Category Archives: Trying to Make Sense

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.

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.


Money Talks…Nonsense.

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.

Bud downtown
It’s not a broken leg!

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?


Yes, There Was An Accident

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?

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?




Where Do the Horses Go?

Radical animal rights activists believe carriage horses go to slaughter once their working days are over.

Elizabeth Forel is quite outspoken in her beliefs. 

Peta is certain carriage horses are what’s for dinner.

And if you ask this guy, well:

You can watch the whole video if you want, but I can’t be held responsible for any loss of brain cells. This guy’s a real wunderkind.

Anyway, if we listen to these folks, carriage horses are the wildebeest of the horse world, basically feeding everyone from lovers of Aldi’s lasagna to Fido to that weird kid who ate glue in Kindergarten.

So, these pictures and videos of retired carriage horses must be super rare footage of almost mythical creatures, right?

Meet Roger. He has his own Facebook page, and his retirement was profiled by the New York Daily News:


And meet Caruso. This Chicago horse retired and now packs a little kid around the hunter ring.

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And then there’s Toby, who retired after pulling a carriage in his owner’s funeral.


I guess if we knew retired carriage horses were so rare, we wouldn’t have been giving them away to loving families for all these years.

Unless perhaps,



…could the animal rights activists so proudly beating their drums be mistaken? I mean, retired carriage horses running around in fields with goats, packing little kids around show rings, and relaxing in pastures just don’t make very convincing arguments, now do they?

Have a retired carriage horse? Share your pics with us and we’ll include them here!



More Support Arrives From Veterinarians!

Two more letters of support have arrived from vets familiar with the horses working in Chicago!

Jim Rogers

Professional Letter


Many thanks to Drs. Smith and Beatty for taking time out of their busy schedules to support working horses in Chicago!

The Clock Ticks


Let’s face it–horse drawn carriages are an easy target for radical animal rights activists and grandstanding politicians. Carriages operate beneath the magnifying glass of a sensationalist public eye. They thrive in a marketplace crowded with cabs, pedicabs, tour buses, Segways, bicycles, and so many other ways to view the city. Horses are farm animals planted in the middle of the least-rural environment possible. They don’t smell like the city, they don’t look like the city, and they don’t sound like the city.

tosouthnewCity dwellers’ senses are dulled by an endless expanse of concrete and glass, the inescapable drone of gas powered engines. No silent places exist in the city, and no organic soundtrack accompanies the rat race. Humans create urban jungles as giant repositories of man-made ingenuity. Residents lose themselves and their histories in the never-ending march to work, eat, buy, repeat.

horse drawn carriage1Put someone in the back of a horse drawn carriage and take them to the quietest street possible, where the city speaks in a whisper. The hollow, rhythmic footfalls of the horse entice the heartbeat to slow, the muscles to relax. Anxiety melts, if only for a while, and people breathe deeper, easier. Children often fall asleep in the back of a carriage, and conversations lull. Magic. Peace. Harmony.

Wv-heavenly-sunset-farm-scene_-_Virginia_-_ForestWanderHumans didn’t always molder away beneath fluorescent lights, parked in ergonomic seats, cultivating lists of friends they’ll never meet, and money they’ll never touch. We once enjoyed the sunlight, earned our lives from the soil we nurtured and the creatures who walked beside us.

c50919fa6242fa5ab251ffe0ec51b631The horse is a simple animal. They like to eat, they like to sleep, and they enjoy being horses. Hundreds of years of domestication have developed in them an expectation of human assistance: we bring the food, we soothe them when they become nervous, we are a part of their normal. Domestication happened, and in the process, animals became our cohorts in life. No matter what Peta believes, horses need us, and in return, we share their experience of the world. Stand next to a horse and feel their quiet strength. Place an ear against their side and listen to the vast expanse of their breath. The hand cannot resist the softness of horse’s nose.

Perhaps they need us less than we need them, and for this, we owe them our unflagging loyalty. We are caretakers for the wildness they no longer possess. We incorporate them into our lives and businesses, and in exchange, they remind us of who we once were. To eliminate horses from our cities at the insistence of extremists seeking to sever our ties with the animals who journey with us through life, destroys another link to a time when we were better: happier, healthier, calmer, and wiser.

“To that which you tame, you owe your life.” —Stacey O’Brien


Voices of Reason

Many thanks to Dr. John J. Hanover, DVM and Dr. Garry J. Fedore, DVM for these excellent letters they have written in support of our industry!

Inexperienced personal opinions may deem carriage horses working in urban environments to be unhealthy or cruel. But veterinarians spend many thousands of dollars, and countless hours of education to gain their experience. Aren’t they the only ones truly qualified to evaluate whether an individual horse is or is not healthy? Shouldn’t their professional observations mean more than the personal opinions of those without verifiable experience? And importantly, if the veterinarian has performed an actual in-person physical examination on the animals in question, don’t their observations mean more than ones made by those with no first-hand experience with the horses?


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More to follow…