the coach out of this pickle, and how to set up the team properly for the left turn, and then quickly right. After I successfully completed this task under Nemitz’ direction, my nine guests – who had been very quiet throughout my ordeal – burst into applause.
This was one of those turning points (literally!) when my passion for coaching grew, as did my appreciation for the Achenbach driving system which was designed for narrow, congested streets. Looking back on the events of the day, I realized that I had made several simple errors at the bridge: my leaders were still slightly in draft, my inside wheeler wasn’t working hard enough, and I turned too soon! Afterwards, I really understood the importance of making opposition with your reins, i.e., actually asking your wheelers to go slightly to the outside of the turn whilst your leaders are making the turn, and ensuring that the leaders are not pulling through the turn as they can potentially pull your leaders off their feet.
My appreciation for Herr Nemitz’ skills grew enormously during the five years that I spent driving with him in all kinds of places with all kinds of turnouts. Every day that we drove was a competition with him and the terrain we drove across, and every day was another opportunity to listen and learn.
Fun Fact: The last historic Lindau Messenger coach ran between Lindau and Milan in September of 1826.
Paul Bennett is a team member of The Equine Expert LLC, a multi-discipline equine expert witness and consulting firm offering legal expert witness and consulting services in court cases, legal matters and business affairs. Paul is an expert in carriage driving, carriage horses and equine therapy. He has been a professional coachman for years in both Europe and the US and is currently the Director for Swiftsure Therapeutic Equestrian Center in Idaho. For more information on Paul visit www.theequineexpert.com or you may contact Paul at Paul@theequineexpert.com.