It’s almost Christmas and the whole month of December is always a busy month for those of us in the commercial carriage industry. Being in the spotlight so often, a lot of people see us. It’s good for business but it also invites its share of monkey business. Every year we get the unsettling kind of calls I am going to share with you. Worse yet I am sure they are happening all over the country to other well-established companies as well. They usually start something like this “I’m looking for (carriage, carriage horse, harness, etc) do you have one for sale.”
This conversation leads into the true reason for the call and that is to garner information about starting their own commercial horse drawn carriage service. This would be fine, except for the fact that they are almost always completely clueless. I ask questions like: “Have you driven a horse before?” to which the common answer is “No, but I ride” or “I used to ride all the time” Which is far, far from any kind of major qualifier. While it is awesome to have horse experience and know how to handle an equine, the value of that ends there. You see there is a stark difference between what usually happens when a person comes off a saddle horse and what can happen if a carriage driver is ejected from the seat of a 1000 lb carriage filled with passengers chasing a terrified horse through a city street. Nobody ever seems to think about that.
We find it rather terrifying that anyone would as we put it “get a wild hair” and decide that they are qualified to operate a horse drawn carriage service that involves a mostly clueless public coupled with their own lack of knowledge and expertise. “I ride” qualifies you to operate a commercial carriage about as much as having your pilot license and flying a cub cadet gives you any business taking off in a 747 passenger plane full of unsuspecting travelers. If only these dreamers would ask for sensible advice rather than diving in with a sink or swim attitude. That said..sink or swim is fine as long as it does not endanger someone else but in the case of commercial carriage that is not the case.
So…what would we here at B.E.S.T. tell someone who wanted to get into the business legitimately? We would tell them to apprentice first. To work for an existing company with a good safety record. We would tell them to hook up with a B.E.S.T. operator company if possible. Do it for at least a year and the longer the better. Then and only then are they going to have even the slightest clue as to what the many situations you’re going to run into i.e. how to handle the pushy customer requesting something foolishly dangerous, what kind of horse you’re comfortable with, what kind of service your comfortable offering, how to safely handle an unpredictable public around a horse, and that is just a tiny taste of what you need to know before you dive in.
There is a code of ethics within the industry the true professionals abide by that those that are “winging it” unfortunately don’t even know about. Things like how to park carriages at a carriage stand, never leaving a horse unattended, not to have passengers in a carriage without a driver in the box, to stay in the box and go down with the ship if necessary in an emergency situation. To be willing to risk your life to protect those of your passengers and more. These things are critical to both know and be willing to abide by if you wish to offer commercial rides to the public for hire, and again this is just a tiny sampling.
The true “art” to safely and responsibly servicing the public with carriage rides is far more than pretty horses, beautiful carriages, and smiling faces. Like everything, the reality of it encompasses far more than what meets the unknowing eye. If you are willing to embrace the parts that are not romantic and truly learn the weight of the responsibility, the sometimes unpleasant realities, along with the good things then you have the right attitude. So… please go and apprentice! Start out for a year or two with a well run and safety minded existing company and then and only then decide if you really want to be a part of the commercial industry. Your own safety and that of the public will at some point depend on it.