Horse-drawn carriage rides a go for holiday season

Donna Friedlander has a lot of hungry mouths to feed and little income to put hay in the stable.

Like so many tourism operators, the owner of Tally-Ho ­Carriage Tours has been slammed by the pandemic, ­initially by the closing of the U.S. border and cancellation of the cruise-ship season, then by a lean summer of only Canadian tourists.

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So she’s reached out to locals with fundraising efforts to feed her 15 heavy horses and hopes families and social bubbles can help support the business by booking carriage rides over the holiday season.

Carriage tours were not included in recent public health order restrictions, so ­Friedlander is cleared to ­operate for groups of up to six within their social pods.

“The horses live for their jobs … they want to be out there working and socializing. It’s what they do,” Friedlander said from her Central Saanich barn.

Tally-Ho has been operating in Victoria for 117 years and has become a tourism symbol for the region in marketing across the country and world.

Tally-Ho will launch its winter tours next week, starting from the legislature with its modified sleigh — a carriage with hidden wheels that was manufactured by a master carriage maker in Indianapolis.

Tours will also start in ­Saanichton, departing from Fresh Cup Café, and wind through the rural community past Christmas light displays.

The tours will be available on limited days and hours throughout December.

Friedlander has had to diversify her offerings to other areas, as the pandemic means only locals can use her services. Last summer, the company partnered with three Saanich Peninsula businesses to create the Sea Cider Picnic Experience.

Tally-Ho operated at less than 15 per cent of its normal capacity in Victoria over its usually busy summer season, and Friedlander said it will continue to face challenges until tourism opens up.

Maintaining a schedule of tours helps keep horses and staff working, said Friedlander. “It has been an extremely challenging year for many businesses, especially those that rely on tourism dollars,” she said. “For us, this is compounded by the necessity to uphold our horse care standards.”

Friedlander said it costs about $10,000 a month to care for the horses, so the company launched a GoFundMe campaign and an option to sponsor a draft horse — she has Clydesdales, Percherons and Belgians. “We continue to be very humbled by the community’s support, and are using 100 per cent of donated funds directly on horse care.”

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