This summer I was invited to Cape May NJ on a work-vacation for Cape May Carriage Company. I had never been to Cape May so this journey was exciting and I was a bit nervous to!
From the moment I arrived at the airport Chantel Semanchek and Mario Lattuca-Bonamico couldn’t have given me a warmer welcome! There was so much history to learn about Cape May as well as their well rehearsed system of harnessing and putting the horses to the carriages. I also had to learn to negotiate my way around the city streets.
A good friend. Karen Garrett from Arkansas ( owner of Princess Carriage) and her daughter Cody were also in town for a work-vacation and we all found it a wonderful time to share ideas and discuss the issues of the commercial carriage industry. We also shared what we had tried in the past, what worked, and what we would do different. It was a amazing opportunity of like minds to come together and figure out how to improve our own operations.
Back to the driving part, I kept telling myself if I can drive 4 ponies through a marathon course at the International level and win medals, surely I can get this too! Well there was a lot to learn and I can tell you this place was full of thoughtful horse-people! From the grooms at the stables, to the talented drivers, and organized tour bookers, this is one amazing operation! Keep in mind there are as many as 10 horses and carriages out in the city giving tours so this is a busy place with schedules to be met!
The majestic horses of Cape May Carriage were all very large drafts, and I mean BIG! many over 18hh. The harness was big too! haha! Getting use to driving these gentle giants took a bit of adjustment as they just don’t start and stop as quickly as our lighter carriage horses at home. Each horse was in beautiful condition and I quickly learned a lot of glittering techniques for hooves and manes from the other drivers. This is a friendly competition between the drivers and only adds to the oooohs and aweeees on the street.
After my first few days of being completely overwhelmed by this historic city, its streets, and local folklore I was getting anxious to give it a go! So with my trusty horse “Stormy” and one of the smaller vis-a-vis carriages, I set out to get the real flavor of becoming a Cape May Tour driver. Wow the first few days my head was spinning as there was just so much to remember but eventually with practice it came easier and even lots of fun!
As the days passed and the weather stayed perfect for Carriage rides, I realized its a lot of hours with the horses! Getting to work early to help with a horse in training, then getting ready for the evening horse-drawn carriage tours. 14 plus hour days were getting to be common place and of course we were having so much fun along the way! We were almost like Family, I eventually claimed the role of big sister, haha!
One highlight of my trip was to go to New York City and see the stables and the carriage horses in Central Park. I hadn’t been to the city in a very, very, long time and was quickly feeling overwhelmed by its sheer size! The good news is that I am happy to report the horses were all very well cared for and have very tidy stables. Many of the carriages had nice turnouts and only a few needed a makeover! We had a wonderful dinner at the famous Gallaghers steak house and a stroll though times square which is really amazing! We headed back to Cape May after a very fun filled day!
As the Fall season approached I realized just how fun the change of Seasons are! Lets just say a trip to Hobby Lobby with Chantal and Patti ( a fellow driver) was like taking three 5 year olds to a toy store! The fall leave garlands, silk flowers, and ribbons led to several shopping carts full of decorations for the carriages! Labor day was now quickly approaching and I knew my stay was coming to a end.
On one of the last warm summer days, we had the opportunity to take the carriage horses to ride at Sunset Beach and I was thrilled to be invited to tag along! I felt like a child again on my wonderful horse “Royal” . the weather and the company was perfect!
We stayed quite busy with tours in Cape May through Labor Day weekend. I was feeling a little homesick but also feeling emotional about saying goodbye. During my work-vacation I had really discovered a wonderful historic city and made lots of new wonderful friends! I had truly experienced what it is like to operate a first class horse-drawn tour company and I was excited to get home and use my knowledge to improve our services at Wind Chase Farm. (Photos courtesy of Karen Garrett)