Gold City Corral carriage rides
When: Every weekend evening until the new year
How much: $8 adults, $5 children
More info: 706-867-9395 or www.goldcitycorral.com
Few things set the Christmas mood better than the clip-clop of horses’ hooves on pavement as it draws a carriage packed with sightseers around a town square decked in lights.
“It’s nice to go around and see the town and the lights, and it just gets you in the Christmas spirit,” said Jackie Heller, who waited through the long line of passengers Friday night for a chance to ride in a carriage in Dahlonega.
Heller waited for carriage drive David Kraft and his team of horses. Kraft is a 30-year veteran horseback rider who has owned the horse-drawn carriage and wagon company Gold City Corral for almost 18 years. Through much of that time, he has driven carriages at weddings, special events and during the holiday season in Dahlonega.
“I like the fantasy that it brings to the people that we give rides to,” he said. “It allows people to see what life was like back when people used horses and wagons to get around, and I like to watch the joy that they get from experiencing something different.”
Kraft first purchased four horses in 1983 to entertain guests at his family’s business, Forrest Hills Mountain Resort. He spent the next few weeks learning how to ride and take care of his horses. Now, 30 years later, he runs a full-fledged stable and carriage company with 35 horses, three carriages and three old-time wagons.
Every job Kraft does requires hours of preparation. A 30-minute event can require from five to eight hours of set up.
He begins with bringing the horses out of the pasture, feeding them, brushing them and checking them for injuries. After that he harnesses them and brings them into town, where he sets up the carriage, his tools and extra feed for the horses. Kraft believes horses should be fed every four hours when they are working to help them stay focused and avoid accidents.
“If they go longer than four hours, a whole different animal shows up,” he said. “They are like people, the hungrier they get, the less they pay attention to their job and what they are doing.”
Running a stable is not an easy, or cheap, task. Each carriage costs about $6,000. A team of draft horses to pull it can run as much as $8,000, and that doesn’t count the cost of the harnesses and feed. Kraft’s horses consume about two tons of grain a month, and more than 200 round bales of hay a year. In addition to the cost, it can be very difficult to find employees who are skilled enough to drive a carriage.
Though it is difficult to operate a successful stable, Kraft said he does it because customers enjoy the experience and because he loves working with animals. And his love of animals extends beyond the large animals he rides.
Throughout the years, Kraft has helped rescue more than 250 stray cats. He kept 26 of them himself.
But Kraft regularly rescues horses not properly taken care of, too.
“I’ll get a call from someone saying they can’t take care of their horse anymore and I’ll go out and look at them,” he said. “I’ve seen some that are just skin and bones, and I took them immediately because I can’t watch a horse die like that.”
After he rescues a horse, Kraft has it treated by a veterinarian and begins properly feeding it. As soon as it is healthy enough, he starts riding it and using it to pull carriages to build its muscles and appetite. Because he works in the public eye, this practice has caused some difficulty for him in the past.
“I got in trouble a couple of years ago because people started looking at some of my horses and thought that I was treating them badly,” he said. “They didn’t know that they were rescue horses that hadn’t put on much weight yet.
“If you look at a horse that I got a year ago now, you would never know it was the same horse.”
Kraft said working with animals, and horses in particular, is therapeutic, something he became well-acquainted with last year when he lost his daughter to a car accident. She was 29 years old and preparing to take over the operation of the stable.
“Losing her was a huge blow,” Kraft said, “and as I started to pull myself out of that, working with the horses really helped me.”
You can find Kraft’s carriage in Dahlonega every weekend evening until the new year, weather permitting. Gold City Corral is at Forrest Hills Mountain Resort at 49 Forrest Hill Road in Dahlonega. For more information, visit his website at www.goldcitycorral.com or call 706-867-9395.