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Finding their groove on a country road

When Van and Patty Pierce get stressed out, they go cruising — in their horse-driven carriage.

Posted: March 23, 2008 12:13 a.m.
Updated: May 24, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Van and Patty Pierce pause their four-wheeled carriage and horse Maggie near their home in Placerita Canyon. The couple got into the recreational activity six years ago after Van underwent knee replacement surgery.

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When things get stressful for Van and Patty Pierce, they like to take a break and go for a relaxing ride around their Placerita Canyon neighborhood.

In a carriage led by their horse, Maggie.

"When Van and I go out, we talk and we communicate," Patty, a property manager, said as her husband tended to their horse.

"It puts you back to the proper pace of life," she said.

Her husband agrees.

While on one of his weekly carriage drives, Van, a local business owner, described his experience as something relaxing and peaceful, especially because no one else will be out on the trails with him.
Van also sees the rides as a form of exercise for Maggie, a Haflinger mare.

"It keeps Maggie in shape," Van said as the four-wheel carriage shook and jolted while the horse trotted through a rocky wash.

The couple will carriage drive at least a couple times a week. While they are legally able to ride on the main streets as long as they have their slow moving vehicle sign on the back, the Pierces usually limit their drives to the dirt trails surrounding the fields around their home.

During Saturday's ride in Placerita Canyon, Van was joined by Patty Stopper of Agua Dulce and her mother Gail Tonkinson of Canyon Country, who are both family friends.

"I really enjoyed it," said Tonkinson, who went on her first carriage ride. "I am amazed at the strength of Maggie."

Placerita Canyon residents for 15 years, the Pierces have been taking part in carriage rides for more than a year and were drawn to the sport after Van had knee replacement surgery in 2001.

Being unable to ride horses anymore, the couple looked into carriage driving after Patty visited a show in Moorpark years earlier.
Soon after, Patty began taking lessons on how to properly, and safely, drive a carriage.

Her husband soon followed and the two made their hobby official by purchasing Maggie, who served as Van's birthday present, last year.

"She is a saint," Patty said.

Tough training
Although Maggie had already been trained as a carriage horse, the couple bought Ziggy and Molly in November, which they keep in Agua Dulce, and have begun the lengthy training process for carriage driving.

The Pierces are also part of the two main carriage riding organizations, The American Driving Society and the Carriage Association of America, and the local driving club for Southern California, The Whip'rsnapper Driving Society.

Their carriage drives are mainly for recreational purposes, however, the couple began competing at local contests last year.

With May known as National Carriage Driving Month, the Pierces have the goal of raising awareness for their newfound sport while educating people about what carriage driving is all about.

For instance, Patty said many will question the use of a whip when driving.

"The whip really replaces the rider's legs," she said, adding it can be used to keep chasing dogs away as well. "The whip is not meant to beat or go back to 'Black Beauty' days."

Connecting
As relaxing as carriage rides can be for passengers, the training involved for proper driving a carriage is serious.

Patty said along with learning how to harness horses and maintain carriages, lessons teach how to control for the "myriad ... things" that can go wrong on a drive.

While the training is tough, carriage driving is ultimately about slowing down and taking notice of other drivers on the road.

"When you drive, you connect with other people on the road," Patty said.

In addition, the Pierces will use their rides as opportunities to clear their minds and work through problems.

"It just slows you down," she said.

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