Horses bring magic to celebrations. For many centuries, horses and ponies were our primary means of long-distance land transportation, pulling carts, wagons, carriages, plows, chariots. Now that we rarely see horses in everyday life, they evoke a sense of wonder, perhaps hearkening back to subconscious memories of the close relationship we once had with them.
Jim Martyn, who drove his first pony and cart around his Queens backyard at the age of five, has spent the last 42 years providing horse-drawn vehicles for weddings, funerals, harvest festivals, and other events. His wife, Margie, raises mini-horses and keeps ponies at their Clear Brook Farm in Millbrook, offering pony rides for birthday parties and community events, as well as for temporary petting zoos with mini-horses, sheep, goats, and cows.
“We do everything from gender reveal to burial,” Jim said. Being an old-fashioned guy, he was confused the first time a caller requested a carriage for a gender reveal party, thinking she wanted to celebrate a sex change. Instead, he found himself driving a pregnant woman and a large box to a gathering. When she stepped out of the carriage, the box exploded with blue sparklers and unfurling blue ribbons, announcing to the guests that a baby boy was on its way.
The Martyns have seven pairs of draft horses, five white, one black, and one black-and-white. They are stocky Percherons, a breed known for their strength as well as their placid temperament, essential for driving in traffic and around unpredictable humans. There’s also a white baraat horse for the bridegroom to ride during traditional Hindu and Sikh weddings, complete with the richly embroidered costume that covers most of the horse’s body and the elegant parasol held over the groom’s head.
At weddings and funerals, Jim and the other drivers dress up in suits with high hats, and they often attach plumes to the horses’ heads. Their teams also draw wagonloads of people at harvest festivals and winter holiday events. People hire carriages or ponies to celebrate engagements, anniversaries, sweet sixteen parties and quinceañeros, block parties, grand openings, and fundraisers.
Margie’s ponies and riding horses have appeared onstage at the Metropolitan Opera. The smaller equines are accustomed to elevators, which they may have to navigate to reach photo shoots and studios for filming commercials. When Argentine polo champion Nacho Figueras is in town for a match on Governors Island, the Martyns supply a horse for him to ride into the Stock Exchange to ring the opening or closing bell.
Jim has been in the horse business for most of his life. When he was growing up in the Ozone Park section of Queens, his father and grandfather kept ponies out back until the sanitation department said they couldn’t dump manure in trash cans. They moved their five ponies to a stable in Brooklyn. After a barn fire, they found another place in Ozone Park.
Following the 1964-65 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadow Park, Jim set up a track in the park, where local drivers raced their ponies and carts, and kids could ride a pony once around the track for 25 cents. For six years, he trained and drove trotting and pacing ponies at exhibition races at the track in Monticello.
In 1980, Jim opened the Pelham Bit Stables in Pelham Bay Park. At the time, it was one of five stables in the Bronx offering riding lessons and boarding. Later called the Bronx Equestrian Center and recently renamed City Island Stables, his place is the only remaining stable in the borough. When Jim decided to buy a wagon for weddings and hay rides, his business expanded steadily.
The Martyns drive all around the country to buy horses. Many of the draft teams are raised and trained by Amish farmers who sell their stock at auctions in Mt. Hope, Ohio, or New Holland, Pennsylvania. Once purchased, the horses spend most of their time in the pastures of the Dutchess County farm, while the carriages and wagons are stored at the Bronx location.
With 50 to 60 weddings booked each year, having seven teams allows the horses plenty of rest between jobs. Although life on the farm is relaxing, the horses can also get bored. Jim said, “They perk up when you harness them to a wagon.”
When a caller requests a carriage, a discussion ensues about the route to be traveled. “We try not to go over three miles, for time constraints,” Jim explained. “It’ll take 30 to 45 minutes to go that far, say a mile or two from the house to the church, another mile to the reception. In the summer, sitting in a carriage in a tux can get pretty hot.”
For burials, the distance from the funeral parlor to the church to the cemetery is usually too far for people’s patience. Often one leg of the trip is made by car and the other by carriage. “We avoid big hills,” Jim said, “because they’re hard on the horses.”
Birthday parties may include pony rides or an assortment of mini-horses and farm animals for the kids to interact with. If a unicorn is desired, Margie sprays her white pony’s mane pink and purple, stencils stars on his rump, and attaches a horn to his forehead.
Clear Brook Farm has a room that may be rented for parties, as does City Island Stables, or the Martyns will travel with their animals. “We did Puff Daddy’s kid’s party at Chelsea Piers,” Jim said, “and we brought three ponies to a party for Diana Ross’s kids in Greenwich, Connecticut.”
Hiring a carriage or wagon costs $1500, with extra charges for events distant from New York City. Jim has trucked his horses and carriages as far as Philadelphia, Massachusetts, and Delaware. The charge for an hour-long pony party is approximately $300, with the price depending on location and the number of animals. Note that the unicorn costs extra.
For more information, see https://www.nychorse.com or call 914-489-1037.