2008-08-23 / Top News

Island Carriage Rally Recalls Victorian Tradition

By Allison Levy

Dale and Ellen DeHaan, along with their family, navigate through the cones course set up by Don and Lisa Eckhardt Wednesday, August 13, for the annual Carriage Rally. The course allowed drivers a chance to get some last-minute practice in while waiting for their turn to begin the course. Several onlookers watched as the hat-and-glove clad drivers took their passengers for a leisurely ride in ornate, privately owned antique and modern carriages. Story, page 12. Dale and Ellen DeHaan, along with their family, navigate through the cones course set up by Don and Lisa Eckhardt Wednesday, August 13, for the annual Carriage Rally. The course allowed drivers a chance to get some last-minute practice in while waiting for their turn to begin the course. Several onlookers watched as the hat-and-glove clad drivers took their passengers for a leisurely ride in ornate, privately owned antique and modern carriages. Story, page 12. More than 20 participants, dressed in what can only be described as their Wednesday best, arrived at the Parade Ground behind Fort Mackinac for the annual Carriage Rally, hosted by Don and Lisa Eckhardt Wednesday, August 13. Several onlookers watched as the hat-and-glove clad drivers took their passengers for a leisurely ride in ornate, privately owned antique and modern carriages.

The Eckhardts, who teach carriage driving and horseback riding on the Island, tried a new format for this year's event. Carriages departed five minutes apart, and followed a set route through Mackinac Island State Park. Drivers aimed to complete the course as close as possible to a predetermined time. Meanwhile, passengers enjoyed the scenery and answered a list of questions whose answers they found on the State Park's explanatory signs along the route. In previous years, the rally had no competitive aspect.

Carriage Rally winners Darren Suszczynski and Erin Blackmore cross the finish line behind the Fort. Carriage Rally winners Darren Suszczynski and Erin Blackmore cross the finish line behind the Fort. This new element kept the event interesting, according to Mr. Eckhardt, and the staggered start prevented carriages further back in the line-up from driving through an endless cloud of dust.

Darren Suszczynski, who drives carriages for Grand Hotel, won first place in the rally. He and his passenger, Erin Blackmore of Carriage Tours, completed the course in 48 minutes, exactly the optimal time.

Yet despite the Carriage Rally's competitive element, taking first place was not the main focus for many participants, nor was it the reason for the event's creation. Rather, Mr. Eckhardt, who funded the event, views the rally as a way for local drivers to get together and enjoy the Victorian-era tradition of the Sunday afternoon ride; the hats are worn in keeping with that tradition.

The new format achieved this goal.

"Everyone had a good time," Mr. Eckhardt said. "It was much more fun than the formal ride we used to do."

For many, the annual Carriage Rally serves as a safe environment in which new drivers can go out for the first time without an instructor, or get independent experience with a new carriage or horse. In fact, four of Mr. Eckhardt's students participated in this year's rally. The rally marked Ann Levy's first drive without Mr. Eckhardt, and Maryanke Alexander's first time without instructor in a larger, more difficult carriage.

"Every year, I use the rally as a graduating point for myself," Mrs. Alexander said. Last year was the first time she brought her husband along in the carriage.

After the rally, participants gathered for a party in Randy and Michelle Stuck's barn, where the Eckhardts work as trainers and caretakers.

The Eckhardts intend to hold the rally again next summer, again in the new format. They will consider making one change - moving the rally to the weekend, so that they can see an even better turnout than this year.

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