The History of Walnut Hill ....In the span of just over four decades, the Pittsford Carriage Association’s Walnut Hill Carriage Competition has grown from an informal marathon drive of 14 vehicles to a six-day, internationally recognized, driving “event” which is forced to turn away competitors each year. Association President, William Remley, was understandably proud to say that Walnut Hill is the largest show of its kind in the world.

In the beginning it did not simply sprout from the wings of Pegasus as an overnight success. There were days, weeks, months, and even years of planning, re-planning, goal setting, deadlines, and innovations from the very beginning, in the fall of 1972. The Remleys bought Walnut Hill in 1969. It would probably be fair to say the inspiration for the Pittsford Carriage Association and its Walnut Hill Carriage Driving Competition arose from a need for domestic compromise in the Remley household. 

​Sue Remley was an avid horsewoman with a barn and riding horses firmly entrenched by 1972. Bill, on the other hand, knew little about the beasts, and desired to know even less. But his interest in history and innate romanticism led to a middle ground in the Remley family. That middle ground was of the carriage horse and an earlier and statelier era, when horse-drawn vehicles were important to our growing nation’s transportation, cultural and social systems. 

The people who made it possible... 
Coincidentally, and most fortunately for the Walnut Hill Carriage Driving Competition, 1972 was also the year Bill was asked to be president of the Rochester-Canandaigua Horse Show, a revival of the old Rochester Exposition. It was through this position that he met some of the key people who would help put together the Walnut Hill show. John Burkholder was Bill’s mentor on the logistics of horse-show organization and agreed to judge the first Walnut Hill Show in 1973. Another important figure in the early days was Robert Heinold, who had been the official show photographer for the Rochester-Canandaigua Horse Show. Bob’s qualifications included three-day eventing, thoroughbred racing, and riding on the hunter-jumper show circuit. He also possessed an extensive technical background in running horse shows. And, like Bill, he was a romantic, committed to the revival of driving in the area Harold (“Hack”) Marchant and the late Gerry Mead of Owego, New York were also important to the development of the Pittsford Carriage Association and Walnut Hill. As Whip Master, it was Hack’s responsibility to deduce a feeling for the ability of both whips and horses entered in the competition and to anticipate potential difficulties both in the ring and on the cross-country courses. Gerry Mead had helped many beginners with their harness and equipment needs from his self-named “overstocked hobbyist” shop.

A drive in the park... 
Bill’s romantic notion of recreating an 1890’s Sunday drive through Central Park began to take on the aura of reality when Walnut Hill first organized such an event in October of 1972. This informal marathon through Mendon Ponds Park drew 14 interested participants who braved 45- degree temperatures and snow. Following that chilly first drive, the whips were greeted upon their return to Walnut Hill Farm with an enticingly warm tent from which wafted the aroma of a steamship round.

Pittsford Carriage Association is born… 
With the successful achievement of this first venture fresh in his thoughts, Bill Remley began investigating carriage shows, only to find that there were precious few driving classes offered in any area shows and even fewer bonafide driving shows. Since carriage driving appeared to be the stepchild of the equestrian sport, Bill and his small group of fellow enthusiasts entertained the idea of developing a showcase specifically for carriages. Their intention was to bring together people who enjoyed driving in a relaxed, congenial atmosphere. The Pittsford Carriage Association was born and declared its major objective the use of carriages and other animal drawn vehicles for the promotion of public interest in their contributions to our country’s cultural, social and economic history. It was also their intention “to establish an annual gathering of coaches and coachmen that would provide an opportunity to advance the art of driving and its sporting flavor.” These goals remain the same today, although Pittsford Carriage Association members, committees, and show participants are continuously innovating to reflect current interests and conditions in pleasure driving as well.

Walnut Hill’s growth continues… 
By 1975, Walnut Hill was a major stop on the carriage-driving circuit and also becoming known for its unique courses and bountiful hospitality. Progressive obstacle, fault & out obstacle, and cross-country obstacle classes were introduced by Bob Heinold early in Walnut Hill’s development as was the percentage point system of scoring, which is now widely used in many of the nation’s pleasure driving classes. In 1976, a runabout division was created and in 1981, reinsmanship classes were added to the show schedule. A coaching division, tandem division and scurry obstacle classes were introduced in the 1982 show year. Also, in 1982, there was a coach horn sounding competition and an exciting coaching quick-change, which hadn’t been staged since before World War I. Every year the cross-country course is expanded and made more interesting. The 1985 competition boasted the initiation of Jack Russell Terrier Races at the“Walnut Hill Downs”. This event added a dimension of organized chaos to which anyone who knows this sporting breed can attest.

Putting it all together… 
How does one even begin to organize such an event? First, it takes a person like Bill Remley; someone with the vision, romanticism, organization, innovation, flexibility and knowledge to orchestrate the entire undertaking. Bill felt that the show organizer is personally responsible for anticipating every potential and real situation which may arise “from the flower arrangements to the length of the carpenter’s nails.” Once the show’s concept is formulated by defining goals and objectives, Bill surrounded himself with people who could take care of the details – creative individuals with a zeal for romanticism. They must also be committed to excellence and possess the initiative and ability to carry through with their creative ideas with infectious enthusiasm. Once his committee chairmen had been selected, Bill gave them free rein with decisions. He served as “answer man and troubleshooter” during the actual days of the show, but the rest of the year he was literally a jack-of-all-trades. He had done everything from pulling an “all-nighter” putting the program together to personally painting the bandstand at 6 a.m. With three pages of typewritten notes of suggestions for next year’s show compiled in the days immediately following this year’s event, he had plenty to keep his early morning and late night hours occupied.

Authenticity and safety are important… 
Simulating the conditions of the 1890’s is a major consideration at Walnut Hill. The cross-country obstacle course has natural obstacles consisting of a covered bridge, farm animals, water hazards, an abandoned sugar shed, woods, open country, and farm machinery. One reason for the outstanding success of Walnut Hill is the fact that the courses are challenging yet can be driven by a novice or once-a-year amateur.

Walnut Hill is the only show to use a Whip Master whose function is to judge the capabilities of each entry and to determine an order of go for the Presentation Pleasure Drive, ensuring that it is safe for everyone as well as having “eye appeal” for the spectators. Many general rules and regulations especially those dealing with safety, were first introduced and enforced at Walnut Hill. The show officials are quick to caution and/or excuse turnouts for infractions. There is also a Competition Committee to hear protests, decide on rule infractions and make technical changes.

Behind the scenes… 
Besides the usual officials such as judges, ring master, course designer, announcer, veterinarian, farrier, photographer and technical delegate, there are a myriad of other positions necessary. These include people responsible for the program, class sponsors, patrons, hospitality, music, patron’s club tent, floral decorations, grounds, stabling, publicity, ticket sales, boutiques, terrier races, special events, parking and food concessions. There are also the paddock marshals and timers, and the all important show secretary. Finally, there must be a horde of clean-up personnel constantly patrolling the grounds. Remley feels strongly about training personnel by running actual practice sessions and drilling them on the details of appropriate dress, manners and deportment. He also stresses that a substitute must be appointed for every job, including that of the judge.

A pleasure for all… 
Bill found that running the show in one ring allows for a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere and a pace which make it possible for even those exhibiting multiple turnouts to enjoy the show. Hospitality has always been given high priority at Walnut Hill as well. Exhibitors are treated to get-acquainted and cocktail receptions and Pittsford Carriage Association members make every effort to have the exhibitors’ stay in Rochester be a pleasant time. Enjoyment of the show is further enhanced by the Carriage Lane Boutiques which offer browsing among such items as sporting art, antiques, books, jewelry, clothing, sporting goods, tack, and horse-related items. Beginning with the 1983 competition, exhibitors, horses, and vehicles were housed next to the show ground instead of in nearby stables. This arrangement proved to be a great convenience to exhibitors, while enhancing exhibitor camaraderie and spectator interest during the show week.

Memorable Competitors… 
Walnut Hill has had more than its share of memorable exhibitors, horses and personalities. 

If an award were given for the most faithful exhibitor, Alvin Rosenberg would undoubtedly be the recipient. Alvin was one of the country’s most popular and entertaining whips and had made the trip from Baltimore, Maryland to Walnut Hill to compete every year since the show’s inception. In 1995, Bill honored Alvin personally by retiring Alvin’s competitor number “1” from the competition. In 1996, Alvin Rosenberg passed away on the first day of the 25th Annual Walnut Hill Carriage Driving Competition. 

1976 was a notable year for Colonel Gerald Mead. In three days, he drove his American Saddlebred, “Bobby Betal”, 125 miles from his home in Oswego, New York to the Walnut Hill Carriage Driving Competition. He kept an informal yet revealing diary of inconsiderate and considerate motorists he met along the way, as well as an account of the assorted remains of the “road kill” he encountered. Farrier Hack Marchant met Gerry and “Bobby Betal” at the half-way point to replace “Bobby’s” worn out set of shoes.

Four of the area’s most outstanding single driving horses and ponies, Toddy Hunter’s thoroughbred gelding “Rebel”, Judy Anderson’s morgan gelding “Skyloft Nathan Allen”, the Reitz Family’s “Sheik”, and the Remley Family’s hackney gelding “Diamond”, share the honor of receiving retirement coolers at Walnut Hill in recognition of their achievements in driving. 

The 1994 Walnut Hill Carriage Driving Competition was dedicated to the memory of Hugh Hunter, an avid sportsman, driving enthusiast, and friend. Hugh was actively involved in the Walnut Hill Carriage Driving Competition, was a 20-year member and past vice president of the Pittsford Carriage Association and was an avid hunter and shooter. In 1997, a new entrance to Walnut Hill was developed in memory of Robert Belluscio. This memorial gate signifies Robert’s dedication and sportsmanship to the carriage driving sport. He was Robert Heinold’s best student, always winning the Runabout fault & out classes. His family has continued his enthusiasm for the sport; his daughter successfully drove his horse at Walnut Hill in 1996; his wife continues to help with the Carriage Museum specializing in period costumes. In 1996, both his daughter, Laura and his wife, Lynne were honored with the sportsmanship award for continuing the Belluscio entry. 

John J. Burkholder was Walnut Hill’s very first judge and has continued to judge the show every three years. He was the manager of the Devon Horse Show and Bill Remley’s mentor. Unfortunately, in 1996 he passed away. 

Another loss occurred in February 1997, David M. Ross, recorder for Walnut Hill Carriage Driving Competition for many years. Bill Remley, John Burkholder, and David Ross were important in the revival of the Rochester-Canandaigua Horse Show held in Farmington, NY in 1972. A memorial grove of maples has been planted in their honor and will serve as an additional obstacle in the Walnut Hill cross country obstacle course.

A far-reaching success story … 

The Walnut Hill success story does not end in Pittsford, or even Rochester, New York. Its influence has had a ripple effect throughout Upstate New York with events such as those in Bath, Elmira, the Genesee Valley, East Aurora and Cazenovia establishing themselves and growing from year to year. A major driving event modeled after Walnut Hill, is the Canadian Carriage Driving Classic, held each year just north of Toronto. 

​Besides the satisfaction of producing an immensely popular and superbly orchestrated show, Bill Remley afforded himself the job of living out his romantic fantasies of a return to the statelier Victorian era for an entire week each year! This is certainly a major factor in attracting most driving enthusiasts to the sport and the essential ingredient in producing the Walnut Hill success story. The Walnut Hill Carriage Driving Competition will continue to innovate and prosper with the suggestions and support of its dedicated directors, members, exhibitors and spectators.