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All the king’s horses: Karen’s biggest day yet

Champion carriage driver Karen Bassett tells Sharon Barnard about her sixth sense with horses – and the day she took King Richard III to his final resting place …

At a time when many of her pony-mad eight-year-old contemporaries would have been taking riding lessons, Karen Bassett was being introduced to the thrills of carriage driving.  

“Having outgrown my first pony, my mother tried to sell him but he was so naughty that he was returned after three days,” she explains, “so she came up with the idea of breaking him to drive.

“Soon the single pony became a matched pair, and then a team of four by the time I was 12 years old.”

Karen’s specialist skills eventually led her into a career as an international horse team carriage driver, competing as part of the British team at eight World Four-in-Hand Carriage Driving Championships.

“My career highlights have been winning an international competition in France, the first lady to ever achieve this, and the Team Bronze Medal at the 1996 World Championships,” she says.

Karen put her competition career on hold when her partner became ill and sadly passed away, but she is now beginning to look at what 2020 year will bring. 

“I hope to qualify for Team GB for the World Championships but I realise this is probably the biggest challenge I’ve ever had to face.” 

Day to day, Karen and the team at her East Midlands-based business specialise in traditional horse-drawn funerals for hire to funeral directors as well as private individuals.

“I think things have really improved over the last eight years with regards to working with funeral directors,” she observes. “Families seem to be more aware of the options available, mainly due to social media, and with popularity comes the knowledge of what’s more realistic for a horse-drawn funeral.”

Clients can opt for a black or white horse-drawn hearse but she can also provide other colours including pink, silver and gold and even a gun carriage by special arrangement.

The work is demanding, involving considerable preparation, organisation and rigorous training for both horse and driver.

“I prefer to train young horses myself,” says Karen. “I spend hours with them building confidence in their surroundings, then they are paired with an older horse when they begin going out on funerals. This can take many months of hard work.

“The key skill of being a good driver is being able to read the signs of the horses you’re driving.

“So many times I’ve sat with drivers who have no feel or sixth sense [about] what is going on in front of them, but this comes from a lifetime of training.

In March 2015 Karen was privileged to be the carriage master to King Richard III, taking his remains on a horse-drawn gun carriage to his final resting place in Leicester Cathedral.

“It will always be one of my most memorable days,” she says, “ and it was a huge honour to have done it.

“I chose the best four horses for the job. The preparation was the same for any other funeral but of course we had several meetings with the organisers to fine tune everything to the last detail, so most challenges were overcome before the big day.

“However, I was amazed at the number of people who turned up  – and the huge media attention.  

My friends from all over the world saw it. It was the most photographed hour of my life!”

Karen Bassett Carriage Driving and Horse Drawn Hearse - find out more at www.karenbassett.co.uk

CARRIAGE MASTERS

A selection of other carriage companies offering alternative methods of funeral transport:

AMC Carriage Masters www.amccarriagemasters.com – Tandem cycle hearse, and tractor and trailer

Claytons Carriage Masters www.clayton-carriagemasters.co.uk – Horse-drawn carriages and motorcycle hearse

Greens Carriage Masters – www.greenscarriages.com – Hearses in rainbow, leopard print, pink, Union Jack plus biker and trailer hearses. And a Robin Reliant.

Sonny Hillier Horse Drawn Carriages – horse-drawn carriage service –  https://sonnyhillier.com

This is a preview of a feature article.

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