If it’s October, it’s National Drive time. The buzz starts in late summer: “See you at the National Drive,” “Can’t wait!” “Counting the days!” Those who can roll in on the 5th, Monday, the first day stalls are available, although driving is not allowed until Tuesday.

This 11th edition of this purely-for-fun driving gathering expanded its scope, with both the Carriage Association of America and the American Driving Society joining in. The CAA held their annual conference in conjunction with the National Drive. National Drive participants were invited to attend CAA seminars, demonstrations and social activities and the National Drive reciprocated. The ADS and CAA jointly sponsored Saturday night’s Wine and Cheese under the Big Tent.

But wait! There’s more! The USEF held a clinic for developing drivers at Misdee Wrigley Miller’s Hillcroft Farm in Paris, Ky., and Mary Phelps sponsored a clinic with Bram Chardon, three-time World Pony Champion, at the Gayla Driving Center in Georgetown. Many drivers from the Kentucky Classic CDE held the previous weekend hung around for these clinics and were seen visiting the many vendors and seeing what the National Drive is all about. Some of these drivers were headed to the Hermitage Classic near Louisville the following weekend.

Everything – Everything – could be seen driving around the Kentucky Horse Park – from wire-wheeled carts to Road Coaches. From minis to Morgans. But seen most often were smiling faces, people relaxing and enjoying a stress-free week of driving.

For some, this year was their first National Drive experience. For others it is a yearly tradition. One couple explained that they come every year. Driving at their farm is limited, so the opportunity to drive at will throughout the Kentucky Horse Park is pure heaven. They also take the opportunity to tour around the Lexington area, visiting such famous places as Keeneland, where the Breeder’s Cup race would take place at the end of the month. They’ve made friends with others who are National Drive regulars.

National Drive director Dave Sadler took the reins from board president Mike Lyon for this year’s National Drive, conducting the morning briefing and overseeing the safety checks. “What’s unique about the National Drive?” says Dave. “For me it’s that we only have two rules-be safe and have fun. The ‘be safe’ part is confirmed at the safety inspection where we give each turnout a quick look see just to ensure all the harness pieces are where they should be and functioning well. Done before you drive for the first time, the inspection is also an exciting place because I never know what I’m going to encounter or who I’m going to meet. It could be a swarm of minis preparing for an afternoon outing or a draft pair pulling a wagon laden with passengers. Might even be a tandem, three abreast or four-in-hand. Will the next customer be a friend I haven’t seen since last year or, perhaps, a friend I’ve yet to meet? Variety is the spice of life, alive and well at the National Drive.”

This year’s clinicians included Elizabeth Keathley, Joanna Wilburn, Fred Merriam, and Kelly Valdes. Drivers could sign up with one or all.

Vendors did a brisk business. Shelly Rekow of Pleasurethyme Carriages let people test drive the carriages. Hunters Creek/WCC had a drawing and gave away a carriage. New Heritage Farm had a drawing for a wicker basket perfect for that picnic drive. Beautiful hats and aprons could be tried on at Hat’s Off Boutique with personal fashion consultations with Sherry Lower. Ideal Harness was represented by Mr. Orange Pants himself – Gerard Paagman. Bowman Bits and Bit by Bit displayed a wide variety of types and sizes of bits. There was special National Drive jewelry, sweatshirts and caps, hand painted coaching scenes, and more. And Iowa Valley Harness had a little bit of everything.

Pat Cheatham manned a set of scales so that people could bring their carriages to be weighed, giving each a label with the weight. He also set up a Driving Derby. “The opportunity for drivers to try out and practice in Driving Derby obstacles was more popular than expected. The National Drive provided three different Driving Derby courses during the week, timed runs available daily. While drivers were tentative in their early attempts, we had folks waiting their turn by Friday. Several drivers asked for information on how to build the obstacles for their own use at home.”

Laura and Donny Nuessle rarely stopped moving. “Every year it is the same.... Donny and I get there on Sunday, pretty relaxed in that most of the groundwork is laid. We breathe deep, have a good supper, laugh with our friends, sleep well.

“Monday morning still relaxed but by noon Monday I’m losing that mellow feeling. Why aren't the stalls cleaned yet? There are piles of manure where the big tent goes! When are the people coming to set up the tent? Where are the guys with the sweeper? All the board members are tapping their toes and twitching at the starting gate that doesn't seem to open. I’m starting to grit my teeth as I list to myself all the things yet to be done by dark. Then our fearless secretary Christy Warrington drives up with the National Drive trailer and the toe tappers get it unloaded in mere minutes and it is off to the races! Donny sets off with all the trail direction signs in the back of his golf cart that never seems to go fast enough for him. (He drove 200 miles with his cart this year setting up trails and cones courses.) I have all the inventory taken for my rather huge grocery shopping list for the Chili Dump and Wine and Cheese parties for 300 people the next five days. The work crews all show up and all the tasks are taken care of in the right order. Friends start showing up with a smile, ready to lend a hand and before we know it the 11th National Drive is over.”

The Carriage Dog class is always popular, and really, everyone is a winner. How can you not love a dog that likes to go along for a carriage ride?

Another National Drive director, Charley Lee, has a great sense of humor. He’ll do just about anything to make the National Drive fun, including wearing a dress! “Our 2015 Mimosa Drive was a tremendous success. We did a little tweaking by changing the date from Sunday to Saturday and it paid off with record numbers of drivers. A big surprise was in store for those who joined in for the drive. One of the directors took it upon herself to go shopping at Saks 8th Ave and purchase a bevy of very stylish dresses. Our big surprise was that she wanted each director to don these flowing yards of chiffon glory and help serve our attendees. “Our next surprise came when all of the dresses fit us perfectly. It will be the last time a certain Laura gets a hug from any of us. We never knew you could get dress sizes by hugging. We were well received by the drivers and must have provided lots of entertainment judging from the crowd as polite giggles turned to serious laughter. A great time was had by all thanks to Linda McVicker who sponsored this fun time and to all of those who pitched in with a helping hand to make it work. I really feel if we had voted for the most awesome server that yellow chiffon would have won hands down. I cannot speak for any of my fellow directors but I may say that you saw history that will never be repeated again.”

A record number of participants - four-legged and two-legged – attended the 11th National Drive. In addition to those who registered, many others wandered in from the other activities in the area and the CAA conference, to swell the numbers even more. Even an occasional tourist was seen wandering around the stabling and vendor area.

Sunday was a quiet day as people packed up, took one last drive, said “Good-bye, see you next year.”

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