Horsing Around

December 7, 2012

It wasn’t so long ago that some Washingtonians’ preferred method for traveling around town was horse-drawn carriage. And by not so long ago, I mean last week. I was walking along New York Avenue, just east of the Convention Center, when I heard the clip-clop of hooves.

Sure enough, smack in the middle of the Hondas and the Buicks — at the tail end of the evening rush — came a sight straight out of a history book. I exchanged a look of disbelief with a CrossFitter carrying a massive kettlebell down the sidewalk, and the carriage rolled away.

Was it a dream? Time travel? Nope, it was Carriages of the Capital, a 14-year-old company that provides fairy tale-worthy transportation to the people of the District.

It’s been alone in the carriage biz since its only competition, Charley Horse, shuttered a few months ago. (I was also surprised to learn that Charley Horse’s stables were located under the Southeast Freeway, just north of the Navy Yard.)

Carriages of the Capital’s Marcia Brody explains that the company’s horses get trucked from their place in Frederick County into Washington, and then they start to stretch their legs at a “staging area” near where I spotted her driving the carriage along New York Avenue. Usually, she and the horses head over to the Willard InterContinental hotel, where visitors can book rides around the Mall and the monuments.

Unlike other cities, which have laws limiting where horses are allowed to travel, “Washington’s great because we’re not restricted in where we can go,” says Brody, who’s taken passengers for jaunts through Georgetown, along the waterfront and even into Adams Morgan.

Motorists don’t mind the four-legged company, and the feeling’s mutual: “We select horses who can handle traffic. One just doesn’t love Harleys and skateboards.”

But everyone hearts the horses, Brody says, particularly in December. That’s peak season, when the carriages get all decked out for the holidays, the horses don jingle bells and nearly every ride includes a visit to the Capitol Christmas Tree. (For gentlemen proposing at that site, Brody boasts a 100 percent success rate.)

As long as the carriage is at a stop, passersby are welcome to pose for pictures and give the horses treats. Luckily for anyone around, the step back into history doesn’t involve stepping in anything else. Brody says that black nylon “diapers” suspended from the harness and attached to the carriage collect any poop dropped along the way.

Sounds neat.

Details: Trips by Carriages of the Capital (Carriagesofthecapital.com, 202-841-7401) typically depart from the Willard InterContinental (1401 Pennsylvania Ave. NW), but Marcia Brody and her partner, Rick Jones, can customize routes for their three carriages. A one-hour tour for a group of up to six passengers costs $175.

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.
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Marc Silver | December 6, 2012