What is a Carriage?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A carriage is a wheeled vehicle which is drawn by horses. A number of nations have used carriages as modes of transport historically, and carriages are still used in the West for ceremonial occasions or the novelty of the experience. There are numerous different styles of carriage, ranging from formal coronation carriages with ornate decorations to lightweight pony traps used for casual trips historically. The horses which pull a carriage must be specially trained for driving, as drawing a carriage is very different from being ridden.

Both wagons and carriages were drawn by horses, though wagons were much simpler.
Both wagons and carriages were drawn by horses, though wagons were much simpler.

In order to be considered a carriage, a horse-drawn vehicle must have springs. Springs are designed to make the ride more comfortable for the people or products in the carriage by softening the rough spots in the road. A horse-drawn vehicle without springs is known as a wagon or dray, while a two wheeled vehicle is called a cart. The influence of the carriage on society was so immense that early motorcars and trains were called “horseless carriages,” and many of them retained design elements classically used in carriages.

There are literally hundreds of different styles of carriage. Historically, one's carriage was an indicator of social status, with people in phaetons looking down their noses at passengers in gigs, for example. Carriages were also ornately constructed and beautifully decorated with bright colors, ornamental accents, and gilding. In high society, people were judged on the basis of the carriages that they drove, along with the horses between the shafts.

While a single horse can pull most carriages, many people like to use teams of horses, since teams are stronger and they have a strong aesthetic appeal. Traditionally, a team of horses would have been matched in physical appearance. Using horses of roughly the same size would have been sensible, since different leg lengths or body types could make it difficult for horses to pull together. Color-matching of carriage teams, however, was simply vanity.

The driver of a carriage typically sits on an elevated seat or box in the front which allows him or her a clear view of the road. The driver controls the horse or horses with the use of long carriage reins, as well as a carriage whip. Carriage whips are traditionally used to provide cues, not to actually hit the horses; most coachmen will slap the harness with the whip or crack it in the air to encourage the horses to speed up.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Carriage rides are so much fun! They are also romantic, if you are with the right person!

I went on a carriage ride with one of my previous boyfriend's, and it was one of the most memorable nights we had.

It was so much fun to ride around the city on a horse and carriage. The driver was very friendly, and so was the horse. It offers a great view of the city! On cold nights it is especially better than walking!

I am glad to hear that the horses are not harmed while the driver gives them physically pointers, because that was one thing that worried me!

This Italian restaurant I am referring to is in Louisville, Kentucky. Right outside this restaurant, they have pretty decent priced carriage rides.

I honestly believe the restaurant gets so much business because of the carriage rides offered right outside, because their food is good, but not great.

Even just watching other people partake in a carriage ride is fun to watch!

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