Putting the Cart After the Horse

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Main Ring at TraleeWritten by:  Heather Clemenceau

All photos except interior of Tralee by:  Heather Clemenceau

Photos at Westfield Heritage village by Robin Burkimsher

It is hard to imagine a more diverse (or more beautiful) property than the Tralee estate, which, as an operating horse farm, has hosted international events in dressage, eventing, and carriage driving and also is home to a significant special events/wedding venue.  For several years it was host to the Canadian Carriage Driving Classic. Set on 110 acres, the estate features multiple houses, stables, office, indoor arena, a working veterinary surgery, outdoor sand rings, and beautiful grounds with multiple ponds.  Tralee was the property of Dr. George Raymond Cormack, a veterinarian who was a lifelong collector and major benefactor of equestrian sports in Canada.  Dr. Cormack had 2 impressive display buildings built to showcase Tralee’s fine carriage collection, which were auctioned off about 2 years ago around the time of his death.

Small covered bridge which forms part of cross-country courseTralee has long been admired as one of the best maintained horse farms in Ontario.  It is a carriage driver’s dream, as it features many groomed carriage driving trails which wind picturesquely around several large ponds.  No doubt the Dr., of Irish descent, felt that the outstanding Caledon property was just as magnificent as its namesake town in the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland.

Dr. Cormack served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II, completing twenty-six overseas missions.  He graduated from the Ontario Veterinary College in 1949 and opened his practice and clinic in his parent’s home in what is now the City of Mississauga.  The young veterinarian’s business flourished and within a year, he purchased a 352 foot by 140 foot piece of property, upon which he built a house and worked from there until he further expanded into a 19 room hospital behind his home – the Cormack Animal Hospital –  which was opened in 1956. His business continued to expand until he had seven clinics in operation in Lakeview, Agincourt, Rexdale, Scarborough, Oakville, Newmarket and Caledon.  Dr. Cormack was also the veterinarian for the Toronto Stockyards, the Canadian National Railway, the Canadian Pacific Railway and Hartford Insurance Company.  He was active in the College of Veterinarians of Ontario and chaired its Building Committee for the construction of a new head office in 1992.

Dr. Cormack’s practice expanded to include the ownership and/or operation of several farms and other businesses, including the Burdette Gallery in Orton, Ontario.  The gallery holds the artwork of many Canadian, American and European artists. The Gallery, purchased in 1999, is located on 70 acres of a natural sanctuary that harbors woods, ponds, trails, picnic areas and wildlife.

On September 29th, Dr. Cormack hosted the Tri-County Carriage Association’s fall driving show posthumously.  The show included reinsmanship classes, cones, and a cross country course for horses, ponies and VSE’s (Very SmallA view across the small lake Equines), and was filmed for a documentary show on the carriage association produced by Rogers Television. It was well attended by both Tri-County club members as well as some members of my former driving club, the Central Ontario Pleasure Driving Association (COPDA).

Drawing on the tradition that envelops the sport of driving, the various classes evaluate everything from the shine on the buckles to the grooming of the horses and the gleam of the carriage.  The event also gives spectators an opportunity to have a close look at the numerous variations of horses and equipment that carriage driving bring together.  The precision and elegance of carriage driving can be likened to the required movements of figure skating or dressage. The goal is to produce what appears to be an effortless test despite its difficulty. Driving a horse involves a combination of verbal commands, light pressure on the inside and outside reins appropriately, and the use of the whip, which replaces the pressure of the leg in a horse under saddle.  A “made” driving horse becomes used to doing the same type of movements that he would do under saddle, but “remotely” from behind, a skill that requires a horse to become comfortable both in a closed bridle and without a rider on his back to guide him.  When all these aids are used properly, we see the horse arch his or her neck, round the back, and come “on the bit,” engaging the powerful hindquarters to reach underneath his/her body and really propel themselves and the carriage forwards with power and grace. The transformation from horse to “show horse” is immediate and amazing!

Competitors in the Cones phase of competition must drive through up to twenty sets of cones with balls set on the top. Hit a cone and dislodge the ball, and you draw penalty points. The course is timed, therefore the driver must be fast as well as accurate.  The most challenging and exciting phase of combined driving is the cross-country marathon,  which at Tralee today features water hazards,  hills,  covered bridges, and other visual obstacles.  Many drivers change from the lovely carriage and formal clothing they used in the other classes to a marathon vehicle equipped with disc brakes and short turning radius. Drivers must carry a groom/navigator for this segment of the competition. The groom/navigator helps to stabilize the carriage through tight turns in the obstacles and helps the driver on course with directions and time.

The courtyard showing the main barn entranceDr. Cormack’s enthusiasm put Caledon on the international driving map during the Canadian Classic period, when competitors came from everywhere to participate in the annual event. Now, the focus at the estate, which is offered for sale at $3,300,000, has been on the Tralee wedding facility. In the summer months, the Tralee facility manager can be found hitching Tralee’s horses to the estate’s classic landau, an elegant four-wheeled convertible carriage, after which he transports brides between the chapel and reception hall.  The participants to Sunday’s events enjoyed them all the more knowing that,  perhaps with short notice,  the estate could be sold or its 110 acres subdivided,  therefore becoming unavailable for public carriage driving events in the future.  So today,  we make the most of the unhurried welcome Tralee offers…….

“Horses make a landscape look beautiful” ― Alice Walker

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About heatherclemenceau

Hopefully as I've grown older I've also grown wiser, but one thing I've definitely become cognizant of is the difference between making a living and making a life. Frequently outraged by some of life's cruelties, and respect diversity. But.....I don't suffer fools gladly, and occasionally, this does get me into some trouble! I have the distinction of being the world's worst golfer - no wait, I do believe that there is a gypsy in Moldavia who is a worse golfer than I. Nor am I much of a dancer - you won't see a booty-shakin' flygirl routine from me! I'm also not the kind of cook who can whip up a five-course meal on a radiator either! And I've never figured out how to get an orchid to bloom a second time. I love to discuss literature, science, philosophy, and sci-fi , or even why Seinfeld is funny on so many levels. Words move me. I'm very soft-hearted about most things, especially animals, but I have a stoicism about me that is sometimes interpreted incorrectly. I do have a definite edge and an often "retro-adolescent" sense of humour at times. I'm a big advocate of distributed computing projects to advance science. Check out http://boinc.berkeley.edu/ if you want to find out more. I'm an eclectic (but not crazy) vegetarian, and as such, it's a personal practice of mine to seduce innocent meat-eaters into cruising the (salad) bars at every opportunity. You would be powerless to resist. I was recently surprised to find that a computer algorithm concluded that I write like Dan Brown, which is funny because I didn't think Dan Brown could actually write. Check out your own style - http://iwl.me/ Oh, and I love impractical shoes and funky hats.

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