All posts by bishop60626

Three Years Out

Three years ago while sitting in the hospital with my dying mother, I received a telephone call.

“We’re on our way into the city, driving right now. We’re going as fast as we can.”

I whispered, “Okaaaay? What’s up?”

“Noble burned.”

My stomach plummeted and I slipped from my chair onto the floor. “NO!”

IMG_0095Scrambling, my fingers flew across my phone screen as I struggled to pull up news of the blaze. Cisco was there, in the city with three other horses. I couldn’t, not now. I couldn’t face the loss of someone else in my life. He was my buddy, my rock, the anchor to which I clung as I helplessly watched cancer’s assault against my mother.


Fire at Noble Horse Theater Declared Arson

The news coverage horrified me. Smoldering skeletons of several carriages lay scattered in the snow-covered yard. Flashing lights from the first responders cast an eerie blue glow on the background lending a strange beauty to the stage of destruction. My God. 

“The horses. What happened to the horses?” My voice sounded strangled and pitched in fear.

“They’re fine. Only the carriages burned.”

I cried, clinging to Mom’s hand. Her skin was pulled and dry—I must get lotion.

Photo credit: Chicago Tribune

Within a few hours, the sun rose on a devastating blow against two of Chicago’s three carriage companies. The flames completely destroyed all but one carriage, leaving thirteen blackened hulls in smoking ruin. Blankets hung in soggy black tatters across melted upholstery. Carriage whips folded into jagged shapes like the leafless branches of winter trees. Burnt rubber tires dripped from wheels without all their spokes. Duffel bags of drivers’ ashen coats, hats, and gloves lay scattered and filthy across the soot stained snow.

We had no carriages. We had no gear. We had no way to pay our rent, put food on our tables, or replace our destroyed equipment. The owners feared the loss of their businesses, and the drivers mourned their jobs. We were adrift.

And then we learned about the graffiti.

Once the smoke cleared, arson investigators quickly found the scrawled yellow messages:

Photo Credit: Michelle Relerford


“Save the Horses”

Someone did this. Someone invaded our barn and set fire to our lives. Did they know horses were upstairs? Did they care?

Forget about the carriages for a moment and understand that someone who declared “freedom” and “save the horses” dropped a lit match in their stable. Fire is a horseman’s worst fear. New riders are taught from the very beginning that a horse will never leave a burning barn, not without a fight. We must be prepared. We must have a plan, special halters hanging in easy-to-reach places so maybe, just maybe, we might get the horses out.

And someone inflicted that terror upon us, upon our horses.

Carriages and gear weren’t the only things we lost in the fire. We lost our sense of safety. We felt violated by a faceless assailant who willfully endangered our horses. Forget about the carriages. Someone risked our horses’ lives because they disagree with the horse drawn carriage industry.

Who does that?

Today I grieve not just the loss of my mother, but also for any hope that animal rights activists care about the animals they want to “save.” They do not care. Someone lit that match. Someone dropped it.

I hope they are found, if not by the FBI, then by their own conscience.

What the Heck is Going on Now?

The municipal codes that govern Chicago horse carriages were written in 1983 and routinely amended until 1990. Amendments have been sporadic in the past 28 years with the most recent added in 2015. Despite repeated requests from the industry to amend other out-of-date codes, the city has been mostly silent until recently when a pair of aldermen proposed their own as-yet unofficial amendment: “No horse-drawn carriage license shall be renewed.”

The math is simple and the sense is common

Many of the original codes were copied from the taxicab industry and the mounted police department. The hours of operation code came from the mounted force but was inherently flawed. First, it was supposed to read eight hours not six. Second, the average 1000 lb. riding horses of the mounted force carry up-to and over 200 lbs. on their back throughout their shift. A 1700 lb. carriage horse carries approximately 70 lbs. of harness and carriage shaft weight. When standing at rest, a carriage horse’s load is proportionally equivalent to a 50 lb. child wearing a 2 lb. backpack. The rest of the weight is born by the carriage itself and drawing the load is a physics lesson in momentum aided by wheel bearings and flat city streets.

For over 35 years, the hours of operation went unenforced. Other codes came and went, all with spotty enforcement but never was a citation issued for a horse working longer than six hours. It is worth noting that Chicago has no horse or human fatalities and most of the current working horses have been part of the industry since the early 2000’s. Clearly, working longer than six hours has never affected Chicago’s carriage horses.

In February 2017, carriage owners were blindsided when nearly 50 tickets arrived in the
mail. Shocked, they discovered that investigators had not documented these violations in person. Instead, two known animal rights extremists had submitted photographs of carriages they believed were violating municipal codes.

Actual image of one of the animal rights extremists currently harassing Chicago’s carriage industry. I’m not kidding.

When a person makes a Civil or Municipal complaint to a government office, they are mailed a lengthy packet to complete and return with a statement and/or evidence. An investigator reviews the information and can choose to investigate the matter in person, issue a citation based solely on the evidence, or disregard the complaint altogether. A motivated complainant may submit as many complaints and fill out as many packets as they are willing to spend time completing.

If someone photographs you allegedly violating a civil code, they can submit their image to the government. An investigator can review the image and issue you a ticket, all without witnessing or investigating the matter in person. City attorneys will offer to settle the matter for a smaller fine or let you stand in front of a hearing officer and risk paying the full fine. When you ask to see the evidence against you, the citation IS the evidence. City attorneys defer to the investigator who signed your citation whether the alleged violation is witnessed in person or based solely on third party evidence. In a municipal hearing, the investigator does not have to be present to defend their findings. To face the original accuser and their evidence against you, you must take the issue out of the municipal hearing department and into an actual court of law. This requires more time, money, and often, an attorney. Not surprisingly, most people pay the offered settlement and go on with life.

I know, right?

For the carriage companies, fines were as high as $1000 apiece. Companies faced multiple fines, and the amount necessary to contest the allegations vastly outweighed the offered settlement. Owners chose to settle and immediately requested a meeting with the commissioner in charge of the industry. During the meeting, it was agreed that the system was being abused and the number and method of citations was questionable. The meeting concluded with the owners being led to believe that the harassment would come to an end. But shortly thereafter, a new commissioner took office.

dohMeanwhile, the animal rights extremists unleashed a hailstorm of complaints and completed packets, inundating city offices. Inspectors continued churning out citations in the mail. The backlog of complaints and packets, ranging from minor traffic violations like rolling through a stop sign to the six hour rule, flooded mailboxes throughout the summer and fall of 2017.

Again the owners reached out, but were told they were dealing with a “complaint-driven office.” If people chose to complete the lengthy paperwork necessary to pursue their complaint, investigators could issue citations based on photos instead of performing in-person investigations. The new commissioner has thus far shown herself to be unwilling to address the issue.

Unless the aldermen and the commissioner allow carriages to operate under fairly drafted and sensibly enforced regulations, the fate of Chicago’s horse drawn carriages remains uncertain at best.

Who wants to see an end to this face?

Current Affairs

It would appear our businesses and our website have attracted the attention of recent media outlets. While we appreciate the traffic, we have horses to feed and care for, so we’ll keep this brief.

Animal rights activists have spent the past year impeding the companies’ legal rights to operate. These activists’ repeated claims consistently misrepresent our drivers, horses, and the city’s regulatory processes.

We look forward to our day in court providing reliable scientific information from experienced equine professionals to counter the rampant misinformation being spread by the animal rights activists.

Until then, enjoy the holidays!



Hurray For the Holidays!


Hooves are clip clopping and bells are ringing as we head into the holiday season! So far the carriages are enjoying great customer turnout with above average temperatures in Chicago. For those who’ve yet to visit us, remember that rides may be purchased AT the carriage stand as well as via the 3 companies’ online booking sites. While reservations are recommended, especially on Saturdays, they are NOT required. Carriages provide blankets to keep you warm but dress for the season.

Insider’s tip: all companies offer a Holiday Lights ride best taken after 7pm when the horses are allowed on Michigan Avenue!


Ready to book?

Antique Coach and Carriage

Great Lakes Horse and Carriage 

Chicago Horse and Carriage

Happy Holidays from all of us!


Celebrity Carriage Horses in Chicago!


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 wor07rld.

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!



The End of the Beginning


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.

noble1Ironically, 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.

Tough Times

On February 6, 2015 arsonists broke into the stable on Orleans, deliberately torching 14 Noblefirecarriages 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.

Looking Ahead

FuneralThe 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.

The last horse leaves the Noble Horse Theater

Article originally published by CONA

Tentative Times

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.

Slide82But once again, the carriage biz finds itself back on shaky ground, with the situation in New York City looking dire. Check out 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?


Revelations in Winter

6862252-winter-backgroundsThe 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.

FullSizeRender (2)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.”


“Nope, 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.

Say-Something-StupidTwo 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!”

FullSizeRender (1)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.

FullSizeRender“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.