Driving Miss Gillespie

Ann Rushton Green and Southern's Sally Gillespie near Alton Bank Cottage, Ruberslaw with Mickey pulling the carriage.
Ann Rushton Green and Southern's Sally Gillespie near Alton Bank Cottage, Ruberslaw with Mickey pulling the carriage.

MICKEY’S haul is in the hall and the prize-winning driving horse is – after persuasion – breaking a winter holiday to take his co-owner Ann Rushton Green and me out for a hurl round the block.

The Irish-bred gelding is owned and driven by the British Driving Society’s (BDS) area commissioner Clive, Ann’s husband, and Ann, a member of the society’s Scottish committee.

The couple have driven for 30 years after spotting an advert for a come-and-try day near West Linton.

“We used to live in Yorkshire, heard horses one day and a whole string of the Yorkshire driving club were trolleying out on a Sunday, I just looked at Clive and said ‘that looks like a nice way of travelling’.”

Roll forward and the sales manager and his wife, latterly the head of facilities at the Borders General Hospital, had moved to Scotland, saw the newspaper ad and went to the event.

“We had a chance to drive this little grey pony Shady Lady. I sat there and I thought ‘I just like this’. It’s very social rather than riding which can be quite solitary.”

The pair organise the BDS Scottish Show – show driving – held at the Border Union Show at Kelso every summer, which is a qualifier for the National and Horse of the Year shows. Mr Rushton Green sits on the BDS national council and Mrs Rushton Green is a BDS judge for show driving.

“There is very much a tradition of carriage driving in the Borders. There will be people doing it on their own and there are approximately 42 members in the BDS in the Lothian and Borders area and about 20 of those in the Borders,” said Mrs Rushton Green.

Mr Rushton Green said: “I like the competitive side of driving but it’s very friendly. It’s good fun and we do it together.

“Horses never let you get above yourself. Every time you think you are the best thing since sliced bread they take you down a peg.”

Mrs Rushton Green, who starts riding and driving Mickey in February to get him fit again for the summer season, says: “He’s easily bored, he has the attention span of a goldfish!”

A friend found Mickey for them after they lost one of their Welsh cobs to laminitis.

They said no initially because he wasn’t a Welsh Cob, but agreed to view filmed footage of him in action: “As soon as we saw him, we got in the car and went down there!”

Then it turned out: “We had been in the yard two weeks ago and not noticed him. He had no personality, he wouldn’t engage with people then.”

Now aged over 15, Mickey, first broken to be part of a pair in cross-country competitions, has won prizes in the ring with the Rushton Greens’ beautiful 1890 patent leather and brass show carriage.

“He was such a nice looking horse with such nice paces we found a vehicle that suited him and we do both showing and cross-country,” said the Rushton Greens.

Their best year recently was probably 2006 when they were placed in several club events and won four major show driving competitions, including the Royal Highland Show and Burghley, qualifying for the Horse of the Year Show.

“We weren’t placed but getting there is an achievement,” said Mrs Rushton Green.

The team can work up to around 13km in training. Carriage driving marathons can be 25km in five sections and a cross country will go round the edges of fields, along tracks, through fjords and woodland tracks. I think. I wrote these notes while sitting alongside Mrs Rushton Green as we jogged along tracks and a quiet road by their house near Hawick.

“Mickey prefers being driven. He goes better. You want a horse that’s rhythmic, relaxed with nice long strides that are going to cover the miles,” said Mrs Rushton Green.

“There is no best breed as people drive successfully Shetlands, Gelderlanders, Welsh section A,B,C,Ds, hackneys, and most native breeds, including donkeys. It’s about build and temperament. Generally driving horses have got to be better behaved than a lot of riding horses, they have to be quite obedient to voice.”

Mr Rushton Green commented: “The greatest attribute of a driving horse is standing still.”

For a horse rider, the feeling of the power of the animal is still there in a carriage but it’s different. I was very much a passenger and graduated to standing on the back of the carriage when we went into a field and turned sharp circles. Exciting.

“A lot of riders find it strange – you are so far away from the horse, you haven’t got your legs, you’ve only got your voice, your reins and your whip,” said Mrs Rushton Green: “People either love it or don’t, they either think it’s great or ‘how quickly can I get off?’”