Nic Corbett - Vail Daily - July 15, 2006
VAIL - The horses that have led tourist-filled carriages through Vail for 25 years now have a silent clip-clop.
"If crowds are walking down the streets, they look over their shoulder and see a big horse coming," said Rocky Mountain Carriage Company manager Reed McConville. "They don't hear it."
Recently, the company had its five horses outfitted with rubber-like shoes, also known as "tires" because they go over the animals' steel shoes. The tires don't make as much noise.
"You still use the steel shoes, but you bolt the rubber to the outside of the steel," he said. "You don't have to keep buying the steel shoes."
The tires are less-abrasive, which helps preserve the village's new cobblestone streets, said Mike Wilson, the company's owner.
"(The town of Vail) called and let me know their concern of letting the horses cause damage to the streetscape," Wilson said.
The installation of the cobblestone streets began in the fall of 2004 and is part of a larger streetscape project that's costing Vail $14 million, said Greg Hall, director of public works and transportation for the town.
If he hadn't been asked, Wilson said he probably would've tried out the tires in the summertime, but not the wintertime. Still, he had little choice.
"They basically told me either you don't or you won't have a business," Wilson said.
To preserve the streetscape, Hall said the town is also looking into requiring "diapers" on trucks to catch any oil that drips off of them, cutting down on trucks with chains, and asking that leaky Dumpsters get fixed. Also, plywood is put down on streets where there is construction.
Although tires cost more - about $17 each compared to $8 for a steel shoe - they should last longer, Wilson said. While steel shoes wear out in four weeks, Wilson was told the tires last six weeks, although he's hoping he can get up to eight weeks out of them, he said.
"We're pretty psyched about them," Wilson said.
The new tires, purchased from the Remuda Tire Company in Denver, add 3 to 4 inches to the horses' height, giving the appearance of platform shoes. Wilson said they will improve the animals' longevity, so their knee joints aren't as easily weakened.
"It is better for the horses," he said. "It takes up some of the shock absorption, so there isn't as much friction and pounding on the streets."
When the weather becomes icier, though, the horse-drawn carriages will only run on Vail's heated streets, Wilson said.
"Running rubber in the wintertime has yet to be proven as safe as steel," he said.
Wilson is planning to drill holes in the rubber-like tires and insert studs, similar to soccer cleats, and try his horses in the snow.
Another concern included using the tires in a hilly area, which had not been previously attempted.
"We weren't sure if the traction would be the same, but the owner of Remuda ... and the ferrier gave us full confidence that it would work," said Wilson, who tested the tires first on a ranch.
Horse-drawn carriage tours:
Vail Village Tour (15 minutes): $45
Mill Creek Tour (30 minutes): $65
Deluxe Tour (60 minutes): $125
Tours run from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. One price is good for up to four people. Cost is $5 for each additional person.