Carriage horses come from a lot of different places. Many start in Amish country, bred to pull lightweight farm equipment or as a means of transportation in the non-mechanized society. Some are too-small members of the draft horse community, unable to fit in with the heavyweight hitches. Others might be oversized members of the harness world, lacking the grace and elegance to succeed in the show world.
But some are purpose-bred for the carriage industry. Antique Coach & Carriage in Chicago has specifically bred American Spotted Drafts for work.
And now, one special stallion is being immortalized by Breyer!
Meet Jake! He’s the father of three current carriage horses working for Antique in Chicago!
Forrest Gump, Ginny, and Stella all have their daddy’s flashy white markings and super outgoing disposition.
So Breyer fans, bring your BHR Bryants Jake model to visit one of his kiddos in Chicago, and perhaps they’ll give you an autograph!
While the bill to ban Chicago’s horse drawn carriages seems mired in the murky backwaters of City Hall, another more insidious threat looms. Chicago’s runaway construction boom has forced 2 of the city’s 3 carriage companies out of their home at the old Noble Horse Theatre.
Dating back to the late 1800’s, the two-story stable at 1410 N. Orleans was one of several built for access to the riding paths of nearby Lincoln Park. Over the years, the others disappeared but the Orleans barn survived, at one point becoming an auto chop shop. An enterprising horsewoman later converted the garage into a small riding stable, which offered limited boarding and riding lessons (showjumper Kent Farrington was an early student).
After Mayor Jane Byrne reintroduced commercial horse drawn carriages to the city in 1980, Dan Sampson and his father were invited by the barn owner to move their company, Coach Horse Livery, into the facility. Sampson later purchased the entire property, renaming the stable and his company The Noble Horse. Along with the boarding and lessons, Noble operated 25 carriages in the downtown area and dominated the heyday of the Chicago industry.
The Noble Horse fell on hard times in 1991, and Clyde Engle, the owner of Coronet Insurance, purchased the bankrupt Noble Horse properties including a farm in LaSalle County Illinois, allowing Sampson to continue business as usual.
Ironically, Coronet went bankrupt in late 1996 and the property was seized and set for asset liquidation by the Illinois Department of Insurance. Sampson went to court and challenged the sale of the stable, hinging his argument on the historic value of the property. He won the right to purchase the barn with a bank loan for $1.5 million and a $275,000 investment by a group called “friends of the stable.” His goal? Expand the arena and build a 500-seat theater to host equestrian events and house a medieval dinner show.
By 2000, the plan was a success and The Noble Horse dinner Theatre became a quaint addition to the neighborhood.
Alas, Sampson failed to keep up with his loan payments, and the owner of the neighboring Marshall Fields housing project, Sheldon Baskin, picked up the bank note. Baskin hoped to turn the housing project into condominiums, earmarking 1410 N. Orleans for a parking structure. He allowed Sampson to stay on and The Noble Horse again survived.
But in 2008, the economy tanked and so did Baskin’s construction plans. He no longer needed the Orleans lot, but shrewdly sat on the property until the market recovered. The Noble Horse limped on, but slowly the requirements of maintaining the facility, the carriages, the horses, and the staff took its toll.
In 2011, Antique Coach & Carriage moved in to the stable, sharing space with the now-failing Noble Horse. By 2014, Sampson’s theatre and carriage company had run afoul of the city a few too many times, failing to secure the proper licenses necessary to legally continue public shows and carriage operations; The Noble Horse carriage company relinquished its licenses and went out of business. The theatre followed shortly thereafter.
On February 6, 2015 arsonists broke into the stable on Orleans, deliberately torching 14 carriages and vandalizing the barn. Antique Coach & Carriage owner Debbie Hay salvaged her company by replacing her 12 carriages. Despite cries of insurance fraud, the carriages were never insured for fire damage, and the business shelled out over $100,000 to stay afloat. The other 2 belonged to Great Lakes Horse and Carriage, and owner Jim Rogers struggled to replace carriages, as well. The FBI still has no suspects despite a $10,000 reward.
Adding insult to injury, Chicago’s real estate market rebounded in 2015. Fueled by a record setting property tax, the rising popularity of the stable’s Old Town neighborhood, and a red-hot development plan called the Sedgewick Corridor, investors have offered Baskin $9 million, a price far beyond the means of small business owners like Hay and Rogers. As of April 1, the last original horse stable in the city of Chicago is set for demolition.
The fate of our urban carriage horses closely mirrors the rest of the horse industry. Without society’s commitment to protecting the open spaces suitable for farms, riding trails, and equestrian parks, and earmarking real estate affordable enough for small business owners like carriage companies, riding stables, and livery outfits, those of us passionate about our horses will soon find ourselves gone the way of 1410 N. Orleans—plowed under to make room for a modern existence of overcrowded monotony.
Both Antique and Great Lakes have struggled to find appropriate housing for their businesses. The same economic storm that gobbled up the old barn makes new property almost unattainable. Hay finally managed to secure a small space but the distance from downtown is a whopping 3.8 miles, or an hour by horse. Rogers has a small space to store his carriages but must truck his horses to and from the city for work.
Article originally published by CONA
I hang my head in shame over the long stretch since the last post. My only defense: I’ve spent a glorious year sitting in the carriage box.
But once again, the carriage biz finds itself back on shaky ground, with the situation in New York City looking dire. Check out carriageon.com to keep up with the latest as well as how you can help.
And here on the home front, we’re not doing so well either. After many long years gracing Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood with an historic elegance, the old Noble Horse Theater, which houses two of Chicago’s three carriage companies, has been sold for residential development.
The smaller company looks to be on track for their new home by the end of March. But the larger company remains potentially homeless. Finding a space big enough to house at least 12 horses and as many carriages, along with harness, hay, bedding, and the vast entourage of barn equipment required to maintain everything, has been frustratingly elusive. Complicating the search? Stables need to be within 4 miles of the downtown operating area to be viable, and in terms of affordable monthly rent, we’re apparently searching for UN-real estate.
I cannot say what will happen. Drivers are holding their breath while unhappily dusting off their resumes. We all have our fingers crossed, quietly hoping our employer good luck.
Anyone have a strategically located warehouse they’re not using?
The long dreary winter days are upon us. ‘Tis the season for carriage horses and drivers to take it easy, working occasionally to stave off cabin fever, bankruptcy, and the extra pounds from last night’s oversize carb-fest.
During the slow season, much of what we do at the carriage stand involves people watching, interacting with our horses, and chatting with pedestrians. I’ve recently had two excellent encounters with passersby concerned about my horses’ welfare.
One night last week, with temperatures dipping into the low 30’s, a well dressed gentleman approached me. He asked me how cold it needed to be before I put a blanket on my horse. Though he seemed interested in my response, his manner indicated a readiness to trounce me with his opinion.
Without missing a beat, I replied “Never.”
“Not even if it gets really cold?”
“Not even then.”
“Why not? I have a horse farm and I know what I’m talking about.”
I rattled off a quick summary of my own equestrian resume and said, “I know what I’m talking about, as well.”
I removed my glove and ran my hand backwards along Reebok’s thick coat and fat-covered ribs. “See this? There’s no blanket out there better than this. Mother Nature has provided far superior protection than I ever could. This is a work horse who lives his life outside. If he’s resting at the farm, he’s outside. If he’s working in the city, he’s outside. A blanket would only make him miserable and hot.”
“So you’d never ever put a blanket on this horse?” The man seemed incredulous.
“Not this horse. He’s not a show horse. He’s not unhealthy. He’s been growing this coat since last fall, and if I put a blanket over him, I’d only compromise what he’s able to do for himself.”
After a 20 minute discussion, the gentleman walked away with a better understanding of the industry, and at ease with the excellent (if pudgy) condition of Reebok. Politesse won the day, and both parties felt good about the result.
Two nights ago brought a different experience. A girl walked into the street to accost me while Cisco and I waited at a red light. She proceeded to call me cruel and heartless for forcing my horse to “carry the weight of the carriage” all night, at which point I assured her he did no such thing. The carriage bore its own weight–Cisco merely started and stopped the momentum, walking easily as he enjoyed the laws of physics.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about!” she shouted. “Shame on you! You have no right!”
“I beg your pardon, miss, but you have no right. Who are you to judge me? I assure you, I’ve done this long enough to know exactly what I’m talking about. And furthermore, shame on you! You are the very height of rudeness and impolite behavior to approach a complete stranger on the street and judge them with no knowledge of them or the situation. How dare you judge me? How dare you judge my horse?”
Her friends begged her to come away and once the light turned green, she followed me down the street. “You don’t care about that horse, you’re just using him!”
I slowed Cisco’s walk, no small task as he was headed home and knew it. “Again, how dare you judge me? I adore this horse. Do you honestly think I’d do this job if I didn’t? This time of year, I make very little money–I’d be better off sitting behind a desk. This horse is the ONLY reason I do this job–I care for him far more than I do myself!”
Again, her friends pulled her along, trying to assure her that the horse looked good, well cared for. And perhaps, my interest in defending myself and my trade made a difference. I’m no troglodyte, and am generally good at making a point.
“If you are concerned about my horse, come meet him. See for yourself!” The group walked away, and the girl, after a brief pause looking at Cisco (who was doing his best to be patient but had begun to puff up into his ‘fire breathing dragon’ pose), shut her mouth and followed her friends. A different approach, but a somewhat similar result.
So why do I share these little tidbits?
Seldom do carriage drivers get an opportunity to defend themselves. Most of our opponents hurl insults out of car windows as they drive away, unwilling to hear anything that might tarnish their gilded heroism. Many hide behind computer screens, their confrontations protected by the anonymity of screen names. Personal attacks against someone capable of refuting assumptions and accusations take real gumption.
I applaud the two people who confronted me. Good for you! With any luck at all, you learned something from me. If you listened to what I said and looked at my horses, perhaps you feel better. But perhaps not. Faced with living proof that our horses are cared for, that we drivers know our horses better than anyone else alive, if you still feel certain that I am an abuser, then so be it. You are still wrong, but at least you now base your beliefs on tangible evidence.
I cannot change willful ignorance, but at least it’s not my burden to bear.
While the battle for Central Park’s carriage horses reached a nail-biting fever pitch at last night’s Victor de Souza fashion show,
Chicago’s woes seem to be simmering on the back burner. So far, the other side, both political and protester, seems eerily quiet.
But what we have faced is something more troubling.
Sure, I’ve talked to several people who’ve walked past the horses while mumbling “Poor horse” or “he seems tired.” I try to engage them in discussion, pointing out how lucky our horses are to have jobs which secure their continued existence, how relaxation does not equal exhaustion. The broken leg comments are simple–I find a person standing with their leg resting and point out how almost everyone stands this way sometimes.
Most insidious to me, however, are the complaints made by those who feel the horses infringe on their personal rights. Sound silly? Let me explain.
Occasionally I drive my horse down the old bridle paths into Lincoln Park to avoid the terrible traffic on Clark and Lasalle. The paths go beneath the street, wide enough for my carriage to share the way with pedestrians and bicyclists alike. Yet one day, a well dressed woman with an angry pinched face called the police on her cell phone to complain. I broke no laws, and I inconvenienced her not one whit. She was offended by sharing the way with someone she didn’t like.
Just a few short years ago, four separate carriage stands existed with signs designating them for carriages–now only Water Tower remains. With nowhere else for carriages to legally park, overcrowding can become an issue. A few residents of the neighboring condo find this intolerable because they cannot cross the street where they want. Walking 25 feet to either of the crosswalks is intolerable–so they call the Mayor. Yes, the Mayor.
If Mayor Rahm Emanuel has nothing better to do than crack down on the horse carriages because his friend can’t cross the street wherever he wants, then its no wonder Chicago has terrible violence and a suffering public school system. Our elected officials are being distracted to do favors for and address the complaints of personal friends and wealthy supporters.
What about the family with 2 children who beg down at Michigan Ave. and Ontario St? What about the mentally ill man incapacitated by his giant duct tape boots who sits at Michigan Ave. and Chestnut St? What about the man with no feet who sits at Rush St. and Walton St? What about the heroin addicted young couple who sit at Michigan Ave and Pearson St?
Don’t we have more important things to worry about? Why do the concerns of the wealthy and white privileged trump every other problem faced by the city? Seriously, does the placement of a few extra horse drawn carriages, or a lone carriage on a quiet path really deserve such hand-wringing and personal offense?
Chicago Alderman have proposed a rename of the Water Tower Plaza after Jane Byrne, the city’s first and only female mayor. While her accomplishments are long and distinguished, it’s worth noting that Chicago’s horse drawn carriage industry came into existence per her suggestion.
Byrne’s daughter Kathy said, “It’s a place that my mother looked at when she was in office..she could look right out her kitchen window and see that Water Tower Park…the horses and carriages gathering around it.”
Alderman Edward Burke, chairman of the Finance Committee, and the man who proposed the ban on our horse drawn carriages, supports the vote, saying it “essentially rights a wrong: “A failure to honor one of Chicago’s most significant political figures.””
Interestingly, Kathy Byrne commented, “the Water Tower is a survivor…my mother is a survivor…Chicago is a survivor.”
My guess is that Former Mayor Byrne might also like to see the horse drawn carriage industry as a survivor!
Check out Miss Gearheart’s charity, Live Out Loud Charity, which focuses on suicide prevention and awareness!
Late Monday night, an SUV carrying 3 adults and 4 children rear ended a Chicago Carriage heading home after a shift downtown. The 4 children were treated at Lurie hospital and released. The driver of the carriage has a broken wrist but is otherwise fine. Milo the horse is fine, and has been checked over by Inspector Holcomb from Chicago’s Animal Care and Control.
So what does this mean?
Does it mean this?
Horses don’t belong in traffic! (chicago accident) http://t.co/bsmKjFdhP0
— BanHDCarriages (@BanHDCarriages) July 15, 2014
— Equine Advocates (@EquineAdvocates) July 15, 2014
I don’t THINK so. What both of these recent tweets fail to mention is that the horse and carriage didn’t collide with an SUV, but rather the SUV collided with the horse and carriage.
And I have to ask, how does an attentive driver not see an oversize dapple grey horse pulling a large white carriage with a highly reflective slow moving hazard triangle?
Were you paying attention? Were you driving too fast? Were you distracted? Were you on your PHONE?
Instead of questioning whether horse drawn carriages should be in Chicago, maybe we should be asking more important questions?
— SaveChiCarriage (@SaveChiCarriage) July 15, 2014