Paul Bennett has only been here a little more than six months, and already, the man with the thick English accent and deep passion for horses has launched quite a few initiatives for our Coach & Livestock department. Many are changes you’ve already seen out in the Historic Area and some will be rolling out in the coming weeks, just in time for your summer vacations!
Paul is a world-traveler and it shows in his resumé. His most recent job before joining the Foundation was manager of a private Hackney breeding and showing operation in Staffordshire, England. He also has extensive experience running driving clinics for pairs and four-in-hand teams (more about that to come) in Bavaria, Tuscany, and other parts of Europe. He worked for an open-air living museum in Durham, England, where he specialized in late Victorian history and supervised historic town carriage horses as well as rare breed livestock. And he even managed a cattle ranch in Texas!
So what inspired him, his wife, and their two pups Daisy and Rupert to once again move across the pond—here, to our quaint little colonial capital? For Paul, it was “a chance to be part of an organization with a worldwide reputation.” His other reason is one I admittedly take for granted. As employees, we’re used to seeing the oxen hauling a load of coal to the Brickyard as we walk down DoG Street to a meeting. We don’t even blink when we’re taking pictures for Facebook and George Washington gallops up on horseback or a carriage passes by and a coachman tips his hat with a “Good Day.” But to Paul, these interactions are critical to the CW experience—your experience. He tells me he was intrigued by the challenge of bringing history and agriculture to life for those of you who don’t get to see these scenes every day.
One of the first big announcements to come from the stables happened during a January snowstorm. I got a text from Mark Schneider (who most often portrays the Marquis de Lafayette) that Lancer and Isabella, two Cleveland Bays, had arrived. He was meeting Paul in our snowy pasture to give one of the horses a “test ride” and get a little video. Paul wanted to see if they could be a good fit for our educational mission.
According to the Cleveland Bay Horse Society, there are only 361 purebred females and 118 purebred males (not including geldings) that exist worldwide. Our own Isabella is one of about 40 breeding-age mares in the entire country!
You’ll often see Katharine Pittman who portrays our young Martha Washington out with Isabella as well as the Mark with Lancer. I asked each of them what they think of all the exciting changes underway. Mark tells me he has the highest regard and respect for Paul.
“Mr. Bennett is a mover and shaker and has initiated many new amazing programs for Coach & Livestock and the Historic Area. His new riding program has the city populated with many people on horseback, just as it would have been in the 18th century,” he says. He went on to let me in on a little secret. They’re hoping to get a mounted cavalry drill on Market Square where riders will go through the same movements on horseback that the cavalry did in the 18th century. According to Mark, it’s an idea that’s already proven to be very popular.
Katharine says Paul has been extremely influential in getting Martha out riding side saddle. “He is rejuvenating the Coach & Livestock Program by adding more breeds of horses and highlighting different riding styles…. It’s such an exciting time to be a part of his department and I am so honored to be involved in any way I can.”
Paul tells me he hopes to keep expanding the lineup of costumed interpreters out on horseback. He’s been working with Historic Area leadership to capitalize on the riding skills and expertise of many employees outside of C&L. For example, if you’re a regular visitor, you may see a familiar face trotting beside Mark and Katharine on Wednesdays. Having a hard time placing her? That’s Apprentice Milliner/Mantua-maker Abby Cox! Much like Katharine, Abby grew up around horses and welcomes this new opportunity to get back in the saddle, “I started riding when I was very little, and my family still owns a small horse farm…. Having a different interpretive experience has helped me gain an even better understanding of the city. I am grateful to be able to be a part of Mr. Bennett’s vision!” Another member of the Margaret Hunter Shop you’re likely to run into is Apprentice Tailor Michael McCarty.
In addition to Lancer and Isabella, we have also welcomed Duke and Dan (yes, we also have an oxen pair by that name!) as well as Diamond and Jewel. The latter is a set of beautiful white horses Paul thinks will make a picturesque pair to escort our newlyweds through the Historic Area. For now, he’s utilizing Duke and Dan. Paul is working closely with wedding coordinators at the Williamsburg Inn, Williamsburg Lodge, and Providence Hall to incorporate our carriages into couples’ big days.
He doesn’t just have big plans for our carriages and drivers! Paul spent the better part of March getting our newly refurbished carriages (just back from Poland) reassembled and out on the streets. Some of them will be showcased at the National Sporting Library and Museum in Middleburg, VA later this month.
You may also remember our recent blog about the new international certification and training all of our carriage drivers are getting. The program is administered through the Carriage Association of America (CAA), an organization dedicated to the preservation and study of horse-drawn vehicles. It is an Americanized version of a program developed by the British Driving Society. The CAA brought it stateside about ten years ago and Paul brought it here to his staff. Every single driver is now certified, though it was no surprise to Paul who has a lot of faith in his staff. “I really appreciate their enthusiasm, dedication and professionalism,” he told me.
As he challenges his staff, Paul is also willing to take chances and think outside the box. That was evident about a month ago when he successfully completed a test run of four-in-hand (four reins in one hand). It’s the highest level of traditional carriage driving there is and a skill in which Paul is very familiar. Colonial Williamsburg hadn’t attempted the feat since the early 90s! He’s hoping to run more of these teams in the near future, so be on the lookout.
Under Paul’s leadership, CW recently revived another tradition—walking our Leicester Longwool Sheep down DoG Street to the Market House. Layne and her sheep stop to interact (and take pictures) with guests along the way. And who could forget the story of little Edmund, rejected by his mother at birth? Not only did Paul approve the vet care for our social media superstar, he was also accommodating to our spontaneous requests to snap pictures of the little guy to pass along to you.
In fact, Paul has been a wonderful partner for the Making History Team. His enthusiasm is infectious and he always greets us with a smile. Even better? He (rarely) balks at our crazy ideas—like the time we tried to get Lancer to wear shamrocks for Saint Patrick’s Day.
Paul is also quick to alert us to special moments like this one—when a member of our Board of Trustees celebrated her birthday with a surprise, thanks to the foresight and coordination of the entire Coach and Livestock staff!
Photo Credit: Fred Blystone, Dave Doody, Cindy McEnery, Wayne Reynolds, Brenda Poole, Taz Easley, and Jenn Lyon.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO WORK FOR MR. BENNETT?
Unbeknownst to Mr. Bennett, we asked some of his staff to describe what it’s like to work for him. Their responses are perhaps the best testament to his vision, and management style.
“I really enjoy working for Paul. In the past we had some creative opportunities, but Paul allows us to really run with ideas, and to follow our own passions and interests. It makes me excited for the future, and to see what we can accomplish as a team.” -Layne Anderson, Livestock Husbander/Interpreter
“Paul has reinvigorated the Ox Driving Program at CW. Not only is he encouraging the continuation of the amazing programming done by my predecessors, but he is excited to take ox driving to a new level over the next few years.” -Cameron Green/Senior Ox Driver
“We are blessed to have such an innovative and knowledgeable carriage driving professional to head up our Coach & Livestock team at Colonial Williamsburg.” –Bob Couperthwaite/Coachman
“Paul Bennett is the best that ever happened to the Coach & Livestock department!” -Kris Goeckeritz/Stable Groom
“It is absolutely great to work under someone who has so much experience in animal agriculture and really exhibits a strong interest in the people working within the department. He is always concerned about how his employees are doing and is excited to hear about new ideas.” -Darin Durham/Livestock Husbander/Interpreter
“We are 100x better due to the knowledge and professional leadership of Paul Bennett! Not only will Coach & Livestock succeed, but the Foundation will be driven to new success as well! We are blessed to have him.” -Adam Canaday/Coachman
“Mr. Bennett is an amazing leader with an endless supply of experience and knowledge. He makes coming to work everyday fun and exciting and I feel honored and privileged to work with and learn from him. Coach & Livestock’s future is bright because of the impact that Paul Bennett has already made, and no doubt will continue to make on our department.” – Taylor Nixon/Dog Handler