“Oh, here they come,” Brianna Ulbright, 12, shouted excitedly as a horse-drawn carriage clip-clopped up a cobblestone street Saturday in downtown Spokane.
Bonnie Ulbright, of Colbert, gathered her granddaughters Brianna and 9-year-old Morgan to soak up some Inland Northwest tradition.
The trio clutched warm drinks and shivered as fluffy snowflakes, Christmas music and the old-fashioned carriage transformed the business district into a modern-day Currier and Ives scene.
Carriage rides are offered free of charge in downtown Spokane and in Coeur d’Alene each holiday season. The tradition is sponsored by the Spokane Teachers Credit Union and downtown merchant associations in each city.
Some 300 people each weekend day between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve squeeze into a Quebec-built wagon for a nearly half-mile ride past store windows, holiday lights and hurried shoppers, said Duane Spencer, carriage owner and driver.
In Coeur d’Alene, Spencer said his wife, Donna, drives a look-alike carriage pulled by draft horses Cinnamon and Spice.
As dusk fell, Scott Springer and his wife, Misty, of Five Mile Prairie, queued up with their three kids, ages 3 to 8.
“It always gets us in the Christmas spirit,” Springer said of the outing, which has become a favorite family ritual.
From the buckboard, Spencer snapped the reins and called “Step up,” coaxing his team High Falutin’ and Manly Stanley away from the curb.
When they’re not working holiday crowds or weddings, the 12-year-old shire and quarter horse mixes haul logs from area pine forests, Spencer said.
But they get gussied up in a fancy leather harness and wear blinders when they come to town. Spencer said it may look cushier than the horses’ blue-collar gig. But he thinks they actually like logging better.
“Here they’re exposed to the city,” he said, maneuvering the four-legged behemoths through rumbling traffic. “Coeur d’Alene is a piece of cake. But Spokane’s got some challenges.”