Tuesday, February 7, 2023

The Work Horses of Colonial Williamsburg

Ferrier Drew Morales of Morales Ferrier Services comes out twice a week to shoe the horses at Colonial Williamsburg. (WYDaily/Ben Mackin)

WILLIAMSBURG — For a resident in the Historic Triangle, walking down Duke of Gloucester Street can be a pretty mundane experience. The sights and sounds of tourists loping up and down the lane, going on tours, buying wares in the shops, squealing with delight as they take pictures of their kids whose heads are in the stocks next to the courthouse.

One sound that locals tend to take for granted is the easygoing lullaby of hoofbeats and carriage wheels on pavement. The pleasant sight of two gorgeous Cleveland Bay horses pulling a resplendent 18th-century reproduction carriage, which are painstakingly built and decorated by some of the most skilled craftspeople alive today. All lead by skilled drivers who are subject matter experts when it comes to their job and their horses.

Director of Coach and Livestock, Undra Jeter explains the intricasies of a carriage. (WYDaily/Ben Mackin)

It should come as a shock to no one that the operation that Director of Coach and Livestock Undra Jeter and his crew run is a massive one. Out of the 24 stall stable nestled off of Lafayette Street, he oversees the feeding, sheltering and overall well being of dozens of horses, chickens, sheep and cows. On top of that Coach and Live Stock oversees the Rare Breeds project, which is tasked with helping to bring back endangered types of all the animals mentioned above.

Colonial Williamsburg is currently home to the only working purebred team of Cleveland Bays. Once heavily depended upon by 18th century colonists, now this particular breed is a rarity. Currently the population is marked as critically low in the world, the CW program is working to get the numbers up. In the spring of 2019, three foals were born and the Foundation has hopes for more in the future.

One might assume that the people who work in this department have spent their entire lives around horses and other farm animals. In the case of Undra, who grew up raising outside Spartanburg, S.C.  they would be right. As a kid he would help his family train draft horses and raise livestock.

Coachman Adam Canaday explains the turning capabilities of one of the 18th century carriages.

“We didn’t race cars and stuff in our area,” Undra said. “Instead would race quarter horses and mules up and down the street.”

While there plenty of people who were riding horses before they could walk, there are just as many who had little to no equine experience. For coach driver Adam Canaday, who has been volunteering and working at Colonial Williamsburg, a job came open that seemed like fun, so he applied.

Working customer service in any capacity can be a challenge for anyone, but when you add having to take care of an animal simultaneously, that is where it can get tricky. Protecting the horses from tourists who are not familiar with large animals and how they move can be quite a challenge.

(WYDaily/Ben Mackin)

“People don’t always give respect to the horses,” Undra notes. “They walk up and suddenly put their hands in the horses face and when the horse jumps they say, ‘this horse gets spooked easily,” but I bet if I did the same thing to them, they would jump too.”

It is not uncommon for tourists to step out onto the street into the path of a moving carriage. Undra says people need to realize that these huge animals pulling large carriages cannot stop on a dime.

It is common for tourists to gather around the horses as they are parked on the side of DoG Street between rides. Drivers like to take those opportunities to familiarize guests with their equine colleagues.

“If you can get a large group and hold court for three minutes, you can teach people,” Adam said. “You tell them where to be around the animal . This helps people think to themselves, ‘I guess I do need to put my thinking cap on.'”

As important as tourists are to keeping CW open and running, one thing Undra and his staff wants you to know is that the Coach and Livestock department is here for the locals too. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the foundation has been offering discounted carriage rides as well as tours of the stable starting Sept. 6. The tour includes a behind-the-scenes look at the carriages and up close looks at the animals.

For anyone who might be interested in working for the Coach and Livestock Department, there are some openings. Undra said horse experience is not necessary and he could train anyone with the right attitude. For more information checkout the Colonial Williamsburg employment site.

“We can train you up to be a groom and driver,” he said. “But it is really all about personality and  fit. We want everyone to get along.”





Related Articles