Susan Tharp has been providing carriage rides in Eureka Springs, Ark., since 2001

The reputedly haunted Crescent Hotel is the starting point for a memorable carriage ride with Hank the Tank after a day visiting Eureka Springs, Ark., and its quaint shops, various entertainments and numerous restaurants. This welcoming community has much to offer for holiday visitors. Some popular events include the 51st annual Silver Tea and the Downtown Night Market populated with “a thousand Santas” made up of both residents and visitors strolling the streets in Santa garb, in addition to choral and symphonic concerts. Further, New Year’s is highly celebrated at numerous locations offering dinner, drinks and entertainment, including the Ballroom Blitz at the Basin Park Hotel and New Year’s at the renowned Crescent Hotel.

In an elaborate Victorian carriage with the passengers comfortably enclosed in puffy cushions and layers of blankets to ward off December chills, the bundled-up driver sits perched above wearing a Santa hat on top of her cowboy hat while narrating historical tales and landmark descriptions.

The star of the show is a huge 18-hand 13-year-old black Percheron horse affectionately named Hank the Tank. On Friday and Saturday nights, weather permitting, he easily traverses the narrow and curving roads. The impressive gentle giant is festooned with LED lights, jingle bells and a Santa hat. Huge Hank, loves his job. He runs to the pasture gate ready to go to work and to receive affection from anyone who will offer. People are automatically drawn to him and lavish him with the attention he loves.

“He’s the people’s horse and he’s God’s horse,” Susan Tharp, the owner of Eureka Carriage, explained. “He reaches out to others with his heart in his hand. You often have to keep him off the sidewalk because he wants to visit the people. For many people, my carriage ride is their first horse experience so my horses serve as ambassadors, sometimes prompting more questions than the actual tour.”

Susan opened for business in 2001 with a four-seats Surrey-topped carriage and two sorrel draft mules named Fred and Red. Fred and Red were part Belgian and 16 hands tall. One of the services offered by the carriage company was and is a Marriage on the Carriage. A problem was that the general public did not see mules as pretty enough for weddings, so Susan switched to draft horses and eventually settled on Percherons as the best breed for the job. There majestic and stately appearance combined with their ability to easily travel the steep and winding roads made them perfect.

In 2002, the first replacement Susan purchased was a dappled gray Percheron named Michael, now at 28, is a spectacular pure white. He is named after one of the ghosts at the Crescent Hotel and the perfect carriage horse who never takes a wrong step even in heavy traffic.

“Michael is nicknamed the fire-breathing dragon because he is always ready to go with and arched neck and a dance to his walk, independent and self-assured.” Susan said. “Being the proud horse that he is, he lets people know that they are allowed to pet him only because he allows it. A stark contrast to Hank in color, Michael is an alpha male whether in the pasture or on the streets, and he and Susan have one of those memorable bonds that many horse people can only dream of. Nonetheless, her drivers know that they have driven something special.

Once Susan had a really calm, anybody could drive “pony” named Comet, who was so gentle he would go through the bank drive through. While not as tall as Hank, this black Percheron was an impressive 2,500 pounds. People were afraid to pet him, and he became one seriously depressed horse. Then Susan found a kid’s straw hat she put between his ears and used a bright fabric like a bandanna around his collar. Problem solved: happy horse and happy people.

Susan is an ordained minister who performs marriage ceremonies in the carriage or wherever a client requests along the route. She views her carriage business as a ministry and renamed her farm, How Much More Farm. The back of her business card contains a paraphrase of Matthew 6:26, which reads: Look at the birds of the air and the wild horses of the plain for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, yet God feeds them. How much more valuable are you to God?

Susan also works full-time as the manager of Judge Roy Beams Old-Time Photos and Weddings, because the carriage business is merely self-sustaining rather than profitable. To help control overhead, Susan is her own farrier and re-shoes her horses every six to eight weeks for maximum foot health. The 2,000 pound horses consume large quantities of 14 percent pellet grain and “super high quality” Bermuda hay that Susan hauls from Frenchtown, Ark. Another aspect of her carriage enterprise overhead is maintenance. Some maintenance relates to the farm such as fence repair or cleaning out stalls. Other maintenance relates to the carriage and tack essential to the business. Finally, Susan has to pay the salaries of her driver’s. Expenses are high so the business is run for the love of God and a love of horses.

“Right now I have a two-horse farm,” she said. “Michael, who is retired, is in his forever home and Hank is my work horse. The tourist industry goes up and down and I change the size of my operation to match the need. In the future, I would love to make my farm a tourist destination where people can experience horses and through them see God’s handiwork.”


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