by Theresa Scott
It was love of beauty for beauty's sake which informed Chauncey Devereux Stillman's passion for carriage driving. Visitors to Wethersfield are first introduced to this sport in the Carriage House at the entrance to the estate. This elegant brick construction holds Mr. Stillman's carriage collection. A result of years of dedication, the collection boasts 22 antique carriages, fully restored and in working order.
In the sport of driving, the horses themselves are as much on show as the carriages. The horse pulling the carriage is the first aspect to be noticed, and sets the entire mood. Mr. Stillman selected Hackneys to be the horse of choice for the Wethersfield stables.
In the Spring 1965 edition of The Carriage Journal, Mr. Stillman wrote:
"You have asked me why I own Hackney Horses?... The Hackney was my unhesitating choice... My reasoning was that, since in this degenerate era and in my vicinity, the horse has no actual utility I had might as well choose an animal that gave joy by its sheer beauty, dazzle, and spirit."
Elegance aside, the Hackney stands apart in the carriage world, because it is bred to have a high-stepping gait. This unique leg motion can be sustained for long periods, and provides a smooth, safe, and elegant ride.
Mr. Stillman worked closely with Colonel Paul Downing, founding editor of The Carriage Journal, in selecting carriages and equipment. The result of this collaboration is one of the most diverse collections in the country. The carriages range from the rare Skeleton Brake, a towering vehicle used for training new horses, to the elegant low-lying Barouche, which brought Her Royal Highness Princess Anne to the opening ceremonies of the Royal Winter Fair in 1974. This was one of the many public events of the 60's and 70's at which Wethersfield carriages made an appearance.
Later in life, Mr. Stillman reserved his carriages for private use. Driving daily about the 20 miles of Wethersfield trails was his passion. Houseguests were taken out as a matter of course, and Mr. Stillman hosted several carriage drives for fellow enthusiasts on his hilly, picturesque property.
Mr. Stillman desired education about carriages to be part of Wethersfield’s legacy. On open days, the public is regularly welcomed to enjoy the beauty of the carriages and learn about the wold of driving. On August 20th, there is a special opportunity to see carriages as they are meant to be used. In the tradition of Mr. Stillman's long dedication to carriage driving, Wethersfield will host an exhibition featuring drivers from around the Hudson Valley. Visitors will be able to see a variety of carriages and teams execute a course on one of the main lawns. A number of different kinds of horses, carriages and turnouts will be on display. Set among the lovely tableaux on the estate, this event is not to be missed.