CAA Conference in Germantown, Tennessee

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Article & photos by Nancy Brannon

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Thanks to a convincing invitation from Board Member Jimmy Chancellor, the Carriage Association of America (CAA) brought its conference to Germantown, Tennessee on September 18-21, 2019 at the Germantown Charity Horse Show grounds. The conference provided three full days of learning from professionals, driving lessons, a carriage showcase, field trips, trade show, and a silent auction – all with lots of gracious southern hospitality and delicious food.

The first day’s activities on Thursday, September 19 included a first-time member gathering, information about the CAA Driver Proficiency Program, a lecture on Carriage Lamps, and finished with a gala Welcome Dinner at the home of Jimmy and Tempe Chancellor in Germantown. Some scattered showers moved into the area for a brief time Thursday afternoon, but not enough to dampen the outdoor barn party at the Chancellors’ – only just enough to lower the temperatures a bit.
Andrew Foster grilled his famous cedar-plank salmon, and there were plenty of side dishes to accompany the delicious entrée. Jimmy Chancellor capped off the menu with his famous pound cake, using his mother’s recipe.

On both Friday and Saturday morning, attendees could take advantage of driving lessons with Jimmy Fairclough.  Fairclough is a member of the U.S. Driving Team and an FEI Four-in-Hand driver who has been competing internationally for over 30 years. The U.S. team of James Fairclough, Tucker Johnson, and Chester Weber won the silver medal at the World Equestrian Games (WEG) in 2010 at Lexington, Kentucky and the bronze medal at the FEI World Driving Championships in 2012. In 2018 at WEG in Tryon, NC, the U.S. Driving Team of James “Jimmy” Fairclough, Misdee Wrigley Miller, and Chester Weber won the gold medal. So it was an obvious thrill for mid-south drivers to have the opportunity to learn from such a distinguished driver. Fairclough also gave a talk/demonstration on “How to Drive Cones” on Friday.

Gloria Austin, of the Equine Heritage Institute, brought her expertise to instruct folks on how to handle four reins, and her talk/demo on Saturday was on driving tandem using long-trace and short-trace harness.

On Friday night, conference attendees were treated to a riverboat cruise on the Mississippi River, complete with live music and a barbeque dinner.

Saturday’s lunch was a fish fry, catered by Soul Fish, and on Saturday afternoon, the Germantown Charity Horse Show folks treated conference guests to a wine and cheese buffet – with a lot more homemade treats than just than cheeses!  The conference finale was a visit to Melanie Smith Taylor’s Wildwood Farm in Germantown.

Other highlights of the conference were the carriage showcase, where restored carriages were judged with intricate detail and awarded prizes for the best and most accurate restoration work, and a carriage cavalcade, in which attendees were encouraged to parade their special vehicles (and horses) for others to enjoy.

Hats by Katie was one of the main vendors at the conference, with lots of hats to suit any style and size.

CAA Conference Director Jill Ryder said the “CAA is very pleased with Germantown and the facilities. Folks are very hospitable and Jimmy and Tempe Chancellor are great hosts! The group is really enjoying the town and the facilities.”

Ryder said the CAA was formed in 1960 and is now an international organization with members in all 50 U.S. states and in 40 countries worldwide. She said the CAA used to host a conference every year, but stopped about ten years ago because a lot of the local driving clubs were providing the same things that the annual conference did. Therefore, this year’s conference in Germantown was quite special!

The one factor that was a “downer” to the weekend’s activities was the heat. Even though temperatures cooled a bit on Thursday and the following days, temperatures were still hovering about 90.

The CAA also offers learning weekends and trips overseas. The CAA members will be traveling to Spain October 19-27 this year. In May 2020, they’ll be traveling to the Royal Windsor Horse Show in England. Ryder said they also offer weekend visits to carriage museums and travel to South America on occasion.

Driving Instruction and Lessons with Jimmy Fairclough
In his “How to Drive Cones” lecture, Jimmy Fairclough emphasized rhythm and timing. “Rhythm is the most important thing you can have,” he told the audience. In driving a cones course, “timing is very important,” he said. “You ask ‘how did the course designer arrive at the time allowed?’ It’s hard to figure out sometimes, but Chester Weber has it down to a science of what he needs for his team. When you walk a course, try to figure out how the course designer came up with the time and pick a time at which you want to be at a particular cone. Also factor in which is your best direction to turn, left or right.”

Fairclough also emphasized position – how you sit in the carriage, and planning. “You can’t be making decisions at the last minute,” he advised.

“Balance” is important and you want the horse to bend in the turn, not lead with the shoulder. “You are fighting against yourself if you don’t have them (reins and horses) balanced.” At all times you want the horses balanced and coming underneath (with their hind legs).

Kate Bushman talked about her experiences in lessons with Fairclough. She said, “He wanted Bliss (her horse) balanced and bending properly, taking contact. At first, she was somewhat fussy and not always obedient.” Kate normally drives with solid outside rein contact and asks for the bend with her inside rein. When she gets the bend, she releases the inside rein. In her lesson, Jimmy had her change how she uses the reins. He taught her to have the inside rein steady and give with the outside rein on the turn. Kate worked with keeping a steady inside rein and giving with the outside rein on the turn. “Her overall balance was better and she was bending better” with these new aids, Kate said. So now, she works to maintain a steady inside contact and to not give away too much rein in release on the outside. “The steady inside rein works much like a steady inside leg when your are riding. Bliss got much more consistent on the bit. The lesson was fabulous!” she said.

Fairclough also complimented Germantown and the lovely facility. He said he’d been planning with Jill Ryder to participate in this conference for quite some time. “It’s nice to help people driving at the lower levels.”

Fairclough said his background is in pleasure driving. When I was telling him about the various driving events and people that we cover in the Mid-South Horse Review, he replied that Chester Weber started training with him at age 13; “he started as a little squirt!” Fairclough said. Weber was driving a heavy horse when he first started with Fairclough, but Fairclough told Weber that wasn’t what he did. So he loaned Weber a single horse to get started, and then eventually, it was on to four horses.

Find more information about Jimmy Fairclough at his Top Brass Farm website:

Carriage Showcase
Friday afternoon’s Carriage Showcase featured four judges who meticulously combed the restored carriages submitted for evaluation, going over a detailed check list of features and rating them according to historic standards for the type of carriage. “We judged each vehicle against the standards of what the vehicle would have looked like when new,” one judge explained. “We’re looking for completeness.”Their critiques emphasized things that could be improved on each carriage, but overall, they liked what they saw. At the beginning of each critique, they told the name of the type of carriage and noted whether or not it was in use.

About one carriage, they said: “The wicker is superb. On the whole, it’s a very nice, attractive, and useful carriage.” About another carriage, one judge described it as “drop dead gorgeous!”

About the Brewster Basket Park Phaeton, the judges explained that it was “not a surrey because the back seat is lower than the front.” Another judge thought it “stunning, beautiful, and a wonderful restoration. A question about its imitation camel hair upholstery evoked an answer from the owner that “It’s actually Carhartt fabric.”

The Three Spring Dennett Gig is an 1890-1900 turn-of-the-century vehicle. It had been used extensively and judges deemed it “ready for more driving.”

The Brewster Bronson Wagon is a six-passenger vehicle. Also known as a Chupp Wagon, only 30 of this kind were made. By 1900 the Bronson Wagon had become a popular sporting wagon for country gentlemen. Its framed and paneled sides were the inspiration for the “woodie” station wagons that were popular in the 1950s.

Driving Tandem
Saturday afternoon’s presentation was by Gloria Austin on Tandem driving using long-trace and short-trace harness. Her own team of greys, Opalo in the lead and Johnny as the wheel horse, were driven in short-trace harness by David Saunders with groom Michelle Dlugoborski. Raymond and Lynn Tuckwiler provided the long-trace harness demo with their horses Traveler, a Quarter Horse, in the lead, and Blue, a Morgan, as the wheel horse.

Austin said, “Tandem is the most difficult type of driving. The easiest is the pair because each horse has his ‘buddy.’ The next most difficult is the single horse because it does not have a ‘buddy’ and may tend to want to get to the barn or where the buddy is.

Austin asked the audience why carriage horses are “up headed.” Her answer is that carriage horses are up headed so they have plenty of shoulder room at trot. “Carriage horses are mainly trotting horses,” she explained. She added that driving horses usually go better in a collar because that gives the shoulder more freedom of movement.

In contrast, Quarter Horses have their heads low to the ground, “as they should be,” she said. “Why? Because they need to have their head out of the way for roping and because they are mainly cantering horses.” She demonstrated how Quarter Horses bob their heads at canter.

In driving tandem, “the leader and wheeler horses turn at different times. You are driving two different horses – one in front (leader) and one in back (wheeler). It’s the same aspect as when driving a four-in-hand. Driving the four-in-hand is similar to driving the tandem; the reins all come together very close.”

Explaining several aspects of driving tandem, she remarried about turning, “You want the horse to lead with its head and follow with the shoulder, not to lead with the shoulder,” she explained.

On commands, she emphasized the importance of using “preparation commands,” like “heads up” to give the horse notice that you are about to give a command to do something.

Find out more about Gloria Austin at: and the Equine Heritage Institute:

Chuckwagon Cooking
Steve Gibson, aka “Camp Cookie,” brought his Chuckwagon to the conference and told the group all about Chuckwagon cooking. Gibson is the husband of Mary Anne Gibson, Vice Mayor of Germantown.

Gibson told the story of the origin of the Chuckwagon, thanks to Texas rancher Charles Goodnight in 1866. Driving cattle from Texas to the meat packing plants in Chicago, Illinois was an arduous process. Cowboys drove them from the Texas cattle ranches to the railhead in Abilene, Kansas, or other towns in Kansas, where they were loaded onto rail cars and shipped to Chicago. The drives could last from a few weeks to five months and covered about 12-15 miles a day on average. Usually the cowboys ate whatever they could carry with them on horseback, which was mostly dried beef and hard biscuits. Goodnight changed all that by inventing the mobile kitchen to feed them better.

Gibson explained that the Chuckwagon cook was the second highest paid man on the trail, second only to the trail boss. The Chuckwagon could travel faster than the cowboys could move the herd of cows, so the Chuckwagon would travel on ahead and get set up where they would spend the night. Typically the cook would feed 15 cowboys, but it could be as many as 30. The Chuckwagon was always parked to point to the North Star, so it acted like a compass for the crew. The “code” among the cowboys was that they did not come back for seconds unless there was enough for everyone. So, Gibson explained, if you had five steaks left over, but 15 people to feed, the cook would cut them into 15 pieces so that there was enough for everyone.

Gibson explained that he attends Chuckwagon cookoffs. In 2016 he won the cookoff at the Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium in Ruidoso, NM, and he won the Charles Goodnight Chuckwagon Cookoff in 2018. In fact, after presenting at the CAA Conference, Gibson’s next stop was the 2019 Col. Charles Goodnight Chuckwagon Cookoff, on Sept. 28 in Clarendon, Texas.

There are five main items a cook has to prepare in a cookoff: meat, potatoes, bread, pinto beans, and a dessert. All the cooking is done in the versatile Dutch oven: “You can sauté in it; you can bake in it; you can cook beans and stew in it,” Gibson explained. “When you go to cooking contests, you try to do everything as it would have been done in the 1870s.
There’s no talk about pick-up trucks or the Internet, or TV, etc.”

Next April 4-5, 2020 Pigeon Forge, Tenn. will host the annual Pigeon Forge Chuck Wagon Cookoff Competition.

Wildwood Farm
Wildwood Farm is one of two historic horse farms left in Germantown, the other being Hugh Frank Smith’s Farm on Poplar Pike. Wildwood was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2017.

The farm is comprised of about 350 acres with an impressive barn that was built in 1935. The two-story brick stable has Colonial Revival details and contains 18,000 square feet. Landscape architect Paul Mueller and horse trainer Garland Bradshaw worked with Wildwood Farms owner William L. Taylor to build the stable. The farm first trained and bred American Saddlebred horses, and in 1959 changed to American Thoroughbred horses, raised primarily for playing polo.

Wildwood is currently owned and run by Olympian Melanie Smith Taylor, whose parents owned Hugh Frank Smith Farm on Poplar Pike in Germantown, where she grew up riding ponies, horses, and showing in Germantown, taught by her mother Rachel. Her father was a reporter/writer for the Memphis Press-Scimitar, Commercial Appeal, and Germantown News.

Melanie is one of only two riders in history to win the “Triple Crown of Show Jumping:” the American Invitational, the International Jumping Derby and the American Gold Cup, and the only one to win all three on the same horse, Calypso.

Melanie was part of the USET’s gold medal team at the 1979 Pan American Games in Puerto Rico. At the Alternate Olympics in 1980, Melanie won the individual bronze medal aboard Calypso and placed second that year in the World Cup Final. After winning the World Cup Final again in 1982, she was named the United States Olympic Committee Sportswoman of the Year, and was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. Riding Calypso, Melanie capped her show jumping career with a team gold medal in the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984.

After retiring from competition, Melanie moved back to Tennessee in 1988 to care for her ailing mother. That year she met Lee Taylor, son of William and Audrey Taylor, owners of Wildwood Farm. The next year they were married (1989) in the fabulous barn at Wildwood, where Melanie rode in on a carriage driven by Sonny Foster. She and Lee remained married for 16 years until Lee died in 2005. Lee was an avid polo player in Germantown and Memphis Polo Club was headquartered at Wildwood.

Read more about Melanie at:

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