On the very cold night of December 13th, crowds gathered at Fountain Inn’s downtown to experience the charming Christmas carriage ride tradition.
At the corner of Trade Street and Main Street, horses picked up loads of locals for a journey towards the neighborhood Inn Circle. It was like stepping onto a movie set of a Christmas film on the Hallmark Channel – smiles were everywhere, speakers played holiday melodies in the street, twinkle lights hung over the road, hot chocolate steamed the air, and carriage riders bundled up close to each other for a spectacular neighborhood light show.
It was the first time I got to experience the long-standing tradition in Fountain Inn since it began over 30 years ago. This was an assignment I was looking forward to for a long time, and it immediately became my favorite local Christmas tradition in the Upstate.
My boyfriend, Kyle and I sipped hot chocolate with our jackets zipped up tight and nestled into the crook of each other’s arms to stay warm. We were surprised to see a snack stand nearby serving up treats and hot drinks. Kids could also visit with Santa and take a photo before riding on a carriage. It was cold, but it added a warm feeling to the holiday experience.
Our tour guide was from London and shared details about our horse with a wonderful English accent. Her tone enhanced the twenty-minute ride with pleasant personality. It felt like we had traveled back in time to simpler days, which helped us relax and enjoy the ride.
The horse’s hoofs clicked down on the streets and took us down several rows of houses lit up with Christmas spirit. Trees shined with red and green lights, scenes of winter glistened on sparkly lawns, and houses were decked out in holiday décor. The picture perfect scenery was by far the best way to kick off our holiday season.
Fountain Inn Chamber of Commerce was the first sponsor for the carriage rides before a relationship was established with Classic Carriage Works, LLC. The city of Fountain Inn first partnered with Classic Carriage Works, LLC back in 1990. They are a Charleston based carriage company that maintains they have the best black Percheron horses around.
The horses are known for strength, intelligence, and were originally bred in France as warhorses. As cousins of Clydesdale’s, Percheron’s have the same presence and personality as their relatives.
Percheron’s were brought to this country in 1839 and helped build America. They are the second largest horse breed in the world and average about 2,000 pounds.
The Charleston’s Classic Carriage Works, LLC purchased their horses from Amish country in Ohio. The horses happily transitioned from farm work to tour walks. An extensive training program ensures they are mentally and physically ready for the city tour task. With plenty of water and even play toys on days off, the horses seem content. If the heat is too much for them, they get a break and are taken off the streets. During the summer, they work six days a week for three hours and get a three to six week vacation on the company farm. Their favorite activities include rolling around in the mud, running, and laying around at their leisure.
While on the job in Fountain Inn for Christmas Carriage Rides, the horses were kept at the city shop facility located on Jones Street. Fountain Inn Public Works Department built the horse stalls and put down straw shavings while assisting the carriage company’s team daily with taking care of the horses. They were well-groomed beautiful animals, and gracefully trotted with obedient steps. It was easy to be mesmerized by their grandeur. And, our tour horse was equally captivating with a sweet, gentle personality.
The City communicates with the Inn Circle neighborhood and coordinates special event details for the Christmas Festival to ensure smooth operations. Inn Circle residents offer their neighborhood for carriage rides and are essential in planning the festival. Main Street residents are also gracious in decorating and sharing the beauty of their homes with the community.
Ashlee Tolbert, Special Events and Community Development Manager for the city of Fountain Inn states, “The citizens of Fountain Inn look forward to this annual event. People come from all over for the carriage rides, witness the beautifully decorated city, and experience warm southern hospitality of the people of Fountain Inn. Amongst all the city changes, the carriage rides have remained the same and people look forward to carrying out tradition.”
Our community is thankful to the neighborhood Inn Circle for sharing their holiday spirit with our hearts. Without the warm Fountain Inn welcome, Christmas just wouldn’t have been the same. The Christmas carriage rides ran from November 30th to December 16th with the exclusion of Mondays in 2017. This year, we look forward to the moment we can relive this charming holiday tradition. ♦