Carriage racing at the PA farm show is a lesson in sport education

Written by Rebecca Hanlon, York Daily Record / Sunday News | Jan 14, 2015 11:09 AM
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Photo by Joe Ulrich

Ethan Maye stood behind his father and shouted commands as they swung around the barrels in the large arena at the Pennsylvania Farm Show during Tuesday's carriage racing event.  

"Sharp left. Hard right. Left again," he screamed over the loud speakers that blasted AC/DC and Lady Gaga.

Ethan Maye, who will turn 14 this month, has grown up around horses on his family farm in Virginia. His father, Paul, said he has been carriage racing since the 1980s, when the sport was exploding in his native England.

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A single horse carriage team navigates the large arena during the Arena Carriage Racing Competition at the 2015 Pennsylvania Farm Show. Paul Maye described how carriage racing works and how dangerous it is. (Ryan Blackwell - Public Opinion)

When Paul Maye came to the United States about 18 years ago, he brought the fast-paced, dangerous racing game with him.  

Tuesday's demonstration at the Farm Show is one of the few times Ethan acts as the navigator behind his father, who drives the carriage. Markus, a German riding pony, was a fan favorite as he spun around cones and barrels to the roar of the crowd.  

Because the sport is very dangerous - resulting in spills and nasty accidents - the navigator acts as a weight behind the driver to keep the carriage from tipping. With each turn, Ethan threw his weight to the opposite side, keeping the riders and Markus safe throughout the performance.  

Seven demonstrators performed during the event as part of the educational experience the Farm Show brings to the area.  

Karen Martin, who has previously competed and helped to design this year's course, said each demonstrator has years of experience at either the intermediate or expert level.  "It's a very tough sport," she said. "It's a lot of fun, but people don't realize how hard it can be, and how dangerous it really is."

Drivers are timed during the event and receive ribbons, but it's more about education than it is about competition, Martin said. She remembers last year when two Harrisburg boys spent two whole days just hanging out with the horses and riders.  

"Some of these city kids are just so amazed when they see what these animals can do," she said. "We're here mostly because of that. It's about giving them an experience they wouldn't otherwise have."  

Paul Maye has been working with 14-year-old Markus for about seven years. The pony has won two Single Pony National Championships in line driving and will soon go to Florida for training in warmer weather.  

The danger aspect of carriage racing is a lot like NASCAR, Maye said. People are attracted to the thrill of the fast-paced event.  

"It's not a matter of if a crash will happen, but when," Maye said, recalling some of the tumbles he's taken on the track and in training. "You're always pushing the animal to do better - to go faster. But the skill is in knowing the capabilities of the pony. That's how you know someone is advanced. It takes years to master that boundary."  

The louder the crowd, the faster the horses go, Maye said.  "That's part of the fun,"' he said. "It's not just about us and what we do - it's a real group effort."

This article comes from the York Daily Record as part of a partnership with WITF. 

Published in Harrisburg, News

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