Gail B. Austin »

Horse Hysteria

Gail B. Austin’s story

I am Gail B. Austin. I have no idea when I was on a horse for the first time. But I think I was quite young. At any rate, I first recall the fun I had with a young friend who had a pony named Black Beauty. We took turns riding her; but at times we would put on roller skates and one of us would ride Beauty while the other girl held Beauty’s tail so that we could roll on our skates behind Beauty as she ran down the road. Now I know why my Mother’s hair turned gray so soon. I must have been about 10 or 11 years old.

I begged my parents for my own horse which they got for me when I was 13 years. Cornel was a lovely old horse from a local riding school. I loved him and I loved riding trails. I learned so much about owning a horse which I had to take care of myself. He was boarded in an old chicken coop until we could get a barn built on the property.

I owned him for 3 glorious years. I had some friends to ride with and we took breakfast rides. We would get up at 5:00 AM; meet, carry eggs in a saddle bag to a wooded site, fry them and get back home before the flies started biting too bad.

When I turned 16 I begged for a flashier horse but this time I was given a car. Not the same; I longed for those trail rides and promised myself that I would again have another horse someday.

I took about a 15 year sabbatical. In that time I graduated from high school, married George, Birthed 2 children, adopted 1, raised the 3 children till the last one started school.

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Gail riding her favorite endurance horse

In 1975 I purchased a fine Arab/Quarter horse cross. Six months later I rode her with the Bicentennial Wagon Train that was slowly moving its way across America, from CA to Valley Forge PA. It hoped to arrive in time for the July 4th celebrations in 1976. I rode with the train for 2 weeks and we covered 300 miles. It was an awesome trip. Nobody to take care of except the horse and myself. My bed was a tent and I lived off the wagon train. I bought all my meals from them and bought grain and hay for my horse Saudie. The Wagon Master shouted “Wagons H-O” promptly at 8:00 AM and all 300 horses, some pulling Conestoga type wagons, some just carrying riders, and some 200 people moved out for the next leg of our journey. We traveled every day, rain or shine. Every night we circled the wagons and we were then obliged to be open to the public till dark. Many people came to see the horses and wagons. I thought it was a wonderful historic experience and I was thrilled to be a part of this event.

In 1980, I started riding Competitive Trail rides. Another new learning experience. I rode a couple of the rides with old Saudie until I bought a full Arabian who allowed me to be in the ribbons for most of the rides I went on. My friends called me ‘iron britches.” I rode these rides for about 4 years. It was hard work riding sometimes 25 miles but more often 35,60 or 99 miles. A distance of 5 miles was usually covered in one hour depending on the terrain. Some rides were for one day. Some rides lasted 2 or 3 days. It could be grueling. I was usually sore and stiff afterwards. But if I could get the horse through the distance with no ill effects I felt a real accomplishment. Dandy was indeed a ” dandy’ horse.

During this time I continued raising my 3 children but eventually divorced my husband George of 22 years in 1984. This was a very traumatic time for the children and me. A year later I moved to my first large farm in Batavia, OH. It was 40 acres. For the first time I hired a full time helper to manage 7 horses plus the additional acreage. A name was now given to the farm. This name reflected a name given to me after I took a Middle Eastern Dance course (Belly Dance) back in the middle ’70’s. Upon completion of the class we were each given a dance name. Mine was Gayla. At the time I was in Batavia I was raising Arabians so the name Gayla Arabians fit very well.

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Gail driving the Arabian, Overlook Assault, with Debbie at the Carriage Association Conference.

I had to make a change in management on the farm in 1988 so that is when I hired Dana and Debbie Banfield. We were introduced via a mutual friend. Leslie Kozsely who sadly passed away in 2010. My farm really started to blossom after that. Debbie took over managing the horses and Dana managed the machinery and the grounds. They have been the perfect pair for me. Their knowledge is endless. Dana has had extensive experience learning about carriages and mechanics though reading and verbal communication. Debbie also learned much about proper driving attire and horsemanship through reading and competing through a previous farm in IL. Soon the name Gayla Arabians was changed to Gayla Driving Center. Over the years we have tried to make the farm a self contained and full service enterprise.

In 1994 we realized we were bursting at our seams. The 40 acres was not big enough for us because of the large lake and steep wooded hillsides. Though the Batavia property was beautiful, we just didn’t have enough space. We were quite limited and it was impossible to hold a horse show there. It soon became apparent that 40 acres was just too small because of the vision that was possible with Debbie and Dana at the helm. So in 1993 I was now looking at a farm that just happen to be next to one of my client’s in Georgetown, KY. This property had 210 acres and the lay of the land was perfect for driving a fine horse put to a handsome carriage. So later that year a convoy of horse trailers was moving a dozen horses in training with Debbie into a retired tobacco barn. The barn had been “done over” to eliminate the low hanging beams for tobacco and a dilapidated stripping shed. The owl had to move out of the peak of the roof and new stalls had been installed to accommodate the new residents. We were under construction for about a year. I built an office with an upstairs guest apartment, indoor arena, carriage houses, outdoor arena, drainage issues and fencing. The farm raises all of our own hay and we maintain an extensive trail system.

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Gail driving Breimar and Sulvar, the foundation of the Driving Center.

Presently we have one CDE. The Gayla Bluegrass Combined Driving Event is held the third weekend in May each year. We also offer Clinics, and Driving Camps throughout the year.

We are in the business of training horses to pull carriages and teach the people how to drive their horses. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced driver working toward an FEI level show, you can find help here. We teach according to the rules laid out by the American Driving Society, USEF and the FEI.

I also purchased a three neighboring farms, in 2001 and 2009 respectfully, adding 530 acres of beautiful rolling bluegrass fields to the property.This additional land provides more driving trails, cross country courses, and beautiful scenery for all of our visitors. Later in 2009 and early 2010 the entire property was put into a Conservation Easement held by the North American Land Trust. I felt this was necessary because many farms were being sold and developed all around me. My knowledgeable staff here at the Gayla Driving Center is willing and capable to accommodate all your driving needs.