Our two locally-bred and raised horses, nicknamed Gilford and Glendale, on Sunday July 17 pulled us in our carriage to the top of Mt. Washington, 7.6 miles distance, from elev. 1527 ft. to 6288 ft. The Event was a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
In celebration of the 150th year since the building of the Mt. Washington “Carriage Road” (now known as the Auto Road) in 1861, a Horse Event Weekend was held July 16-17, 2011 in which horses were invited to ride and drive on the mountain. The Great Glen trails at the base were closed to bicycles and open to horses, and on Sunday the Auto Road was closed to motorized vehicles so that horses could make the trek.
25 horseback riders and 4 carriages made it to the summit, and one other coach reached the 6-mile mark. Our pair of Arabian-Percheron brothers, pulling an Eagle combo carriage, was one of two pairs managing the full climb; the other “turnouts” (rigs) were a unicorn hitch (3 horses) pulling a marathon cart, also a 4-in-hand hitch put to another Eagle. The Eagle carriages have hydraulic brakes on the rear wheels. The ascent took us 4 1/2 hours, with lots of rest stops, and 2 hours for the descent.
Glendale and Gilford were pretty tired by the end but never faltered, they trudged along like true work horses. They sweated some at the lower elevations but never were breathing excessively hard, as they had lots of breaks. I did a fair amount of walking too, probably at least 2 miles!
As we passed the treeline around 4000 feet, and especially above 5000 feet, the wind was ferocious but it kept the horses cooled. At points there was such a strong headwind it slowed them down! Temperatures on top were in the high 50’s and the air was quite clear.
Our barefoot horses wore rubber boots on all fours which gave them protection and extra traction. They were very glad to stand at the top for an hour eating hay; one could say they were energized when it was time to head back down! The boys received “This Horse Climbed Mt. Washington” bumper stickers for their achievement, plus lots of treats and hay, a liniment sponging, and a well-deserved rest.
Hubby and I spent two months conditioning the “boys” through training on the hills of Gilford, including driving them up the Belknap Mountain carriage road a few times to simulate the grade of the Auto Road, which averages 12% incline. Hubby had retrofit and installed a bicycle odometer/speedometer onto our carriage so as to track the training progress, and he was able to observe their walking pace up the mountain, which averaged from 2.2 to 2.4 mph, with lots of rest stops.
The well-organized mountain support crew provided horse water and people water at every milepost checkpoint along the route, and monitored and reported all the horses’ conditions to a veterinarian on the summit. At the top they provided hay and plenty more water. Horseback riders were in front, with carriages following; a small group of sweep riders from the Auto Road crew were behind us most of the way up.
The carriages were held at the top until all four had summitted, so that no carriages had to pass each other on the mountain. The Auto Road organizers headed by Mary Power, plus lots of volunteers, deserve all the praise for this fantastic event, which was blessed with perfect weather!
OTHER HORSES AT THE EVENT:
RELATED MOVIE: Horses climbing Mt. Washington (movie)
See my Online Webshots Album with these photos and more
Auto Road blog, pictures of entire event
Mt. Washington Carriage Road Weekend website:
Mt. Washington Auto Road website