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12.23.09

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Hoofing It

By Jessica Lussenhop


GRETA gives Josh a disapproving glance and sticks her nose in the air. Josh ignores her and stomps down the street. "They've been together a long time," says Randy Clayton. The couple can't get very far from one another, of course, as they are hitched together to a large white carriage rolling down the cracked pavement on Cedar Street in downtown Santa Cruz. Greta is a black English shire draft horse, Josh a 20-year-old chestnut Belgian. Both weigh more than 2,000 pounds. In the carriage is a family of six, the kids yelling, "Hi everybody!"

"Friday nights we get more couples," says Clayton, driver and owner of Santa Cruz Carriage Company. "There's not a lot to do at night. That's why the Downtown Association wants us down here." It's about 5pm and the shops are all lit up and the sidewalks are crowded. People turn to stare as the huge draft horses clip-clop down the street.

Clayton, a whiskery man in a top hat, imbues the scene with a charming wintriness, even though it's a balmy 60 degrees. A car passes him on the left blasting "Back That Ass Up" as the passengers gawk out the windows.

"It's not like Central Park or Disneyland," says Clayton, who learned how to work horses in a commune in Oregon in the late 1970s. "We're nice and mellow, we're not in a hurry. We don't give them a big yank."

Unlike the stringy creatures outside Central Park, Josh and Greta only pull a downtown carriage a couple of weekends a year. They're also real workhorses who do logging and plowing, and serve as living exhibits at Wilder Ranch. "These horses are a part of the community," says Clayton. "People have an opportunity to see these horses' living situation."

That's not to say that Clayton hasn't had some heckling. "We get animal rights people shouting, 'Free the horse!'" he says. As if on cue, someone shouts, "Humbug!"

At the crosswalk on the corner of Pacific and Cathcart, Clayton tightens his hands on the reins as an oblivious pedestrian speed-walks in front of the enormous animals' hooves. "You really gotta pay attention," he says. And he knows all the horses' triggers—Greta doesn't like Harley-Davidsons. Another horse, Ricky, is spooked by air brakes.

As Clayton guides the horses up to the Hat Company, where a little line of moms, dads and kids are waiting their turn, his wife, Chris, is ready with a bucket of water. The horses dip their noses and spill water on the street as they drink, and then it's one more time around the block.


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