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April 2005
A driving ambition
Taking a ride on Dartmoor
Enjoying a drive through the lanes of Dartmoor
Devon is one of the most horse-mad counties in the country, but it seems it's not just a matter of riding, BBC Radio Devon's Monica Ellis has been finding out that carriage driving is becoming ever more popular, too.
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Why the long face?

Johnny Arden runs Dartmoor Driving based at Michelcombe near Holne. It's only April and already he's reporting a busy start to the 2005 season writes Monica Ellis.

Johnny and his team teach people who seek out their skills, not only from the southwest but internationally, too.

Johnny Arden with one of the traps
Johnny Arden with one of the traps

Beginners usually start by driving just one horse in the course of a weekend's tuition, but Johnny reckons it's quite feasible to be able to build up to driving a pair.

Dual control

There's no need to worry, even if you're not so sure of your abilities, because the vehicles Dartmoor Driving use are fitted with a second set of brakes and reins for the instructor to take over if needs be!

And what do other drivers make of a 19th century vehicle on a twenty-first century road?

Most motorists are happy to slow down and wait to pass a horse-drawn vehicle, with motorcyclists and lorry drivers in particular being thoughtful.

"Although I'm a fairly old man myself, a lot of our worst offenders are the old couples that will pass you on the corners," said Johnny.

"Whereas the young boys with the motorbikes are as good as gold!"

Perhaps surprisingly, the moor's own wild ponies seem nonchalent about a horse attached to a wheeled vehicle, but that's not the case for horses with riders.

"If we meet a ridden horse, he will be very frightened of a horse and carriage," said Johnny. "But the Dartmoor ponies don't pay us any attention whatsoever."

If you're bitten by the bug, you can even buy your carriage from the Ardens. They import most of their stock from Poland, where horse-power is still frequent in rural areas.

Johnny Arden
Johnny's a Dartmoor man through and through

Johnny's a Dartmoor man through and through.

He grew up near Chagford, and enjoys sharing both his skills, and his knowledge of the moor.

The history of mining, local legends, or his encounter with the "Beast of Dartmoor" may all crop up in conversation. You can learn a lot on a jog along the lanes of Holne Moor with the wind in your hair!

Johnny's first horse-driving job was during his National Service with the Army. It was his job to collect dog food with a small trap to supply the local training kennels.

Since those days he's enjoyed competition, winning a National Novice Single Championship, but now it's the pleasure of spending time with his horses, passing on a lifetime's worth of skills, and sharing his love of Dartmoor that Johnny Arden enjoys most.

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