Colorado Carriage and Wagon provides safe, special rides with quality service and horses | TheFencePost.com

Colorado Carriage and Wagon provides safe, special rides with quality service and horses

MARTY METZGER | FORT COLLINS, COLO.

Few activities tickle all five senses and enliven the human spirit as does an old-fashioned carriage ride. Even astride a horse, one must concentrate on guiding the animal while remaining alert for potential hazards.

All the world glides happily by, however, when a skilled driver and reliable harness horses serve as chauffeurs. Forget texts, tweets and other high-tech counterfeits, too, as there is no such thing as a virtual carriage ride — and if there is, shame on it!

Colorado Carriage and Wagon is the real deal. Based in Ft. Collins, Colo., and with horse facilities in Bellvue and Estes Park, the company provides a wide variety of events throughout Colorado and in parts of Wyoming and western Nebraska.

The idea for the business came about when co-owners Jim and Tammy Rice vacationed in her home state of Indiana. While in Shipshewana, a predominantly Amish community with a tourist-based economy, the Rices decided a horse-drawn service should work just as well here as there.

Jim Rice already knew his way around the barn. Born and raised around horses, his family tree includes his great-great-uncle Art Collamar, who drove the Overland Stagecoach Walden to Fort Collins route in the early-1900s.

In November 2000, Colorado Carriage and Wagon opened for business with just one carriage, one wagon and four horses. Fourteen years later, the fleet includes 31 horse-drawn units pulled by more than 30 horses. Venues have multiplied even faster.

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Ever since that first year, downtown Fort Collins shoppers and workers have enjoyed the privilege of daily stress-busting excursions around Old Town 365 days a year. Rice uses only seasoned, well-trained equines; the youngest animal he's ever used downtown was an eight-year-old. He declared his horses (Percheron, Belgian and Shire mares and geldings) to be unflappable even in traffic or when accosted by loose, barking dogs. He did allow that fireworks exploded directly above them could be the one highly unlikely scenario that might startle them.

"We are all about customer service and safety. If we aren't 100% comfortable with a horse we don't use it," Rice said.

Equally comfortable are all the people who climb aboard one of Rice's Vis-a-Vi carriages, wagons (8-36 passenger capacity) or traditional sleighs. Each autumn, Colorado Carriage and Wagon offers tractor-drawn hayrides. They also provide buggies and hitch wagons for parades and special events.

Annually, 300 brides and grooms ride into married bliss in one of the Rice carriages. His units also make the rounds at daycare centers, nursing homes, Quinciñeras and birthday parties — at which a petting zoo of ponies, mini-donkeys, goats, lambs, rabbits and chickens are also available.

The petting zoo, carriage and wagon rides are available at the Loveland, Colo. Centerra Marketplace and the Promenade Shops at Centerra. The latter location also offers horseback riding, with custom-made tandem saddles for those desiring an equine alternative to the vintage "bicycle built for two."

Some of the carriages and wagons are antiques dating back into the late-1800s. The remainder are quality reproductions.

Colorado Carriage and Wagon is a family affair. All employees are blood relatives or in-laws with one exception, a man who's been with the company for 12 years.

"We love him as much as family — or more," Rice said.

When Rice was asked if his actual family might take exception to that glowing pronouncement, he responded, "Oh, they know it!"

One of the younger branches of the Rice family tree is 10-year-old son Tory. This fifth-generation Ft. Collins-born boy has been driving horses since age four. Tory is already so skilled that he drives in parades. On August 22, 2014, his carriage carried the Grand Marshall in Loveland's annual Corn Roast Parade. Tory is especially thrilled to have driven Temple Grandin in the 2013 Ft. Collins St. Patrick's Day parade. A framed photo of them now hangs proudly on his bedroom wall.

Apparently the family that drives together thrives together. Just these 11 full-time and some part-time Rice-related employees coordinate to cover the daily downtown Fort Collins and Loveland rides plus approximately 1,000 events per year.

The timing of some events, however, can be unplanned and unexpected. One expectant mother went into hard labor while on an Estes Park ride three years ago. The driver called for an ambulance to meet them halfway back. The ride became an extra special event when the lady gave birth just 23 minutes after exiting the carriage.

"We get a Christmas card from them every year," Rice said.

Not surprisingly, lots of marriage proposals happen on the horse-drawn rides.

All of these unique occurences confirm Rice's conclusion that his and his wife's brainchild of an idea back in 2000 has produced a most rewarding experience for his large extended family and customers alike.

"We are the most fortunate people," he said. "People smile when they arrive and are still smiling when they leave."

Eliciting more smiles still are packages available in Fort Collins and Estes Park. For example, a ride and a milkshake. In Fort Collins only, dessert at the Melting Pot can be paired with a carriage ride. Gift certificates make unique, extra-thoughtful gifts, too.

For more information, contact Colorado Carriage and Wagon at (970) 490-1958 or visit http://www.ColoradoCarriage.com, which also links to the company's Facebook page.

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