1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Driving

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DRIVING (from “to drive,” i.e. generally to propel, force along or in, a word common in various forms to the Teutonic languages), a word used in a restricted sense for the art of controlling and directing draught animals from a coach or other conveyance or movable machine to which they are harnessed for the purpose of traction. This has been an occupation practised since domesticated animals were first put to this use. In various parts of the world a number of different animals have been, and still are, so employed; of these the horse, ox, mule and ass are the most common, though their place is taken by the reindeer in northern latitudes, and by the Eskimo dog in arctic and antarctic regions. The driving of each of these requires special skill, only to be acquired by practice combined with knowledge of the characteristics peculiar to the several animals employed. The most accomplished driver of spirited horses would probably be in difficulties if called upon to drive sixteen or twenty dogs in an arctic sledge, or a team of oxen or mules drawing the guns of a mountain battery; and the adept in either of these branches of the art might provoke the compassion of a farmer from Lincolnshire or Texas by his attempts to manage a pair of Clydesdale horses in the plough or the reaping machine.

Under all these different conditions driving is a work of utility, of economic value to civilized society. But from very early times driving, especially of horses, has also been regarded as a sport or pastime. This probably arose in the first instance from its association with battle. In the earliest historical records, such as the Old Testament and the Homeric poems, the driver of the chariot fills a place of importance in the economy of war; and on his skill and efficiency the fate of kings, and even of kingdoms, must often have depended. The statement in the Book of Kings that Jehu the son of Nimshi was recognized from a distance by his style of driving appears to indicate that the warrior himself on occasion took the place of the professional charioteer; and although it would be unsafe to infer from the story that the pleasure derived from the occupation was his motive for doing so, the name of this king of Israel has become the eponym of drivers. Among the Greeks at an equally early period driving was a recognized form of sport, to the popularity of which Horace afterwards made allusion. Racing between teams of horses harnessed to war-chariots took the place occupied by saddle-horse racing and American trotting races (see Horse-racing) in the sport of modern times. The element of danger doubtless gave pleasurable excitement to chariot racing and kept alive its association with incidents familiar in war; just as at a later period, when the institution of chivalry had given the armed knight on horseback a conspicuous place in medieval warfare, the tournament became the most popular sport of the aristocracy throughout Europe.

This element of danger cannot be said to enter usually into the enjoyment of driving at the present day. Though accidents occasionally happen, the pastime is practically unattended by serious risk; and the source of the pleasure it affords the driver must be sought in the skill it requires, combined with the love of the horse which is common to sportsmen, and of exercise of power. The art of driving as practised to-day for pleasure without profit, and without the excitement of racing, is of quite modern development. Oliver Cromwell, indeed, met with a mishap in Hyde Park while driving a team of four horses presented to him by the count of Oldenburg, which was the subject of more than one satirical allusion by contemporary royalist writers; but two things were needed before much enjoyment could be found in driving apart from utility. These were the invention of carriages on springs, and the construction of roads with smooth and solid surface. The former did not come into general use till near the end of the 18th century, and it was about the same period that the engineering skill of Thomas Telford and the invention of John London Macadam combined to provide the latter. The influence on driving of these two developments was soon apparent. Throughout the 18th century stage-coaches, ponderous unwieldy vehicles without springs, had toiled slowly over rough and deeply rutted tracks as a means of communication between different parts of Great Britain; but those who made use of them did so as a matter of necessity and not for enjoyment. But by the beginning of the 19th century the improvement in carriage-building and road-construction alike had greatly diminished the discomfort of travel; and interest in driving for its own sake grew so rapidly that in 1807 the first association of amateur coachmen was formed. This was the Bensington Driving Club, the forerunner of many aristocratic clubs for gentlemen interested in driving as a pastime.

In modern driving one, two or four horses are usually employed. When a greater number than four is put in harness, as in the case of the state equipages of royal personages on occasions of ceremony, the horses are not driven but are controlled by “postillions” mounted on the near-side horse of each pair. When two horses are used they may either be placed side by side, in “double harness,” which is the commoner mode of driving a pair of horses, or one following the other, in a “tandem.” Four horses, or “four-in-hand,” are harnessed in two pairs, one following the other, and called respectively the “leaders” and the “wheelers” — the same terms being used for the two horses of a tandem.

Though it is a less difficult accomplishment to drive a single horse than a tandem or four-in-hand, or even a pair, it nevertheless requires both knowledge and the skill that practice alone confers. The driver should have some knowledge of equine character, and complete familiarity with every part of the harness he uses, and with the purpose which each buckle or strap is intended to serve. The indefinable quality known in horsemanship as “good hands” is scarcely less desirable on the box-seat than in the saddle. It is often said to be unattainable by those who do not possess it by nature; but though this may be true to some extent, “good hands” are partly at least the result of learning the correct position for the arm and hand that holds the reins. The reins are held in the left hand, which should be kept at about the level of the lowest button of the driver's waistcoat, and near the body though not pressed against it. The driving hand should never be reached forward more than a few inches, nor raised as high as the breast. The upper arm should lie loosely against the side, the forearm horizontal across the front of the body, forming a right angle or thereabouts at the elbow-joint, the wrist very slightly bent inwards, and the back of the hand and knuckles facing outwards towards the horses. In this position the three joints of the arm form a kind of automatic spring that secures the “give” to the movement of the horse's mouth which, in conjunction with firmness, is a large part of what is meant by “good hands.” But this result is only obtained if the reins be also held with the proper degree of bearing on the bit. What the proper degree may be depends greatly on the character of the horses and the severity of the bit. Pulling horses must be restrained by a strong draw on their bits, such as would bring other animals to a standstill. But under no circumstances, no matter how sluggish the horses may be, should the reins be allowed to lie slack; for if this is done the horse receives no support in the event of a sudden stumble, and no control if he shies unexpectedly. The driver should therefore always just “feel his horse's mouth” as lightly as possible; he then has the animal well under control in readiness for every emergency, while avoiding such a pull on the mouth as would cause a high-spirited horse to chafe and fret. Well-broken carriage horses should always be willing to run into their bits, and those that draw back when lightly held in hand should be kept up to the bit with the whip.

These principles are common to all branches of the art of driving, whether of one, two or four horses. When they are observed no great difficulty confronts the coachman who is content with single or double harness, provided he has acquired the eye for pace and distance, and the instinctive realization of the length of the carriage behind him, without which he may suffer collision with other vehicles, or allow insufficient room in turning a corner or entering a gateway. For before he can have had the practice by which alone this knowledge is to be gained, the beginner will have learnt such elementary facts as that his horses must be held well in hand going down hill and given their heads on an ascent, and that on no account should the horse's mouth be “jobbed” by the driver jerking the reins; he will also have learnt a good deal about the character and temperament of the horse, on which so much of the art of driving depends, and which can best be studied on the box-seat and not at all in the library. If he has pursued this study with any degree of insight, he will have learnt further to be sparing in the use of the hand-brake with which most modern carriages are provided. This apparatus is most useful in case of emergency, or for taking weight off the carriage on a really steep descent; but the habit which too many coachmen fall into of using the brake on every trifling decline should be avoided. Its effect is that the horses are continually doing collar-work, and are thus deprived of the relief which ought to be given them by occasional light pole or shaft work instead.

When the ambition of the amateur coachman leads him to attempt a tandem or four-in-hand he enters on a much more Tandem and four-in-hand. complex department of the art of driving. In the first place he has now four reins instead of two to manipulate, and the increase of weight on his hand, especially when four horses are being driven, requires considerable strength of wrist to support it without tiring. It is of the first importance, moreover, that he should know instinctively the position in his hand of each of the reins, and be able automatically and instantaneously to lay a finger on any one of them. The driver who has to look at his reins to find the off-side leader's rein, or who touches the near-side wheeler's in mistake for it, is in peril of a catastrophe. It is therefore essential that the reins should be correctly disposed between the fingers of the left hand, and that the driver should as quickly as possible accustom himself to handle them automatically. This is somewhat more difficult in driving tandem than in driving four-in-hand, because in the latter case there is greater spread of the reins in front of the hand than with tandem, where the reins lie much more nearly parallel one above the other. The actual holding of the reins is the same in both cases. The coachman should be careful to take the reins in his hand before mounting to the box-seat, as otherwise his team may make a start without his having the means to control them. It is customary to hitch the reins, ready for him to take them, on the outside terret (the ring on the pad through which the rein runs) of the wheeler — the off-side wheeler in four-in-hand. Standing on the ground beside the off-side wheel of his carriage, ready to mount to the box-seat, the coachman, after drawing up his reins till he almost feels the horses' mouths, must then let out about a foot of slack in his off-side reins, in order that when on his seat he may find all the reins as nearly as possible equal in length in his hand. He mounts with them disposed in his right hand precisely as they will be in his left when ready to start. The leaders' reins should be separated by the forefinger, and the wheelers' by the middle finger. The near-leader's rein will then be uppermost of the four, between the forefinger and thumb; then between the forefinger and middle finger are two reins together — the off-leader's and the near-wheeler's in the order named; while at the bottom, between the middle and third fingers, is the off-wheeler's rein. It will be found that held thus the reins spread immediately in front of the hand in such a way that each several rein, and each pair of reins — two near-side, two off-side, two wheelers' or two leaders' — can be conveniently manipulated; and the proficient driver can instinctively and instantaneously grasp any of them he chooses with his right hand without having to turn his eyes from the road before him to the reins in his hand. Having seated himself on the box and transferred the reins, thus disposed, from the right to the left hand, the coachman should shorten them till he just feels his wheelers' mouths and holds back his leaders sufficiently to prevent them quite tightening their traces; then, when he has taken the whip from its socket in his right hand, he is ready to start. This is an operation requiring careful management, to secure that leaders and wheelers start simultaneously; for if the leaders start first they will be drawn up sharp by their bits, or, what is worse, if their reins have not been sufficiently shortened they will jump into their collars and possibly break a swinging bar, and in either case they will be fretted and disconcerted and will possibly in consequence either kick or rear; if the wheelers start before the leaders they will ram the swinging bars under the tails of the latter, with results equally unfortunate. The worst possible method of starting is suddenly to give the horses their heads and use the whip. But no positive rule can be laid down, for it is just one of those points which depend largely on familiarity with the horses forming the team. Horses even moderately accustomed to the work will generally start best in obedience to the voice, and their attention may simultaneously be aroused by gently feeling their mouths. When once started the driver should at once see that his team is going straight. If the leaders and wheelers are not exactly on the same line, this or that rein must be shortened or lengthened as the case may require; and it is to be noticed that as the near-wheeler's and off-leader's reins lie together between the same fingers, a simultaneous shortening or lengthening of these two reins will usually produce the desired result. With rare exceptions, reins should be shortened or lengthened by pushing them back or drawing them forward with the right hand from in front of the driving hand, and not from behind it. As soon as the team is in motion the leaders may be let out till they draw their traces taut; but draught should be taken off them on falling ground or while rounding a corner. Good drivers touch the reins as little as possible with the whip-hand, and nothing is less workmanlike than for a coachman to act as if he were an angler continually letting out or reeling in his line. In rounding a corner a loop of an inch or two of the leaders' rein on the side to which the turn is to be made is taken up by the right hand and placed under the left thumb. This “points the leaders,” who accordingly make the required turn, while at the same time the right hand bears lightly on the wheelers' rein of the opposite side, to prevent them making the turn too sharply for safety to the coach behind them. As soon as the turn is made — and all this applies equally to the passing of other vehicles or obstacles on the road — the driver's left thumb releases the loop, which runs out of itself, and the team returns to the straight formation. A circumstance useful to bear in mind is that the swinging bars are wider than the maximum width of the coach; consequently the driver knows that wherever the swinging bars can pass through with safety — and as they are before his eyes the calculation is easy — the coach will safely follow.

A necessary part of driving four horses or tandem is the proper use of the whip. The novice, before beginning to drive, should The use of the whip. acquire the knack — which can only be learnt by practical instruction and experiment — of catching up the thong of the whip on to the stick by a flick of the wrist. With practice this is done almost automatically and without looking at the whip. It is not merely an ornamental accomplishment, but a necessary one; for in no other way can the whip be kept in constant readiness for use either on wheelers or leaders as the need of the moment may dictate. The point of the thong is confined in the whip-hand when striking the wheelers (which should be done in front of the pad), and is released for reaching the leaders. Considerable dexterity is required in using the whip on the leaders without at the same time touching, or at all events alarming or fretting, the wheelers. The thong of the whip should reach the leaders from beneath the swinging bar; and proficient “whips” can unerringly strike even the near leader from under the off-side bar without disturbing the equanimity of any other member of the team. This demands great skill and accuracy; but no coachman is competent to drive four horses until he is able to touch with the whip any particular horse that may require it, and no other.

Essential as is proficiency in the use of the whip when driving four horses, it is even more imperative for the driver of tandem. For in four-in-hand the leaders act in some measure as a restraint upon each other's freedom of action, whereas the leader in tandem is entirely independent and therefore more difficult to control. If he takes it into his head to turn completely round and face the driver, there is no effectual means of preventing him. It is here that a prompt and accurate use of the whip is important. A sharp cut with the thong of the whip on the side to which he is turning will often drive the leader back into his place. But it must be done instantaneously, and the driver who has got his thong coiled round the stick of his whip, or who cannot make certain of striking the horse on precisely the desired spot, will miss the opportunity and may find his team in a sad mess, possibly with disastrous results. If the leader, in spite of a stroke from the whip at the right moment and on the right spot, still persists in turning, the only thing to be done is to turn the wheeler also; and then when the tandem has been straightened, to turn the horses back once more to their original direction. For this reason it is never safe to harness a tandem to a four-wheeled vehicle; because if it should be necessary to turn the wheeler sharply round, the fore-carriage would probably lock and the trap be overturned. Of comparatively recent years a great improvement has been effected in the harnessing of a tandem by the introduction of swinging bars similar to those used in four-in-hand. Formerly the leading traces in tandem drew direct from tugs on the wheeler's hames, or less frequently from the stops on the shafts. This left a considerable length of trace which, when draught was taken off the leader, hung slack between the two horses; with the result that either of them might get a leg over the leading trace, with dangerous consequences. In the more modern arrangement short traces attached to the wheeler's tugs hold a bar, which is kept in place by a few inches of chain from the kidney-link on the wheeler's collar. This bar is connected by short traces or chains with a second bar to which the leader's true traces are hooked in the usual way, allowing him a comfortable distance clear of the bar precisely as in four-in-hand. The leader thus draws as before from the wheeler's tugs; but the length of trace is broken up by the two swinging bars, and as these are prevented from falling low by their attachment to the wheeler's collar, the danger from a too slack leading trace is reduced to a minimum; though care is needed when the leader is not pulling to prevent the bar falling on his hocks.

Expert tandem driving, owing to the greater freedom of the leader from control, is a more difficult art than the driving of four horses, in spite of the fact that the weight on the hand is much less severe; but the general principles of the two are the same. In Great Britain, however, the coach-and-four is the more popular. It is more showy than tandem; it keeps alive the romantic associations of the days when the stagecoach was the ordinary means of locomotion; and a coach, or “drag,” accommodates a larger party of passengers to a race-meeting or other expedition for pleasure than a dogcart. But for those whose means do not permit the more costly luxury of a four-horse team, a tandem will be found to make all the demand on skill and nerve which, in combination with the taste for horses, makes the art of driving a source of enjoyment.

See Donald Walker, British Manly Exercises: in which Riding, Driving, Racing are now first described (London, 1834); Fuller, Essay on Wheel Carriages (London, 1828); William Bridges Adams, English Pleasure Carriages: their Origin, History, Materials, Construction (London, 1837); The Equestrian: A Handbook of Horsemanship, containing Plain Rules for Riding, Driving and the Management of the Horse (London, 1854); a Cavalry Officer, The Handy Horse Book; or Practical Instruction in Driving and the Management of the Horse (London, 1865-1867, 1871-1881); H. J. Helm, American Roadsters and Trotting Horses (Chicago, 1878); E. M. Stratton, The World on Wheels (New York, 1878); J. H. Walsh (“Stonehenge”), Riding and Driving (London, 1863); James A. Garland, The Private Stable (2nd ed., Boston, 1902); the Duke of Beaufort, Driving (The Badminton Library, London, 1889), containing a bibliography; F. H. Huth, Works on Horses and Equitation: A Bibliographical Record of Hippology (London, 1887). (R. J. M.)