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When carriages were used every day for transportation and commercial purposes, the people who drove them and rode in them dressed according to the period in which they lived (that would be obvious!). Now, in the 21st century, carriages are driven mostly for recreational purposes (with competition included in that definition). The standards today for appropriate driving attire for this outdated mode of transportation specify modern day dress. Rules exist that discourage or even prohibit the kind of attire worn during the time that the carriage would have been in use.

One group, however, has embraced the traditional clothing from the period when carriage driving for leisure was in its hey-day: The Victorian Roses Ladies Riding Society.

This Society is a re-enactment group from the San Diego area that enjoys representing history and participating in events 
that raise money for charity. The group symbolizes the romance of the 1880s, or the Victorian Era, 
by the colorful dresses they wear. The club was the brainchild of Deana Sommerville, Leanna Chessmore and Dyan Paquette who were in several other re-enactment groups. According to Jamie Gassert, an original member of the club, “they wanted more. More period-accurate, more colorful, more original, with more attention to detail.” The club became official in 2008, and the 10 original members applied to appear in the Tournament of Roses Parade, and were accepted.

In the beginning, Jamie was the only driver in the group, driving her Appaloosa, Barney, participating in all the club’s parades, routines and performances, including the 2009 Rose Parade and 2008 Equestfest. When Barney went to “Horse Heaven,” Jamie’s friend Sioux Munyon, offered her Belgian draft horse, Bobby, for Jamie to drive in the 2010 and 2011 Rose Parades. When Jamie trained her Arabian, Mariah, to drive, Sioux continued to drive Bobby. Karen Brinegar joined the group driving two of Jamie’s miniature horses – either Milton, or Gema, Jamie’s Welsh pony, or even Andy, Jamie’s miniature donkey. Jamie’s cousin Therese Wilski has just joined the group and drives Zak, a miniature horse.

Back to the dresses: Strict guidelines were written requiring each member to make, or have made, a custom, original dress and matching parasol in the vibrant colors of a rose. Only fabrics that might have been used in the 19th century could be used. The desired look was of an upscale Victorian lady. But don’t let their feminine attire mislead – these are serious horsewomen.

The group meets once a month, and when a routine or performance is scheduled, they meet on weekends to practice. They also take their horses to desensitizing clinics. The clinics get the horses used to things like gunfire, other loud noises and things that can happen during a parade. The clinics also help get the other horses used to the carriages. They practice with their parasols so the horses are familiar with them as well.

The Victorian Roses participate in 12-15 parades a year, and give other performances and demonstrations with their horses. One year they were asked to do a routine during half time at the Del Mar Polo Club. They were such a success that they have been asked back each year since. In 2014 the Roses were invited to be one of the acts at the Del Mar National Horse Show’s Night of the Horse.

Occasionally the members participate at events without their horses to provide “atmosphere,” greeting people in their Victorian attire.

The Victorian Roses have an annual fundraiser – Casino Night, with the money raised going to rescue horses. Several of the members have rescue horses. Jamie’s Zak was a rescue that she taught to drive. RFD-TV did a story on Zak during the 2014 Equestfest’s Inspiring Stories theme.

Jamie has found that the high cost of competing has discouraged many, and they have sought alternative ways to have fun driving their horses and ponies. Gas prices in California being some of the highest in the nation is another deterrent to driving long distances to competitions.

Finding new and different ways to enjoy driving is just as far away as your imagination, as Jamie and the Victorian Roses Ladies Riding Society have discovered.

Jamie Gassert (Sleighgal is her Facebook name) grew up in Goshen, Ohio, and started driving when she was 12 years old with a Welsh/Hackney cross “that did everything.” As the mascot for her high school, Trinket went to the games with Jamie and stood quietly in front of the crowds and band. Jamie mostly rode bareback, although she did have several saddles. “One day,” says Jamie, “we were going down a country road and there was a new cart/harness for sale in someone’s yard. My parents asked if I’d like that for Trinket and I said ‘Yes!!!’ My parents stuffed it into our station wagon and brought it home. They pulled it out, left it there and went into the house.” As Jamie’s parents knew nothing about horses, that seemed normal to her. “Somehow I figured it out and within a half hour I was driving Trinket! She had no driving experience……it’s a wonder we lived, but she was never afraid of anything in her life.” Jamie’s 4-H club thought driving was a good idea and a few others began to drive, and a driving class was offered at the county fair. Of course Trinket won!

Jamie married Mark, a childhood neighbor, and when Mark was drafted into the Navy, they relocated to San Diego. “We really don't live the ‘California’ lifestyle, instead, we live in a small mountain town, that has snow and the change of seasons, and we aren't that far away from the desert, which is a very fun place to drive!”

The Gassert’s now have seven horses – two Arabians, one Welsh, three Miniature horses, and a mini-donkey. And all drive. All have been in parades at one time or another.

Interesting things can happen when driving a carriage. Jamie drove her first Arabian, Betty, put to a piano box buggy, around town. One day someone pulled up along side and asked “Excuse me, are you Amish?” Not being able to resist, she replied, “I am on Saturdays.” Jamie would drive Betty to the town hall breakfast, tie her to the hitching post, put the carriage in a parking spot and have breakfast. She drove to visit her friends in town.

Jamie organizes a Drive and Ride Christmas Review. She describes it as a “backward parade.” They drive around their little town to see the Christmas lights on the houses. “It’s just another excuse to drive,” she says. “Did I mention that it’s at night – pitch black – and going through the woods and stream to get to the street with the lights” is a challenge! People at one of the houses offers them cookies and hot toddies.

Jamie has driven brides to their weddings, taken a 75-year-old lady for a birthday ride – her first time ever in a carriage, shown at ADTs, driven on Mackinac Island. She drove a sleigh at a Carriage Association of America conference, and much more.

She also camps and drives with her horses and drove on the first day of The Caravan. On her ‘bucket list’ is to go to the National Drive with her pony Gema. Somehow, we bet that item will be crossed off soon.

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Driving Digest Magazine
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Southern Pines, NC 28387

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