Horse-drawn carriage rides through the streets of Old Town Clovis during the holiday season have become a beloved tradition among local families.
But how well do you know the regal, black horses doing all of the shuttling?
Can you tell them apart?
Barbara Dotta, who owns Granite Pass Carriage Company/Fresno Carriage with her husband, Dave, is happy to talk about her hardworking Black Percherons.
“We have four we use in Clovis, on two different teams,” she said. “Two of them are sisters, the mares Faye and Fascination. They are 9 years old and I got them from an Amish farm in Bloomfield, Iowa, when they were 2.
“We also have Fabianna. I raised her ... Our veterinarian, Troy Ford, actually foaled her for me. She’s 6 now. And there’s Blazer, who is also from Iowa. He’s the only boy I have.”
Black Percherons originated in the Perch region of France and have some Arabian breeding in them, Dotta explained. She likes their temperaments the best and selected them as her carriage horses because of their beauty and grace, along with their strength.
“I love them for a number of reasons,” she said. “They are very smart and they’re also built a little differently from other draft horses (large, working horses). They have finer bones and are more eloquent.”
When the breed was brought to America, the horses first worked in fire stations on the East Coast because they were hard workers and have a lot of heart, Dotta said.
Percherons are all born black, but some develop gray or white dapples as they age, Dotta said.
Faye, Fascination, Fabianna and Blazer each have distinct markings used to tell them apart.
Fabianna, the largest of all four horses, has a small blaze, or spot, on her face and has one white sock, or marking, above one hoof as well.
Blazer, the only male, has a long, white blaze down his face.
Faye is completely black, while her sister, Fascination, has a white blaze down her face and one white sock, Dotta said.
“All four of them love the attention,” Dotta said. “They’re just hamburgers, sticking their heads out wanting people to touch them.”
Dotta’s husband, Dave, stands with the horses to allow people to take photos with them.
“People love to take pictures with the horses … we ask that they go by their shoulders and take pictures there,” she said.
The girls in particular like to be pet, and Fascination enjoys eyebrow massages, Dotta said.
The horses work every Saturday and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. during the holiday season. This year the horses will continue to work through Dec. 27, Dotta said.
About 15 people can fit in one carriage at a time.
“The rides are free, the families can just come on down to Pollasky,” she said. “We are really grateful to all of the sponsors for bringing us back each year.”
Dependent on the weather, the four horses are bathed before they are taken to Old Town Clovis from their home in Prather to work, Dotta said.
“They have their hair shined up and get a special oil on their face,” she said.
When they get home from work, Dotta uses carrots to help them stretch.
“I take them in the barn and hold the carrots out for them to do bends and loosen up,” she said, describing how she moves the carrots from side to side and down between their front legs. “They bend and arch their neck … When they work this hard I like to do different things with them to get them to stretch, just like an athlete would stretch.”
The Percherons stay in shape year round by pulling a sled or going down the road pulling one of Dotta’s carriages — “sometimes the neighbors hop on,” she said.
They also get regular visits with veterinarian Troy Ford.
“The horses are more fragile than they look,” Dotta said. “Troy is one of the most important people in this whole (operation).”
Dotta said she’s been raising horses since she could walk. She grew up in Northern California and was 5 when she got her first riding horse. She has done several disciplines in riding, but fell in love with the larger Clydesdales and Shires — working horses.
Driving work horses is quite different from riding because the only physical aids a driver has to guide the horses are reins, called lines, and whips.
“You don’t use your legs to give them cues,” Dotta explained. “I use voice commands or touch them with the lines. I use the whip to touch their front shoulder or touch their side — it’s my aid, just like a rider’s legs are.”
“About 25 years ago I got my first Percheron,” she said. She now lives in Prather, and said the breed of horse is well suited to the terrain because it lacks the long feathers that Clydesdales have. Feathering is the long hair on the lower legs and fetlocks of some breeds that can almost cover the hooves.
Faye and Fascination have traveled the country as show horses and have also taken brides to meet their grooms in more than 100 weddings, pulling a one-of-a-kind wedding carriage imported from Germany, Dotta said.
Dotta and her horses have provided horse-drawn carriage rides in Old Town Clovis for nearly a decade; Dotta enjoys decorating the carriages with teddy bears and lights in preparation for their debut.
“We have a lot of repeat customers that come every year, and it’s fun to recognize them and see that their kids have grown up,” she said. “It’s very much a Clovis thing, and I’m really grateful to be able to do this.”