BAR HARBOR, Maine — Mark Jaffrey is ready to become a part in other people’s fairy tales. He gets to drive a horse-drawn carriage while brides play princess in arguably one of the most beautiful places in the world.
After a lot of town council talks, it seems Wild Iris Horse Farm is about to get official approval from Bar Harbor to become a horse-drawn carriage taxi service this summer.
“I can’t wait. I’m very excited,” said Jaffrey, the barn manager and main carriage driver. “You’re making a special moment for the bride and groom. It’s so special to watch them. It’s a lifelong memory they won’t forget and it’s fun to be part of that.”
“It’s a fairytale. It’s a dream. It’s a Cinderella thing,” said his mother, Sandi Read, 62, who owns Wild Iris Horse Farm in Bar Harbor. Read held her 18.2-hand gelding Truman as the farm’s other seven Shire horses stood out in a sunny, snowy field munching on hay Friday morning.
Shires are a dark-colored draft horse breed similar to a Clydesdale with its white-fur-covered hooves. They will be the workhorses of the new carriage operation, which in addition to weddings will offer carriage rides around Acadia National Park or downtown Bar Harbor to anyone. The town’s draft of the horse-taxi ordinance won’t allow Jaffery’s carriages to sit on the side of the road, allowed in cities. Instead the company will likely try to pair up with a local hotel for its horses to stand between appointments, or so they can pick up passersby who want a lift in the old-timey cart.
According to Bar Harbor Town Council Chairwoman Ruth Eveland, the council is supportive of Wild Iris Horse Farm’s business plan and she expects the new ordinance will pass soon. Right now it’s still in the draft phase.
The town tried to have a similar business years ago, Eveland said, and it was not a good match because of all the horse manure and because it of inadequate traffic control. But with the new ordinance she expects it will work. The new ordinance will not allow side-of-the-road soliciting and will instead have the carriages set up shop at a private business residence.
“I think it would allow people to see our community at a slower pace for those who would like to see a new perspective and it would add yet one more attraction,” Eveland said. “I support it.”
Jaffrey’s love of everything equine started a long time ago for the 41-year-old. He grew up outside New York City, so the only time he could ride was at summer camp. When he went to grad school in Colorado in his 20s, he knew what he had to do: buy a horse. He rode his quarter horse for a while, but when he settled down and started having kids, riding became difficult. He wasn’t willing to let go of his dream though. So he adjusted.
“When you have kids it’s easier to do things together. It’s hard to ride with a bunch of little kids. Hitching a car is much easier,” said Jaffrey, who has five children.
He started learning to drive Shires, like his mother was. When Read moved to Maine to marry the man she loved, she settled in on the 35-acre farm and began to fix up the dilapidated farmhouse. Semiretired, she asked Jaffrey if he wanted a job on the farm. He moved his family from their Colorado home.
Now his kids play in the field with the horses, who are gentle giants despite their size — their backs are taller than 6-foot-tall Jaffrey’s head, and they weigh in at about 2,200 pounds.
“The kids go into the pasture and sled. They sled right under the horses’ legs,” Read said.
“Yes. Today my son Zach will try skijoring,” Jaffrey said.
The Shires’ high tolerance for childhood mischief is one reason Jaffrey loves them and gave up his career as a businessman in Colorado to devote to carriage driving.
“The horses provide a calmness — a slow pace of life I’d recommend to anyone. It shows you what is important in life by slowing it down: family,” Jaffrey said.