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Former teacher keeps holiday pastime alive in Athens

Check out a video of John Hutchison's horses in action here.

From a farm tucked away in the hilltops of Vinton County, a retired teacher and professor harnesses a fading tradition.

Former Alexander High School teacher and Hocking College professor John Hutchison retired from teaching to focus on running his farm, raising Percheron horses and operating his business, Hutchison Horsedrawn Wagon & Carriage Service LLC.

In 2004, Hutchison inherited a team of three draft, or work, horses from his father-in-law and began using them to work his farm before beginning the horse-drawn carriage and wagon rides in 2005.

“I had trained (unruly) horses for many years and have broken just about everything (in my body),” Hutchison said.

Working with draft horses allows Hutchison to continue training horses, but with fewer chances of being injured, he said.

“I kind of eased into it,” Hutchison said. “I had the team, started farming, then eventually I let it be known I’d like to do some outside jobs.”

Since he opened, his horse-drawn rides have become a popular pastime for people throughout neighboring counties, especially during the fall and winter, Hutchison said.

Customers have the option of riding in a white carriage with a convertible top, which can seat four, or a wagon that can hold up to 20 people. Rates vary based on location and length of the ride, he said.

Hutchison’s first job was with the Athens Uptown Business Association, who hired him to give wagon rides during their annual Holiday Tree Lighting in November 2005.

“We wanted something that would make an old-fashioned Christmas feeling,” said Dawn Worley-Sims, project manager of the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce.

Since then, Hutchison has provided rides during the tree lighting every year and they have become a highly anticipated event, Worley-Sims said.

“We added a second wagon with John because the crowds were so big,” Worley-Sims said. “The kids are always dragging their parents back in line over and over again.”

For this year’s Holiday Tree Lighting, Hutchison will offer free Uptown Athens wagon rides from 6-8 p.m. every Wednesday from Nov. 28 to Dec. 19.

Hutchison will also offer free rides Dec. 8 and 15 from 12-2 p.m., he said. The Athens Uptown Business Association is paying for the rides, he added.

“This is going to be the first Christmas the students will be (in Athens),” Hutchison said. “I don’t know if it’s something college students are going to get into.”

Aside from larger events such as the tree lighting, Hutchison’s services are also available for weddings, proms, funerals, family gatherings, festivals and parades.

Laura Ramsey of Pickerington said Hutchison arranged an hour-long romantic carriage ride for her and her boyfriend in October.

“John had the horses set up and had roses on the seat for us,” Ramsey said. “I think it was kind of romantic and sweet. It was something different for a couple to do.”

Ramsey’s family took a ride with Hutchison through Albany, where her grandfather grew up, for the first-year anniversary of his death.

“He teaches people to carry on a tradition that isn’t necessarily mainstream anymore,” Ramsey said. “He is a teacher through and through.”

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