Finn Caspersen looks spiffy. He's portly and patrician, tall and splendidly erect, with a lot of beef in his jowls. His manners are immaculate, his dress impeccable: tweed jacket with matching tarn, white shirt, blue and red club tie. If it weren't for his four stopwatches, he would look almost British.
Caspersen has plenty of time on his hands because he's a groom in the four-in-hand division of the Gladstone Driving Event, a late-summer horse-and-buggy competition for New Jersey's Town and Country set. As a groom, Caspersen watches the clocks and navigates from the back of the carriage while his driver leads a team of horses through tests of discipline, stamina and suppleness. "I don't need four stopwatches," he says. "I guess I just like redundancy more than others."
Caspersen, 47, is the motivating force in the U.S. behind the activity known as combined driving, a sport in which carriages race over exacting terrain behind one-, two-or four-horse teams. He's one of those unpretentious country squires with millions in his khaki trousers and a passion for horses. And because he is chairman and CEO of Beneficial Corp., the financial services company, he has a pretty decent income with which to indulge his fancies. "Being a groom is a little less important to me than the Dow Jones falling 500 points," Caspersen concedes. "On the other hand, you don't think too much of the bottom line when one of your wheels hits a post, your carriage turns over and you have to throw yourself clear."
Largely through Caspersen's influence, Gladstone has become the U.S. Open of combined driving. Since 1981 the three-day event has been held at Hamilton Farm, a Beneficial-owned property in Gladstone, N.J., that is the home of the U.S. Equestrian Team. "I didn't pressure Beneficial to donate the land," Caspersen says. "I suppose I'm just persuasive in getting things done."
He caught the carriage bug 15 years ago when his wife, Barbara, was pregnant. Told by her doctor to stop riding horses, she switched to driving them. Around that time, the Caspersens hired a retired harness racer named Bill Long to manage their farm in Bedminster, just a short canter from Beneficial's facility. Long crossed the Caspersens' Norwegian Fjord ponies with Arabians, hitched a couple of the offspring to a carriage and won the 1978 National Pairs Championship.
Long and Caspersen decided to concentrate on the four-in-hand competition, so called because the driver holds the reins of all four horses in one fist. In 1985, Caspersen and Long took a team of Holsteiners, a German breed originally used as cavalry horses, to the Royal Windsor Horse Show in England, the Wimbledon of combined driving.
Eighteen countries hold national championships in carriage driving, but the sport's breeding is decidedly British. A couple of aristocrats thought up the idea of holding a national event in 1943 as a way to buck up the spirits of the blitz-weary citizenry. With Windsor Castle as a backdrop and members of the royal family looking on, the first competition was a national hit.
The future Queen—then Princess—Elizabeth and Princess Margaret entered the competition in its second year. Each won her class—Elizabeth in a small phaeton, Margaret in a dogcart. Neither has driven in public since, but Prince Philip won the pairs competition in 1980. Philip, who gave up carriages for ponies a few years back, is perhaps best remembered for calling fractious horses "dum-dums."
British equestrians may have used a harsher expletive in 1985 when Caspersen and Long won Windsor's four-in-hand event hands down. "The Brits haven't won it in years," says Caspersen. "Frankly, I think they'd like to kick out all foreigners." During the awards ceremony, the Queen asked about Caspersen's role as groom. "I told her it was to lower the carriage's center of gravity," he says. "She looked at my midriff and said I was well suited for the job."
Yet some wonder how Caspersen the CEO can be happy without the reins in his hand. "Why does he spend hundreds of thousands a year to be second fiddler on back of carriage?" asks Leslie Kozsely, a Hungarian �migr� who runs a four-in-hand school in Auburn, N.Y., one of the few such facilities in America. "He does this 'Hi-yo, Silver!' That's all baloney. Why does he not buy himself a push-button horse? He doesn't have to move—he can just sit and it will go.