As a lover of Colonial Williamsburg who lives only a few miles from the Historic Area, I spend time either volunteering or practicing my photography there almost daily. So after a few days being laid up at home with a sore foot (tendinitis) and experiencing the all-too-common winter symptoms of cabin fever, I decided on this particular day to venture back to my favorite place and see what I might be able to photograph. I had no way of knowing at the time that it would be such a fantastic day.
As a volunteer with Coach & Livestock, I spend a lot of time cleaning the carriages and polishing their brass components, so when I am in town, I tend to seek them out to visit with the drivers and spend a little time with the horses. Others who visit Colonial Williamsburg know exactly how fun that time can often be. As luck would have it, I spotted my friend Adam Canaday behind the Market House, driving the blue carriage to exercise the horses Commodore and Gunner.
After hearing about my foot, Adam, who gave me my first carriage ride over a year ago, kindly invited me aboard to keep him company. I wasn’t going to turn down the offer. (You can book a ride in the red carriage online, or any carriage by visiting the Lumber House ticket office.)
Adam took Commodore and Gunner down Palace Green, along the path route, which provided a great view of the area. I wanted to capture the adventure in pictures, so I started holding the camera up using a monopod for a better view of Adam and the horses, taking shots on a two-second delay.
From the rider’s perspective, Commodore was pulling from the left and Gunner was on the right. Commodore is a cross between a Standardbred and Clydesdale. He is eleven years old and stands 15 hands. Gunner is 13, stands 15.3 hands, and is a Percheron-Thoroughbred cross. Adam tells me Commodore investigates any stroller or extended hand while Gunner is strictly business.
Today, Adam was using some extra time to guide the horses around town by taking them on paths that go around trash cans, down paths, and behind buildings, giving them (and me) a somewhat different perspective on the town. Adam says it helps them become a more balanced team, with each pulling an equal share of the carriage weight.
As we made the turn onto Nicholson Street we spotted Mark Schneider riding on Courthouse Green. Often Mark (whom you might best know as Marquis de Lafayette) can be found exercising his horse Lancer, but today it was Thomas. Pausing to visit with Mark, I noticed the horses seemed to be visiting with each other as well. Thomas is an 11-year old Clydesdale cross with huge feet who stands 16 hands. He has been a carriage horse in the past but now is used primarily as a riding horse. Thomas and Commodore can often be seen in the fields together. Coach and Livestock now has 27 horses, with the newest additions being Buckshot, Willow, Luke, and Alex.
Back onto Nicholson Street, we were soon greeted by none other than Liberty and apprentice trainer Taylor Nixon. Liberty is still just a pup, with her second birthday coming up in April. Adam invited them on board, and soon we were heading down DoG Street with… well, one very happy dog.
Journeyman trainer Adam Claar gave me an update on the pooch’s progress. Liberty is still learning good dog manners and will soon receive Canine Good Citizen certification from the American Kennel Club (AKC). This certification is recognized as the gold standard for dog behavior and allows Liberty to carry the title CGC. Soon visitors will be able to use the Colonial Williamsburg phone app to locate Liberty whenever she’s on duty. (I’m told to expect to see Liberty more frequently in the summer around the milk shed area behind the Peyton Randolph House.)
People often wonder about what a day is like for the horses used to pull the carriages. Well, Adam Canaday says that if his work day were similar to the horses, he would never have a reason to retire. Although on average three carriages and the yellow wagon are out giving rides every day, each team of horses generally works a five days per week rotation.
A day starts off with each pair (or team) of horses getting showered and groomed by the coachman who will be driving them. They leave the stables for a two-and-a-half hour shift in the morning, with short breaks between rides. An hour-long lunch break usually includes carrots and lots of ear rubs. Then it’s back out for two more hours of giving rides.
The horses essentially put in a little over four hours of work in a day, and they aren’t required to go out in heavy rain or extreme heat. Even the services of a horse chiropractor are available to them. A good way to visit the stables, view where the carriages are kept, see the horses and equipment used, as well as meet some of the people of Coach and Livestock is to take the “Bits and Bridles” tour. It requires an additional ticket but it’s well worthwhile to be able to learn about the stables, see the horses and get to know more about the rare breeds program operated through Coach and Livestock.
GUEST BLOGGER: WAYNE REYNOLDS
Regular readers of the Making History blog will recognize Wayne’s name from all the pictures he has contributed. He is a retired physician who has combined his love of history and photography with the beautiful pictures he takes of Colonial Williamsburg. After moving to Williamsburg in 2015, Wayne and his wife started volunteering, giving tours at the Everard House and Wetherburn’s Tavern. He recently added volunteering at Coach and Livestock, working as a stable groom. Wayne calls Colonial Williamsburg his favorite location to practice his photography hobby and has made many new friends on these historic streets.