In the midst of classical music from the Missouri Theatre, rock music from the 9th Street Bookstore and crowds of passers-by, longtime volunteer Deb Huffman was carefully organizing the schedule for horse carriage rides at the Downtown Columbia Twilight Festival on Thursday evening.
Beside her, 5-year-old Taylor and 20-month-old Jordan impatiently waited for their turns, busy in the meantime with waving at the horses, running after them and petting them when they stopped for the next ride. Taylor has come to the carriages every year for as long as she can remember, and Jordan went for her first ride last year.
“I grew up around horses and since now we’re in the city, this is the only chance we get,” said Mara Burghard, Taylor and Jordan’s mother.
Meanwhile, the horses — Dexter, who pulls the smaller carriage, and Poncho and Lilly, who pull the bigger one — seem undisturbed by the waving of little hands or the impatience of the passing drivers.
Horse carriages have been part of the festival attractions since its beginning 14 years ago and have always drawn crowds, said Carrie Gartner, executive director of the Central Columbia Association.
Cheryl and Terry White of New Bloomfield, owners of Getting Hitched Carriage Service, have participated in the Twilight Festival for seven years.
While they previously shared the attention of festival-goers with another company, this year their two carriages are the sole providers — the competition moved to Texas.
Cheryl White was raised around horses and said the decision to start the family business came naturally. “It’s something we enjoy doing,” she said. “It’s a lot better than your regular job.”
The Twilight Festival occupies the Whites on Thursdays in June and September. The rest of their summer weekends are booked for weddings, birthday parties and anniversaries. The company is the only one of its kind in the area, and its two carriages and one trolley travel as far as Marshall and Lake of the Ozarks.
The Whites also take part in the First Night festival in Columbia and fall festivals such as the Pumpkin Festival and Oktoberfest in Jefferson City.
“It adds a lot of color and character to the celebration,” said Karen Sandy, treasurer of the Old Munichburg Association in Jefferson City, which organizes Oktoberfest. “Our goal is trying to preserve the German heritage in Jefferson City. People take the rides because they enjoy them,and it’s a chance to see our district.”
Sandy said that both young and old enjoy the rides — the young because of the horses and the old because they are nostalgic for a time when they used to ride.
The Getting Hitched service has some steady fans in Columbia, Cheryl White said. At last year’s twilight festivals, there were a lot of regulars who rode every week, she said, and although they are fewer this year, there have been more newcomers.
About 120 people have gone on the 10-minute, $5 carriage rides each Thursday of the festival .
When the festival resumes in September, the slightly older Taylor and Jordan will see the horses once more — and Dexter, Poncho and Lilly will be petted and thanked again.