Festivals bring the community together to celebrate holidays and commemorate historic events. Horse drawn carriage rides, pony rides and animal petting areas are often featured attractions at these community gatherings. Providing horses for use in festivals is one way stable owners can reach potential new clients and increase revenues in their businesses.
Preparing horses for events with crowds requires time and training. Not every horse is a good fit.
“People try to force a horse that’s not made for that level of activity, and that’s when accidents happen,” said Kimberley Finney of Cambridge, New York. She owns Saratoga Horse & Carriage with her husband, Alan. They have provided carriage rides at festivals across the northeast.
Horses are naturally a flight animal. The lights, noise and commotion of festivals can cause many horses to want to flee the noise. However, a horse with the right disposition and training can enjoy the hustle and bustle of an event and the human attention that goes along with it.
“We roll basketballs under them, drag tarps around and over them, and expose them to leaf blowers and plastic bags that blow in the wind,” she said.
Before bringing a new horse to a festival, Finney drives down the road by her house. Her husband drives by with a tractor or vehicle, beeping and simulating traffic. She drives over bridges and across railroad tracks. When she knows the horse is trustworthy, she invites neighbors for a carriage ride.
“We’ll put a post on Facebook that says we have a horse in training and ask if anyone wants to go for a free ride,” she said. “It’s a good warm-up for being in the city or a busier festival setting.”
There’s only so much training that can be done. In the end the horse must trust its handler. While waiting outside a wedding with a horse and carriage, a dog owner in the town park lost control of his dog when it slipped his collar. The dog charged the horse and started biting at his legs.
“We always have a footman, and he got off and got the dog off the horse’s legs,” she said. “Our horse stood right there, but our horses have to the right temperament and trust you.”