As the horse-drawn carriage carried the bride down the hill to the wooded ceremony location, a little voice broke the hush of the waiting wedding guests. “Mommy, is that a princess?” Witnessing fairytale moments like this is what Judy Gilles loves about owning Cabin Ridge Rides in Cadott, Wisconsin. The 400-acre recreational facility has been in the family since 1902.
At Cabin Ridge Rides, all wedding guests get a carriage experience on their way to the wedding. Family and friends are taken in larger wagons to one of several secluded wedding locations on the property, with the bridal carriage following later to make a grand entrance. The fifteen minute ride is an opportunity for conversation and reflection, Gilles says. This is especially true for the bride, who may be alone or riding with her parents. “It’s a nice time. It’s been so hectic, so much planning. It’s a time for the bride to just sit and think…to say those things that you don’t have the time to say.”
Gilles says most of her clients are couples who love the outdoors and are seeking a rustic, private wedding venue. Horse-drawn carriages are a natural fit for barn and rustic themed weddings, yet also up the enchantment factor for many kinds of weddings. The charm of a carriage ride can be brought to almost any venue with traveling carriage services. Shane and Patti Jorgenson of Lost Creek Ranch & Carriage Company have been bringing horse-drawn carriages to events throughout Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota for six years. From barn weddings to downtown St. Paul ceremonies, each wedding they visit is unique. “A lot of weddings we do are surprises—the bride surprises the groom by arriving in a carriage,” Shane Jorgensen shares. In other cases it’s a surprise gift to the newlywed couple who find a horse-drawn carriage waiting to whisk them away after the ceremony. “Surprises are the best,” agrees Lynn Hemmersbach of Cinderella Carriage LLC, who recently had a groom surprise his bride with a carriage ride at their wedding.
For the full theatrical effect while acting as carriage driver, Jorgensen matches his attire to the style of the wedding. Depending on the venue, he’ll wear anything from cowboy hat and blue jeans to a full tuxedo and top hat. Guests get in on the fun too! Included are carriage rides for wedding guests after the ceremony—which Jorgenson notes is an entertaining way to fill that tricky time between the ceremony and reception. Maija and Makie, the brother and sister pair of black Percheron horses that pull his carriages, have no qualms about posing for photos with children and wedding parties. “They love it. They absolutely love it,” Jorgenson says when asked if the horses enjoy working. “Their greatest joy is all the attention they get. They know what a camera is, that’s for sure.”
The appearance of each company’s carriages is unique. Winter weddings can also include the fairytale element of a horse-drawn carriage, but instead of a carriage it’s a sleigh. Most carriage companies allow the couple to decorate the carriage or sleigh with balloons or signs. Jorgenson says that the beauty of the carriage is stunning even without decoration. For example, Jorgenson’s most popular carriage is a wedding model with hearts on the doors and windows. Gilles’s bridal carriage is burgundy, which “lets the bride pop” in photos, she says.
For a true fairytale experience, Cinderella Carriage LLC is one of the only companies to offer a rounded, white carriage that looks like it trotted right off the pages of a storybook. It’s by far the family-owned company’s most popular carriage option. Founded by Hemmersbach and her sister in 2006 after getting multiple requests to use their black Percheron show horses in weddings, the company serves Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois.
With thirty years of experience showing horses, meticulous appearance down to the last detail is important to the co-owners. “The horses are pretty jazzed up,” Hemmersbach says. The horses’ manes and tails are rolled (braided) with custom adornments, just as they would for a show, at no additional cost. These decorations, called flowers, are handmade by co-owner Lori Hemmersbach to match the colors of the wedding. This is just one of the ways Cinderella Carriage LLC is meeting the dreams of clients, Lynn Hemmersbach says. “We are all about the brides’ Happily Ever Afters.” Clients also get to dictate the attire of the carriage driver and assistant. If the traditional top hats and long-tailed jackets won’t fit the wedding theme, not to worry. “We’ve done country, rustic, and medieval to Renaissance themes,” she recalls. Also included in the cost are any applicable licenses and fees for the location—a service she recommends couples look into before hiring a carriage company.
While the cost might exceed that of a limousine, the photographs and memories of a real horse-drawn carriage are priceless. It’s your special day—why not make it a real life fairytale?