HORSE-DRAWN EQUIPMENT SHOP GALLOPS ALONG
PHOTO COURTESY OF ALBERTA CARRIAGE SUPPLY
Located in a tidy, red tin barn just east of Calgary, Alberta Carriage Supply is the busiest equestrian equipment enterprise this side of the year 1901.
From his office and horse-collar showroom above the main floor workspace, Dale Befus can survey the sales and service of wagons, forecarts and accoutrements. He co-owns the place with business partner Terry Bailey. They build, sell, repair and restore horse-drawn equipment and offer several annual horse driving and wheelwright clinics. And business is booming like cars had never been invented.
Back in the 1980s, when the two borrowed a horse and wagon owned by Befus’s farmer father, they accidentally wrecked a wood spoked wheel. One thing led to another, and in 1990, the two became sellers of Ohio Amish horse-drawn equipment. By necessity, Terry became an expert harness consultant and wheelwright. Though their American supplier quit the export business, Canadian demand for horse-drawn equipment remained strong, but supply was impossible to locate. The importers soon became manufacturers and exporters. “We thought, why don’t we just build it?” said Befus. “Now our largest market is the States.”
The business partners have been told “a million times” they must have flooded the market by now, but they are not surprised demand continues to grow. Among North American families who have maintained or rediscovered the horse driving ways of their ancestors, each successive generation requires equipment. A staff of six now produces equipment for clients who enjoy pleasure tripping and agricultural production. “It’s huge,” said Befus.
Though the equipment has seen tweaks, modernization and the introduction of synthetic materials, the basics remain as they always have been. “We’re the beginning of the driving journey for a lot of people,” said Befus. “Whether they want to farm with horses, pull people around and do parades or go into the sport of combined driving, we can start their journey in a safe and enjoyable way.”