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Holidays brighten carriage business

Barbara Beeckman booked 17 people for a ride through downtown Fort Wayne the day after Thanksgiving.

It’s an annual tradition – horses and all.

Beeckman, of Roanoke, arranged the sightseeing tour through Camelot Carriage Rides, one of several providers in the area.

“It was very cold,” Beeckman said, recalling the chilly weather accentuated by brisk winds.

The day before her group’s Nov. 23 ride, the temperatures were unseasonably warm in the low 60s.

But the colder weather that came after Thanksgiving and is more typical of Midwest winters is no deterrent for faithful horse-drawn carriage riders. Businesses that provide the service say this is their busiest time of the year.

“It is just a beautiful way to show off downtown Fort Wayne; the lights and the decorations,” Beeckman said. “It’s cozy and you see so much more than you would see in your car.

“People will wave and kind of give you a thumbs up,” she said. “It’s kind of special. It’s a lot of fun.”

DeeAnn Lengerich, owner/operator of Camelot Carriage Rides, and other businesses say they provide customers warm blankets to help shield them from cold temperatures.

Some riders tote a thermos with hot chocolate – or other beverages they might enjoy – along on the ride.

“Our busiest season is probably Christmas season,” said Lengerich, who has three carriages and one wagon. “I think most people come down to see the Christmas lights and there’s really no better way to see them. We go nice and slow.”

Businesses that offer carriage rides have rates that typically start about $35 for 30 minutes and about $65 to $70 for an hour.

Lengerich, who also works as a massage therapist for horses, declined to describe the carriage rides business as lucrative. Christmas season “can be pretty good,” she said, but there’s also the operational costs including hauling the carriages and wagons, the horses and liability.

“Definitely the biggest reason we do it is the love of our animals and meeting different people,” she said. It’s “a lot of work, but a lot of satisfaction out of it.”

Cindy Lambert, owner of Sentimental Journey, has also been providing carriage rides for years – 21 to be exact. She has three carriages and a wagon.

The 30-minute rides focus on downtown, while the longer rides venture into the West Central neighborhood to see the lighting handiwork on homes.

“I think Fort Wayne is a gorgeous city. I think we have a lot more displays than most cities our size,” Lambert said.

Kolette Winstead Frazier has been providing carriage rides through her family-owned business, Rosewood Carriage Rides, since 2003 although she gained experience years earlier.

Frazier, the owner, has four carriages that run with drafthorses.

Rosewood, which has a staff of 10, also does business in Ohio, Michigan and Illinois – frequently for weddings.

“Sometimes we have four or five different weddings on the same Saturday,” Frazier said. “That’s where your money is – your wedding and larger events and parties.”

But the Christmas holiday season also provides important cash flow.

“You want to pray that the weather is good and book rides everyday and sit back and relax in January,” Frazier said.

Weekends are busier than weekdays for Rosewood Carriages, which likes customers to book at least 24 hours in advance. Rides can be offered starting at 6 p.m. weekdays and at 5 p.m. on weekends, Frazier said.

And there seems to be plenty of interest. During a nearly 30-minute phone interview, Frazier had to pause twice to take calls on another line from people calling for booking information.

Frazier said providing wind-liner blankets and the ability to enclose carriages – if necessary – with sturdy plastic that still maintains the view of buildings adorned with Christmas lights helps keep business steady.

But there’s also some empathy when needed.

“If it’s 20 degrees and somebody doesn’t want to go, we’re not going to make them go, but we can make them as comfortable as possible,” Frazier said.

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