by Nancy Degutis
While some people are said to be born with a silver spoon in their mouth, Paul Z. Martin Jr. was figuratively born with reins in one hand and a holly driving whip in the other.
"When I was a young lad in the 50's and 60's, my father was well known in the horse and pony business. He used to run the largest pony and horse sales on the East Coast in Blue Ball and New Holland," said Martin, now the president of Martin Auctioneers Inc., the business his father founded. Memories abound of those days, ones that included times "when (the late) Jim and Gaye Robinson of Westchester brought their coach and four to dad's farm in Blue Ball to hook up and drive around Lancaster County. That always stuck in my mind," recalled Martin, 57.
Today the Pennsylvania native is more than a font of knowledge about the golden age of driving—he doing it. Beginning in childhood, he learned the art of handling everything from a single pony up to a four-in-hand team.
He began driving seriously l5 years ago and did well enough to attract the attention of selectors for the U.S. team going to the world pony driving championships. They picked Martin to be an alternate member of the 2003 and 2005 American squads, as well as an individual competitor in the 2005 finals. While those choices were an honor and reward for his work, he is realistic about being part of the U.S. contingent headed to this year's finals.
"You have to be at the advanced level, but due to my schedule, that would not work for me," said Martin who is content to drive competitively on the intermediate level.
He has the support of a fellow driver, his wife, Karen. He met her at, of course, a driving show, the Yellowframe CDE in Southern Pines, NC. She had grown up around hunters and jumpers in Southern Pines, but came north after she married him 13 years ago. Today the two have a 28-acre farm in New Holland and small one in Southern Pines they use as a training facility over the winter months. Over the years Martin worked with clinicians including Scott Padgett of Southern Pines and Bill Lower of Ocala, Fla. Locally he works with Lisa Singer of Chadds Ford.
He gives his time and effort to promote the sport for others. He organized arena racing, a revitalized feature added to the show schedule during the Friday and Saturday night performances.
Martin's competitive juices run strongest when he and his ponies go to driving shows, such as The Garden State (NJ) event. He won the intermediate pony pair class with the couples' English Welsh Cobs, who also got the best conditioned award at the 2006 springtime show.
"You have to credit Dee Lawson, who grooms and works the ponies for us, for the Cobs getting the award," said Martin who successfully defended his intermediate pony pair title at the 07 Garden State, just a few weeks before Devon. "When I am not in town to drive them, Dee does, and takes care of them like they were hers."
Martin got the pair when he and his wife were in England for the 2005 world pony combined driving championships in Catton Park, England. The Cob geldings, Westonian Comet and Westonian Sampson, along with Laines 5, a German Sport Pony (who is used as a spare to replace a Cob when needed) were part of international competitor Anna Grayston's four-in-hand team.
Two of them now make up Martin's pair while one is used as a single by Karen.
"We started 2006 with them (the Welsh Cobs), getting victories in the intermediate divisions at Live Oak (Fla.), then the Garden State CDE and finally at The Laurels (Pa.) show. We could not have done better."
Martin and his wife imported two more German Sport Ponies and a German Welsh pony in late 2003. "In all we have seven ponies who are talented in a number of things. We do combined driving with the Cobs and then mix them with our three German Sport Ponies when we do four-in-hand driving. They are all bays with white, and range from 13.3 to 14.1 hands tall," said Martin,
The couple went abroad to find their German Sport Ponies, a cross between a Welsh and a warmblood, such as Trakehner or Holsteiner. There are very few of them in this country, pointed out Martin, who found what he was looking for in Germany, thanks to a business contact. Martin and his wife are the North and South American representatives for vehicles made by Kuhnle Carriage Company. They had come to know the owner of the firm, Gustov Kuhlne. He, in turn, knew breeders of Sport Ponies and put Martin in touch with them.
Those crossbred geldings were used by Martin when he was picked as the alternate for the American team for the 2005 world pony combined driving championships. He used his English Welsh Cobs to successfully defend his intermediate pony pair title at the 2007 Garden State driving show.
In 2006 he and his wife took part in the Devon Horse Show's pleasure marathon drive. Karen won her class and division with one of the Martins' German Sport ponies. Her husband used two others to sweep the pony pair class and division. The couple faced off against each other in the drive-off, an elimination round which pitted division winners against each other in friendly competition for the overall title, which went to Paul.
"There was another couple, Roy and Rhonda Munt, who also were seeking the blue ribbon" in that elimination round, said Martin. After winning the marathon, he came back the next day to make a clean sweep of the driving pony classes in the Dixon Oval, taking the scurry, the pleasure driving class, and the turnout contest.
Despite a busy business and competition-packed schedule, Paul and Karen won the pair pony and single pony divisions at Devon again this year. Paul also organized arena racing, a match up of horses against horses and ponies against ponies. Held in Devon's main ring, this was a new feature added to the nighttime sessions at the show.
To relax, the couple often spends the day with friends who also drive, meeting with them for social occasions such as picnicking halfway through their trips. The Martins also compete in pleasure classes, such as those held at Walnut Hill (NY) and Devon. The couple is very involved in the sport and backs it through their membership in organizations such as the American Driving Society, the Carriage Association of America, the Moore County (NC) driving club, and the Brandywine Valley Driving Club.
Martin today is heir to the auction company founded by his father, Paul Martin Sr. When Martin and his brothers took over the business in 1976, they discontinued the horse and pony end of it, and Martin became president of the endeavor 12 years ago.
Now the firm concentrates on offerings of equine- and driving-related items during its spring and fall sales in Lebanon, Pa., and other parts of the nation. The company is renown for presenting the finest in commercial and collectors' vehicles and appointments in its spring and autumn features. . Buyers come from as far away as Spain, Belgium, England, Germany and other parts of Europe.
"There are at least 1,000 registered buyers at our sales," said Martin. At the spring auction "we had more than 500 carriages, coaches and sleighs up for sale. Then there were more than 6,000 lots of equine equipment (saddles, appointments, trucks and trailers), antique holly whips and turn-of-the-century items that go with a carriage," added Martin, who has a private collection of horse drawn vehicles.
Some of the antique vehicles that pass through his sale have a unique history.
"There is a big demand today for sporting vehicles, such as park drags and road coaches, and on the commercial side, Hansom cabs (the equivalent of today's yellow cabs in New York City). But there are very few of them left," he added.
Unfortunately, when World War II broke out and this country needed raw materials, many cabs and carriages were burned to reclaim the iron in them. After the war, there was no demand for those that survived. Urban owners of Hansoms and other commercial vehicles used in cities did not have the room to keep them out of the elements, and left outside, they deteriorated. However, owners of sporting vehicles usually lived in the country and had space to keep them under cover.
Some of the most sought after vehicles that now pass through the Martin auctions were built by Brewster and Company. Coaches (over-the- road transportation) carried up to 14 to16 passengers while carriages, more like today's family car, could carry two to eight people, depending on the style and size, said Martin.
"Brewster and Company was well known for quality and workmanship, and most vehicles were built to order," he pointed out. Brewster, a New York City firm, kept track of what it built and for whom, and those notes 'are still obtainable," he said.