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posted: 7/3/2017 5:30 AM

How carriage driving could come to Wauconda-area preserve

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  • A group of Wauconda-area equestrians is asking the Lake County Forest Preserve District to allow driving small carriages and carts -- a sport known as carriage driving -- on designated equestrian trails at the Lakewood Forest Preserve.

    A group of Wauconda-area equestrians is asking the Lake County Forest Preserve District to allow driving small carriages and carts -- a sport known as carriage driving -- on designated equestrian trails at the Lakewood Forest Preserve.
    Courtesy of Nancy Jacoby

  • A group of equestrians are asking officials to allow the sport of carriage driving at the Lakewood Forest Preserve near Wauconda. Forest preserve officials say they will consider the request as part of their master plan process.

      A group of equestrians are asking officials to allow the sport of carriage driving at the Lakewood Forest Preserve near Wauconda. Forest preserve officials say they will consider the request as part of their master plan process.
    Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • A rider on his horse heads down the Millennium Trail through the Lakewood Forest Preserve near Wauconda.

      A rider on his horse heads down the Millennium Trail through the Lakewood Forest Preserve near Wauconda.
    Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

 
 

Unlike horse racing, carriage driving is not the Sport of Kings.

But for some equestrians it offers a unique combination of excitement and relaxation.

"It's exhilarating to be behind the horse just moving along," says Nancy Jacoby, a Wauconda-area horse owner and driving enthusiast. "It's like going for a walk in the woods without doing anything but just sitting there and enjoying the nature around you."

Driving is done for pleasure or competition and dozens of events are held each year across the country and in Canada.

But Jacoby and others would like to practice their specialty close to home. So they've asked the Lake County Forest Preserve District to consider allowing small carriages and carts on the equestrian trails at the Lakewood Forest Preserve near Wauconda.

"It's kind of a different request," said Randy Seebach, director of planning and land preservation for the district.

Nothing will be determined for about a year, but the suggestion will be considered during the ongoing master planning process for Lakewood, the largest forest preserve in Lake County.

"If they're going to consider it, this would be a good time to do it," Jacoby said. "At least they didn't say, 'No,'" she said of her pitch to the forest board's planning committee last week.

Carriage driving is exactly what it sounds like -- a horse pulling a cart or carriage. The type or quality of the carriages, harnesses and other equipment varies from basic to custom-made, and the activity itself can range from basic to advanced.

"You can drive any kind of horse. There's something for everyone with this sport, which is why it's so exciting," said Abbie Trexler, spokeswoman for the American Driving Society Inc.

Trexler said driving has a long history and many old-money families have remained involved through generations. Visitors to Acadia National Park in Maine, for example, can take a horse-drawn carriage ride or tour on scenic carriage roads built between 1913 and 1940 by John D. Rockefeller.

The society represents recreational drivers as well as those who compete in shows or driving events that can feature obstacle courses or dressage.

"There are quite a few people right in this area that drive or want to drive," Jacoby said. Many do it because they are older and less agile and can't or don't feel safe getting on and off a horse, she added.

"Also, a lot of people do it because it's just fun. It's something different to do (and) it requires a different set of skills -- something else you can do with the horse."

Driving -- as well as dog sledding -- is allowed at the Waukegan Savanna Forest Preserve. However, the forest district has not issued permits for either activity for years, if ever, forest preserve officials note.

Waukegan Savanna does not meet the needs of carriage driving participants, Jacoby says. The average driving horse needs more than three miles to condition, for example, and a chance meeting with a dog sled team could be dangerous.

Carriage drivers, she said, are "safety first" equestrians who spend long hours training and a have a significant investment in carts, carriages, harnesses, and a truck and trailer to haul them.

Jacoby said Lakewood trails are suited for carriage driving because of their width, grading, visibility, gentle hills and ample trailer parking. Pedestrians can use the designated equestrian trails, but dogs and bikes are not allowed, according to Mike Tully, the district's chief operations officer.

There are about 70 miles of trails at several preserves open to horse riding. Nine miles of mowed trails at Lakewood are designated as equestrian trails.

Jacoby has been asked to submit information, such as the length of trails needed to accommodate drivers, size of carts, width of wheels, and number of potential users.

"There will be plenty of opportunity for the public to participate in the master plan," Seebach said. "We don't know what the changes are going to be. There could be revisions to the trails. All of this is part of the master plan process."

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