John Hutchison has brought his long-term love for horses to the streets of Athens for the eleventh year.
Hutchison, owner of Hutchison Horse-drawn Wagon & Carriage Service LLC, will start his winter season giving wagon rides Thursday at 6 p.m. He will have his team of horses pulling the wagons around uptown Athens.
Hutchison has been working with horses since he was a child.
“All my life I have loved horses,” Hutchison said. “Ever since I was a little kid.”
The horses that pull the wagon and carriage during the holidays are Percheron horses. Hutchison said he chose to work with the specific breed of horse because it was the kind of horse his grandfather had.
Hutchison's horses are named William the Conqueror and Richard the Lionhearted but he refers to them as Bill and Dick. Hutchison said both Percheron horses have “as much personality as people do.” Dick is “a little bit high-strung” while Bill is “easier to work with”.
Hutchison said Dick is friendlier around people, and Bill just tolerates everyone.
In order to prepare the horses for pulling a wagon through uptown Athens, Hutchison gradually gives them “scarier” jobs over the years.
“Homecoming is very scary for them with all of the noises and people,” Hutchison said.
Before the horses are able to ride down Court Street, Hutchison takes them to calmer area for tours, such as The Ridges.
Hutchison also has Amish friends who help him train his horses and help handle them during holiday rides around Athens.
Before each ride, Hutchison “clean(s) the boys up” by giving them baths and brushing them.
During the month of December, Hutchison expects to have more than 1,000 people take wagon rides.
Sarah Vanderhoff, a sophomore studying communication studies and history, said she has seen the horses before and would be interested in trying the carriage rides.
"I have never done it before and it seems really cute. I like those horses," she said.
Other than giving tours of The Ridges and riding around uptown Athens, Hutchison works with the Athens County Public Libraries where he gives children wagon rides.
“The children and the families loved when (Hutchison) would offer them rides,” Betty Ranck, a librarian at the Athens County Public Library said.
Renck said Hutchison often teaches the children about the horses, including what they do at his farm and what they eat.
“It’s fun to see the horses up close,” Renck said.
Along with giving rides to The Ridges and around uptown Athens, Hutchison offers to give couples rides for proms and weddings. He does about two proms a year and about eight weddings a year.
Hutchison’s rides around uptown Athens during the holidays are free. The merchants Uptown have donated money in order for Hutchison to provide the rides free of cost.
“I can’t say enough about how well I have been treated,” Hutchison said about everyone who has helped him organize the horse-drawn wagon rides.
The horse-drawn wagon rides will continue on Thursdays and Saturdays through the month of December.
“I’m looking forward to a really good time (this Thursday),” Hutchison said.