Tally-Ho Carriage Tours marks its 115th year on the streets of Victoria this spring.
And Donna Friedlander, who has been at the reins of one of the city’s oldest businesses for nearly a decade, is grooming the horse-drawn carriage company for a long ride into the future.
“We are always making improvements,” said Friedlander, noting all the company’s equipment has been refurbished within the past six months and special harnesses and saddlery have been ordered for the Clydesdales.
Over the past two years, Friedlander and her team, supported by equine experts, have “transformed Tally-Ho into a progressive company that is setting new standards of ethics, care and advancements in the carriage industry.” This includes refreshing the brand and formalized horse and staff training programs, she said.
“We are definitely being seen by our colleagues as an industry leader,” said Friedlander, a board member of the Carriage Operators of North America. “We are huge ambassadors for the city of Victoria. We are very important to our tourism industry.”
The Tally-Ho started in 1903 with six-horse stagecoaches carrying people around the city. It developed into a tourism attraction and its large wagons were once a familiar sight downtown. The company has had several owners and the wagons have evolved into smaller, lighter carriages that have become a symbol of the city’s old-world charm.
Every so often, the industry faces criticism from people concerned about the horses.
Friedlander said each horse is checked over by a veterinarian twice a year. Chiropractors are consulted and horses will get a massage if needed.
A shoeing program developed with farrier Will Clinging to foster proper body movement for their 22 draught horses has proven to be “phenomenal,” Friedlander said. Each shoe is specially fitted for each horse, “creating an orthotic.”
A staged technical training program works with horses to use their bodies in ways that are sound and healthy. At first a trainer works with them on the ground alone and then the horses graduate to pulling a carriage.
The SPCA and a City of Victoria bylaw inspector visit the Friedlander farm to inspect it.
Victoria city council has just approved a five-year lease on Tally Ho’s sight-seeing stands near the legislature, Friedlander said, and it is the longest-term lease the company has had with Victoria to her knowledge.
Today, heavy horses pull carriages individually. Prices range from $60 for a 15-minute tour around the legislature to $295 for a customized 90-minute tour.
In peak season, Tally-Ho will have six horses working per shift, and two shifts are run each day.
Friedlander was a teenager when she began driving carriage horses for Tally-Ho. That’s where she met Larry Friedlander, who was hired at age 15, to help with the horses. They were married for 23 years until he died at age 47 in August 2015.
Larry Friedlander was known for his friendly, outgoing personality and for his love of the business and his horses.
Tally-Ho is launching a $1,000 annual Larry Friedlander Memorial Scholarship for youth aged 12 to 17 who want to learn more about horses and pick up life skills such as communication and patience.
The deadline is May 31. Applications are at tallyhotours.com.
For more than 30 years, “Larry defined the passion and character of our business,” Friedlander said. “He also believed strongly in mentoring youth and especially loved seeing young kids connect with horses.” She said Larry would be really happy that the company is honouring him in this way.
The couple bought the company outright in 2009 after Larry started with a part-ownership in 1990. Friedlander is a certified management accountant who left her work in the provincial government to take over as owner-operator of the company after her husband died. She is raising their girls Brianna, 17, a carriage driver, and Kennadie, 13, who helps with the horses.
The family lives on a four-acre farm in Central Saanich with their Percherons, Belgians and Clydesdales. First and foremost, the horses are their pets, Friedlander said. The tallest is King, a Percheron who stands 19 hands tall and weighs about 2,000 pounds.
When the horses retire, they live on the farm, like Huey, who is 32. Others are occasionally given to former staff who developed a bond with them, Friedlander said. “I’m very protective of my horses.”