Carriage company goes clip-clop in Vail
VAIL – Vail Village fixtures don’t get much more popular – or bigger – than Garth.Most days at the corner of Bridge Street and Gore Creek Drive, Garth draws an admiring crowd, and even when he’s damp with sweat and breathing hard, people love to put their hands on him. Garth is a draft horse, a Clydesdale to be precise, one of five that work in the village for Rocky Mountain Carriage Company. Since October of 2002, the company’s horses and two carriages have been the responsibility of Mike Wilson. And, while Wilson grew up with a veterinarian dad and has always been comfortable around big animals, owning Rocky Mountain Carriage has had its educational moments.The education, though, seems to be less about the animals than about people.”When there’s snow on the ground, a 2,000-pound horse can become kind of stealthy,” Wilson said. “A lot of people aren’t aware of their surroundings, and you see a lot of people kind of playing chicken with the horses.” People are also eager to get to know the animals, and the feeling seems to be mutual.”They seem to love the people as much as people love them,” driver Clebe Gordon said.On a recent day in the village, Garth stood on his corner, willing to let people pet and talk to him between carriage rides. There was a time, though, Garth wasn’t so easy to get along with.”When I first got him, Garth would load up, and he’d work all day, but he wouldn’t let anybody touch his head,” Wilson said. “We found out later he had an abscessed tooth. We got that taken care of and he’s been fine ever since. It’s just amazing to me that he kept working through that. But he did, and when a 2,000-pound horse doesn’t want to do something, he doesn’t.”
The horses seem to thrive on the bustle of the village, and all have been trained to work in towns.”We train them for (camera) flashes, firecrackers, things like that,” Gordon said. “They’re real good.”And they do draw crowds and passengers.”They don’t seem to stand around very long,” said volunteer host Jim Cahill. “People seem to love it, even if they don’t ride. People are fascinated, the horses are so big and beautiful.”One family from New York stepped off the carriage cold but happy.”I’ve always enjoyed horses,” Alice Marino said. “We enjoyed it.”Beyond just a nice interlude in the afternoon or evening, the impact of big horses on visitors can be profound, Wilson said.Kids, of course, go nuts for the big animals, Wilson said. And even the most stodgy-seeming grown-ups can drop their reserve, at least for a moment.”I’ve seen women in $60,000 fur coats hugging a sweaty horse,” Wilson said. “They get around a 2,000-pound horse and it seems like they’re little girls again.”And, having a horse-drawn carriage handy can be a good way to salvage a vacation day going wrong.
“It can turn people’s day around,” Wilson said. “If the kids are cranky, they’ll get excited about a ride. We’ll get people for a half-hour, show them around, and get them to think good things about Vail.”Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 613, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail Daily, Vail Colorado