Carriage Driver and Trainer Cynthia
Bliven: A Short Autobiography
I think I was imprinted shortly after birth. My first toy was a stuffed horse, which I still have – minus the tail.
My initial driving experience was with a pinto pony, Peanuts, on my grandfather’s farm. The pony was hooked to a governess cart. I then moved on to another pony, Charlie Brown, who belonged to some boys in town. We took the pony to the fair grounds and raced him around the barrels as fast as we could go. I think that is now called combined driving, but at the time, we just called it fun.
Growing up, I spent most of my waking hours at McCulloch Farm [in Old Lyme CT], where I developed my love for Morgan horses. Morgan horses and driving have always gone together. At 14, I decided that I wanted to train horses for a living and to make driving horses my specialty. I still love the way a horse looks in harness, the feel of the reins and the rhythm of the trot. That has not changed over all the years.
When I attended Green Mountain College in Vermont, I brought along my horse, Babe’s Woodlin, stabling him at a Standardbred barn next to the school. Every morning before class, I would go to the barn and jog horses. At school, there was an Independent Study class. I convinced my advisor to allow me to write a paper on driving a pair. I returned to McCulloch Farm and, with the help of Rudy Herbst (Connecticut Valley Driving Club’s first president), put a pair together.
I then worked for Donald Holmes and Bill Beckley, who showed American Saddlebreds and a few Morgans. This was my introduction to the Saddlebred.
Next, I trained horses for Clarence Russell and his family, who bred Morgans under the Teckla prefix. His daughter rode saddle seat, his son rode western and both he and his wife drove. It was at this time that I saw an advertisement in the Horsemen’s Yankee Pedlar looking for people to try a new sport called combined driving. It consisted of cross country and cones only, no dressage. I started conditioning the horses, driving them to the state forest and back. That’s right – to the forest and back, not in it. I thought a couple of miles was a lot. I had no idea what I was getting into. The event took place in Millbrook, New York. We drove through fields, on dirt roads and through several hazards. As I drove my horse back to the barn, I met a four-in-hand, the first I had ever seen. As I passed by, they sounded their horn. I was enthralled. This is where I met Charles Kellogg. He was very encouraging and this made a big difference. We should all support our new drivers.
The person who influenced my driving the most was Ed Hadley. I worked for him training Morgans for the show ring. Ed was noted for his harness horses. He paid attention to the details. The harness had to be perfectly adjusted and the horses had to move straight down the long side of the ring and bend correctly in the corners. While I was working for Ed, we attended a Morgan show in Maine. I showed my own horse in the new carriage division, which is where I met Larry Poulin. Larry came over to admire my carriage and I wanted to see the Morgan stallion he was driving, Kennebec Count. I later spent time working with Larry and Count. That meeting took place thirty-five years ago [in 1980].
That is how I got my start in carriage driving. I have trained many horses and driven many miles since. I even take my vacations with my horses. My Morgan gelding, Jet, lived to the fine age of 33. At this time, my husband Fred and I own two American Saddlebreds and a Welsh Pony.