FORT WAYNE – Kolette Winstead Frazier spent Friday afternoon at her Huntertown farm loading up horses for a weekend wedding in Michigan.
For 30 years, Frazier has participated in clients’ special occasions through her company, Rosewood Carriage Rides.
But the bulk of her business comes from taking customers on rides through Fort Wayne’s downtown in spring, summer, fall and, especially, winter. The holidays are hopping in the carriage industry.
“It’s just a unique way of sitting back and relaxing and enjoying the sights of the city,” Frazier said.
Horse-drawn carriage rides are commonly offered to tourists in larger cities, including New York and Chicago. But some animal rights activists are pushing to end the practice, saying big-city traffic and pollution are dangerous for horses.
A prototype electric car was unveiled this week at the New York International Auto Show. Supporters hope the vehicles will replace horse-drawn carriages in New York’s Central Park.
The car seats eight and is made to look as if it’s from the early 20th century, with lots of brass and oversized wheels.
Creator Jason Wenig of The Creative Workshop, a car restoration and customization business, said the vehicle’s price could be between $150,000 and $175,000.
So far, carriage horses are still allowed in the nation’s largest city, despite New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s efforts to ban them. The City Council hasn’t introduced legislation to support the idea, but Councilman Daniel Dromm said a bill is being crafted.
Specifics, including how carriage-horse license holders could get and pay for electric vehicles, are still being worked out, he said. Dromm believes the bill will pass.
New York’s Horse & Carriage Association, which opposes a ban on carriage horses, represents the interests of more than 200 operators, 68 carriages and 210 horses.
One of the organization’s arguments is that the industry is tightly regulated by the city, which ensures horses work no more than nine hours a day and spend at least five weeks on a farm each year.
Frazier, who owns and operates Rosewood, thinks a large part of the disconnect between New York City’s and Fort Wayne’s carriage industries can be summed up by those five weeks.
Her horses spend every day on her farm. She transports them into the city only for the eight or fewer hours they work each day. The rest of the time, they’re running in pastures or nestled in a barn.
The same is true for DeeAnn Lengerich’s animals.
She owns and operates Camelot Carriage Rides and stables her three draft horses on a farm north of Decatur.
Lengerich believes her horses know what’s in store when she comes to the gate to load up one for an evening’s work. They respond eagerly.
“They race over, and it’s whoever gets there first” who goes – unless a customer has requested a particular horse by name, she said. “The horses kind of tell me if their heart’s not in it, if they don’t feel like pulling or get grumpy.”
Pulling a carriage helps foster equine self-esteem, in Lengerich’s opinion.
“Everybody likes to have a job. A horse is the same way,” she said.
Frazier agreed that horses benefit from getting exercise. Rosewood’s five carriages are pulled by a rotating stable of eight draft horses.
She thinks people who view horse-drawn carriages as animal cruelty don’t know much about horses.
Bill Brown, president of the Downtown Improvement District, agreed.
“OK, it’s New York,” he said. “Those people probably don’t understand animals.”
Brown thinks local carriages add something special to the heart of the city.
“Downtown is dependent on offering a lot of fun things to do,” he said.
Lengerich and Frazier have been following the New York City controversy closely through membership in the Carriage Operators of North America, an industry group.
“I’m friends with some of the guys there in New York, and they’re very upset,” Lengerich said.
New York’s carriage operators could improve their image by using only draft horses, which are bred to pull heavy loads, and by keeping carriages well-maintained, Frazier said.
Fort Wayne restricts carriages from traveling on busy downtown streets, including Jefferson, Washington and Clinton, Frazier said. Horses and carriages aren’t allowed on city streets until after 6 p.m. on weekdays after most office workers head home.
Carriages also must be outfitted with flashing lights and a slow-moving-vehicle sign.
Frazier praised officials with Fort Wayne Animal Care & Control for creating ordinances that keep animals, drivers and customers safe.
“We are for the welfare of the horse,” she said. “On our farm, they’re family. They’re not horses to us. They have names. We know their birthdays.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.