Downtown horse-drawn tours in 12th year

Bruce Spencer drives his team and carriage down Main Avenue. Spencer is offering free carriage rides, thanks to sponsorships by the Spokane Downtown Partnership and Spokane Teachers Credit Union. (Jesse Tinsley)
Bruce Spencer drives his team and carriage down Main Avenue. Spencer is offering free carriage rides, thanks to sponsorships by the Spokane Downtown Partnership and Spokane Teachers Credit Union. (Jesse Tinsley)

With a snort and a shake of his head Manly Stanley indicated his readiness to get the show on the road. He and his partner Highfalutin weren’t exactly dashing through the snow, and they towed a two-horse covered wagonette instead of a one-horse open sleigh. Even so, scores of people lined up downtown on Saturday to enjoy a taste of an old fashioned Christmas.

Bedecked with festive jingle bells, the horses trotted down Main Avenue, attracting waves from adults and excited shouts from children.

For 12 years Downtown Spokane Partnership and Spokane Teachers Credit Union have sponsored free carriage rides for holiday shoppers and downtown visitors. “It’s a unique experience you can’t find anywhere else in Spokane. It’s become a holiday tradition,” said Marla Nunberg, interim president of Downtown Spokane Partnership.

“You can see downtown from a different perspective,” added STCU community relations officer Elisabeth Hooker.

Bruce Spencer, owner of Spencer’s Carriage Rides in Post Falls, provides the horses and carriage, and serves as host. As eager riders clambered aboard he said, “They’ve been lined up since I got here.”

After handing out candy canes to the kids and “buy one get one free” coffee coupons to the adults, Spencer clicked his tongue and the packed carriage headed out into the Saturday traffic. “I’ve got the music going,” he said, pointing to the bells. “Feel free to sing out.”

The happy group obligingly belted out multiple verses of “Jingle Bells.”

“I had a group from Russia sing carols in their native language,” Spencer said. “They said, ‘Now you!’ ” He shook his head and laughed. “I said, ‘Oh, no, I leave the singing up to the passengers.’ ”

Lindsey Engels, 9, boarded the carriage with her mom, brother and sister. The Mead family came downtown to check out the Christmas Tree Elegance event at the Davenport Hotel. “We don’t have a horse,” Engels said. “But I want one! We used to take horseback riding lessons.”

It was her family’s first downtown carriage ride, but Spencer said for many the rides are an annual tradition. “People come from Moses Lake and the Tri-Cities. I’ve had three generations of families come.”

He can attest the spirit of romance being alive and well during the holiday season. His carriage has been the setting for several wedding proposals. Spencer enjoys that – especially since he also has a wedding carriage available for hire.

Downtown Spokane Partnership and STCU offer the carriage rides in July and August, as well. When not trotting down Main Avenue, Spencer said his horses stay busy. “They do logging for their day job.”

Inquiring minds might want to know if pooper scoopers are hired to clean up any mess the horses may leave behind. Spencer said there’s no need. “They wear vinyl diapers. They’re better than Depends because they’re reusable.”

The horses seemed at ease amid the motor-powered traffic, though Spencer admitted Manly Stanley is not a fan of STA buses. “He’s all attitude. He’s my problem child,” he said.

In fact, pedestrians tend to cause Spencer more grief. He said a woman yakking on her cellphone walked right in front of the wagon. “Her eyes got big and she turned around and headed for the curb. Her phone never left her face.”

As Spencer pulled up to collect the next group of passengers, an excited child shouted “Here they are! Horses!”

He admitted, “By the end of the season I’m pretty tired of hearing ‘Jingle Bells.’ ” Then he grinned. “But if you can bring joy to people, well, that’s pretty nice.”

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