At Walt Disney World, Cinderella’s pumpkin coach is pulled by 6 white ponies. You could take a ride in the carriage yourself if you were quite wealthy and, for example, getting married on property.
Walt always knew he’d want real horses to be part of his park, so long before he built Disney World in Florida, he built a ranch where horses could live and train for their big moment in the spotlight. The Tri-Circle-D Ranch is still an integral part of Disney World, and today it is incorporated into the Fort Wilderness Resort.
A man named Owen Pope made the first harnesses for Walt Disney World horses when he was living and working in Disneyland. Owen and his wife Dolly were horse trainers; Walt caught their show and, enamored, immediately hired them to work for Disney. They moved into Disneyland where they built 10 stalls for horses and gave a home to the dog who was the live-action model for the Tramp, as in Lady and The. But in 1971 they moved to Florida to supervise the construction of the ranch where today 80-90 horses reside. Thirty of those are draft horses, big mothers that can be 72 inches tall and weigh 2000 lbs each. Horses selected to work in the park go through a very rigorous hiring process, monitored for how they interact with people, activity, and noise. Draft horses are used to pull a trolley up Main Street, a tradition leftover from Walt’s day, though one only observed in the mornings when it’s quieter. The chrome and brass on the show harness for the trolley horse is cleaned and polished every day it is used.
Owen’s legacy is honoured in Magic Kingdom with a window on the Car Barn proclaiming “Owen Pope, Harness Maker” – in fact, many of the second floor windows on Main Street honour import contributors to Disney World, so don’t forget to look up when you visit.
But back to Cinderella’s ponies, who also reside over at Tri-Circle-D Ranch. This year the first ever white Shetland pony was born at the ranch, a sweet little girl named Lilly (named after Walt Disney’s wife). Her mother, Lady, and her father, Ferdinand, are currently part of the team who pull Cinderella in her pumpkin coach at Magic Kingdom Park. When Lilly is two, she’ll start training to do the same and could make the team after about a year. For now, you can visit Lilly at the show pasture near the barn. The ranch also has horseback riding, pony rides (for little kids as ponies only grow to be about 500lbs), wagon rides, holiday sleigh rides, horse-drawn carriage rides, the works. You can even catch a glimpse of Khan, a Thoroughbred-Percheron big black horse named after a character in Mulan but who actually gets ridden by the Headless Horseman in Mickey’s Halloween parade. Most days you can take a tour of the barn and on Thursdays the farrier drops by to work his magic.
A team of 35 ranch hands care for the horses who live on Disney property, and they also run an adoption agency of sorts. When a Walt Disney World horse retires, you can apply to adopt it, but be prepared to be heavily vetted. Disney is very careful about where its horses go and want to make sure you can care for the horse properly; they will take the horse back if it’s not well-treated. Despite this, there’s a lengthy waiting list to get a Disney horse, but don’t you want to be able to boast that your horse once trotted around Magic Kingdom to the delight of literally thousands every single day? You can’t buy that kind of sparkle – but you CAN adopt it.
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