Jen Meinhardt, Staff Writer
A driver at the Hitching Company begins their day by mucking the stall of the horse they intend to work with for the evening. Each driver has their preference, but often it is first come, first serve when it comes to actually choosing which horse they get to drive. After cleaning the stall, refilling the hay and water and brushing and tacking the horse, the driver is left with the task of preparing the carriage by removing it from the storage container and bringing it to the front of the lot where the horses will be hitched. Each carriage used by the company weighs between 600 and 700 pounds, so it is a basic expectation of each driver to be physically fit enough to pull this amount. For an animal like Frank the Belgian who weighs approximately 1,187 pounds, the carriage weighs practically nothing.
The time the horse starts working varies depending on the day. On weekdays, this time is usually around 6:30 p.m. On Saturdays and Sundays, this is 4:30 p.m. and can end anywhere between 9 and 11 p.m. Occasionally, the horses work longer than average, but this is rare, as the animals thrive on consistency. Mike Miller, owner of the horses, tries not to work them too long.
City ordinances keep the horses outside of the major downtown zones during peak traffic hours, and the routes the horses take keep them mostly off the main roads. When offered gigs within busier areas of the city or in riskier places, Miller tends to turn those down. “Putting the whole company at stake for $300 is never a good idea.”
A significant amount of time and money is put into each animal. Each horse needs to be able to adapt to the city environment as well as be curious and people-friendly. Miller doesn’t get his animals from any one place, and their ages tend to vary. The only certainty is that the horses don’t reach the city until they’re about five years old. Training is something that happens every day; it’s a part of the routine. It’s not until the horse is ten or twelve that they become good at their job, which means that every animal is valuable and treated as such.
On a regular night, breaks are worked into the schedule, where the horse can stand for a while between rides, and work is regulated around healthy operating temperatures. Rides cut off at 0 degrees and aren’t operated when the temperature goes above 90 degrees in the summer. The horse is worked no longer then what is safe for a person. This means that after five days, they get a few days off at the farm before heading back to the city. For Frank and Marty, seasoned veterans at working downtown, the established routine means they get affection from the people who book rides with the company. Yet there are still people who ask if the horses like this lifestyle.
When asked, Miller said, “You couldn’t possibly push a horse to do a job that it didn’t want to do.” When pressed if the job is cruel he answered with a short, “No.” The worst part of the industry right now, according to Miller, is the misconception surrounding the industry today. “Public perception has changed. We’re different from New York, and our style is different. We have a farm, [which means our] horses can exercise outside the carriage.”
When asked if Miller had anything he wanted to people to know about his industry and his animals, he left me with this: “We offer a service that’s an affordable experience for anybody who wants it … [People] do it because they like the horse and want to hear the horse’s hooves. It’s not just the ride, it’s the sights, it’s the aroma. There’s more than one reason why they come down every year. They don’t have a horse. This is the one time they can share the experience with friends and family.” According to Miller, horses are good for people. This industry brings them together in a unique way.
This article was originally published in the March 1, 2019 issue.