By Marissa Isgreen
FORT COLLINS-Cars rumble past. Buses stop to pick up passengers. The light at the intersection of Mountain and College Avenue turns red.
Amongst the bustle that is Old Town Fort Collins during the holidays, a clip clop can be heard in the distance. As the sound crescendos, two brown and white paint horses fade into view. Behind them is a quaint white carriage carrying a family of four.
The horses come to a stop and a little girl disembarks from her very first carriage ride.
“Would you like to pet Thelma and Louise,” asks driver Troy Hall.
Mesmerized, the girl steps up to Louise’s shoulder and reaches out her hand.
“Make sure you stand in front of her, so she can see you,” Hall instructs. “She’s wearing blinders.”
The girl obliges. Tiny hand meets warm velvety nose. . . .
Thelma and Louise are just two of 36 horses owned by Jim and Tammy Rice, founders of Colorado Carriage and Wagon. The family-owned-and-operated business opened its doors 15 years ago with one carriage, one wagon and four horses. Today, it operates with 32 carriages and 36 horses.
“My wife and I were visiting Indiana when we saw the carriages there and thought, ‘Old Town needs this,’” Jim Rice explained.
Fort Collins welcomed the idea, and the town has been supportive ever since, Jim said. The business has expanded into Estes Park, Centerra, Thornton, Wyoming and even Nebraska- giving rides to about 30,000 people a year through carriage rides, company parties, parades and weddings.
Vania Kinney booked them for her wedding 8 years ago to give hayrides to their guests.
“Colorado Carriage and Wagon made everything so easy which is greatly appreciated when you’re a frazzled bride-to-be planning your own wedding,” Kinney said. “They were kind, affordable and so sweet to all of our guests. It was really the highlight of our wedding day.”
Colorado Carriage and Wagon has also formed partnerships with other businesses in Old Town to provide new experiences for their customers. Old Town Wine and Spirits, Mary’s Mountain Cookies, the Silver Grill and the Melting Pot are among some of the local business that have partnered with Colorado Carriage and Wagon to provide package deals.
“There have been some really cute date night surprises, like the girl knows they are going on a carriage ride, but instead of dropping them off [where they started] we drop them off at the Melting Pot for dessert,” said Haley Priebe, another employee of the family business.
This particular date night deal costs $37.
“We pride ourselves on the local partnerships because we really believe in the idea buy local, shop local,” Rice said.
On a cold night, customers indulge in hot chocolate and cookies from the Silver Grill. During the summer, they sip milkshakes.
“We started doing packages and the relationships we’ve developed with the other businesses have been phenomenal,” Rice said. “What we bring to Old Town is pretty special.”
That something special is what keeps customers coming back—even eight years later.
“Now that we have started a family, Colorado Carriage and Wagon has become a Christmas Eve tradition for us,” Kinney said. “It’s magical riding through Old Town with our son, Dexter, under the twinkly lights, searching the night sky for Santa’s sleigh.”
Rice has also teamed up with Fort Collins Tours for historical tours and ghost tours. By adding the carriages, participants get to explore sites that are beyond the walking venues. Historical tours travel to Grandview Cemetery, Ranch Way Feeds, the old Carnegie Library and many other stops in between. Ghost tours search for supernatural activity in Library Park, the Armadillo Mexican Restaurant and Walrus Ice Cream.
“It’s really fun,” Rice said of working with Fort Collins Tours. “They’re such great people.”
Whether they’re partnering with Fort Collins Tours, escorting a couple for their 50th anniversary, or taking a child on their very first carriage ride, the staff unanimously agrees that their favorite part about the business is making people happy. “I like making the kids smile,” Hall said. “Well actually, making everyone smile, not just the kids.”
Throughout the holidays, Valentine’s Day and the summer, Rice and his employees strive to keep those smiles on all year long.
“We’re the luckiest people in the world. People are smiling when they come to us and they’re smiling when we leave,” Rice said.
If you go: Website: www.coloradocarriage.com, For reservations call: (970) 765-4782
Carriage ride for one with hot chocolate and a cookie for $18
Carriage ride for two with a complimentary bottle of wine $59
Fan Favorite Horse: The 2,300 lbs gentle giant, Donald. Nicknamed “Downtown Donald”