Few horsemen achieve success at the highest level of their chosen discipline. Even fewer have achieved that success in two disciplines. Fewer still have done it with the same horses.

Around 1976 Larry Poulin and I met at a pleasure driving competition at the Owl's Head Museum of Transportation in Maine. Everyone in New England who was driving, or trying to, came to this show. Many of us were taking harnesses out of boxes and putting them on our horses and ponies with an assist from others - "where does this go"? Larry was working for Margaret Gardiner, a well-known breeder of Morgan horses, and showing her young Morgan stallion, Kennebec Count, put to a Jerald or Houghton jog cart, holding a buggy whip straight up in the air. I remember people asking me at various times, "who is that?"

Larry did not come out of the traditional driving group of ladies and gentlemen who had been born to the carriage trade. He was one of the few professional horse trainers who was making his living showing driving horses, not driving as a hobby. He was not always graciously received because of his not so traditional turnout. In fact, one reason the American Driving Society came to be, in 1974, was to create a more level playing field, where driving was judged not only for the quality of the carriage and harness, but for the quality of the horse as a driving animal. In order to achieve this goal of a supple, balanced, responsive horse, Larry was convinced, and rightly so, that the horse needed to be ridden regularly, using basic dressage elements to enable the horse to bring this forward in driving.

In the mean time, I was training and driving my own single horse, Mymol, an Arab/Standardbred cross, my horse of a lifetime. This horse had started out as a dressage horse, the first project of Shelly Francis, a former dressage Olympian and currently producing new dressage champions. This horse excelled in driven dressage (none of it due to my efforts) and continued to be trained and shown in dressage by my daughter, as I continued to do combined driving and pleasure driving shows with him at the same time. He benefited from both, proving that cross-training, and dressage, especially, are excellent tools for a driving horse. Larry eventually went off on his own, running a large riding and driving facility in Maine.

Larry is part of a male trio of dedicated dressage riders and trainers - Larry, his uncle, the Olympian, Michael Poulin, and a cousin, Tom Poulin, who is in the Midwest.

After a very brief relationship with some Cleveland Bay mares that a group of us leased for Larry in order for him to compete at the World Pair Driving Championship in Gladstone, in 1993, Larry was without driving horses again. By shear luck, I was able to lease three Hungarian horses. To improve their dressage, Larry started riding all three of them - Bolygo, Heves and Nimbus. They were a little reluctant under saddle, not being accustomed to this at all.

The Hungarians were elderly and unable to continue at the top, so we retired them. We have never sold our horses on, but have kept every last one of them that we owned until the end of their days at my farm and at Larry's. Our next pair I caught sight of in Southern Pines where I was judging in the fall of 1995. Boots Wright was driving the Dutch pair that she had bought from the Dutch team after Gladstone and was interested in moving on to ponies, so we leased them for two years and they took us to the 1997 World Pair Championship in Riesenbeck, Germany. Our three horses were due to go back to Boots after this competition, so Larry and I decided that since we were already in Germany, that we would go horse shopping. Hardy Zantke, a man from Holsteiner country, kindly agreed to go horse shopping with us. We decided that we would buy young, untrained horses, and make our own mistakes, without having to figure out horses that had had several different owners and had come to us with quite a bit of ‘baggage.’ We ended up, all told, with three 3-year old Holsteiners, Camden, Cassius and Lubec and a 4-year-old, Logan. Lubec and Logan grew to be 17 hands and were not happy as a pair and so Logan eventually ended up as Larry's wife's dressage mount; Lubec went off to Connecticut to live as a field hunter, and Cassius died tragically of colic a year or so later.

Camden still lives with me and is 22 years old. He became our mainstay as we re-grouped and gradually acquired two more bay horses, Ziggy, a failed jumper and Conyer, a reluctant leader in a coaching four-in-hand. To some degree we were at square one, with a mixed bag of different talents and former careers. This trio took us to another World Pair Championship, once again in Riesenbeck. Except with Conyer, not much work was done under saddle. These three served us well, but we were ever on the lookout for the ‘perfect’ trio to make a pair.

We searched far and wide. We found our last pair (actually, always three) in various places in the USA. First Cody, bred in New Jersey, sired by Riverman, was rescued from an extremely harsh upper level dressage facility, where his ‘career’ was about to end at the tender age of five. Larry and I both loved the look of him and his extravagant movement, so we took a chance. He was such an angry horse that it took a year to settle him to ride and drive. We found his half-brother, Rivage, another Riverman son, in New Mexico, through word of mouth. He was a youngster, over-facing his owner, a young mother. He was a perfect match for the gray Cody and took to driving like a duck to water, and then, last, but not least, we found Wiley in a muddy paddock at a fancy jumping barn in Colorado. He was a young imported Hanoverian, bought for the owner to ride, but he threw her to the ground a couple of times and that was the end of that. These three became our last and best driving combination. They were/are beautiful, athletic and highly energetic. It took Larry a considerable amount of time to turn them into a real driving team, working together and understanding one another and Larry. As I am writing this and looking back over all these years, I am amazed at how hard it is to really put together a well-working combination of driving horses, when you are unable to just write a check and buy a group of top-level driving horses for oneself, or a group of good dressage horses and teach them to drive all at once.

Happily, we had Conyer and Camden to help train these new guys. Ziggy retired and to this day is living happily in Florida, where he came from, with my wary eye periodically cast in his direction to make sure he is living the life he deserves in retirement. Larry set to work developing the new trio, applying his skills as a rider to their development as superior driving dressage horses and as turned out, eventually, Cody and Wiley becoming Grand Prix ridden dressage horses in their new career, after retiring from driving. Rivage, although a lovely mover and extremely well-balanced and supple, is not an enthusiast when it comes to piaffe and passage, so he is coming home to me this spring to be ridden as a pleasure horse about the farm. Luckily, Larry's abiding interest in correct movement has always been present in the training of all his horses, with riding being a mainstay in this program. This led to his being able to continue working with these three ‘boys’ and entering another sphere of the horse world. As Larry tells it, most people in the driving community think that he and I have parted now that he is doing something other than driving; but not at all - I am as enthusiastic about his training successes and accomplishments in upper level dressage as I was when he was driving.

Otherwise, Larry remains a superb trainer of other people's driving horses and ponies, becoming ever kinder and more intuitive with the years and enabling both of us to continue enjoying our horses as they do other things and then come to my farm for a well-earned retirement.

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Driving Digest Magazine
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Southern Pines, NC 28387

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