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The Horses of Disneyland


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  • The Horses of Disneyland

    Okay there are probably not a whole lot of you out there who are crazy about horses like I am but I found this article about the horses that are used at DL and I thought I'd repaste it!! It's from Horse Illustrated and I don't know when! My biggest dream is to retire to somewhere near Disneyland so I can work at the Circle D and help take care of the 4 legged CMs. Lol, only problem is finding a place to keep my own horses!!

    Here it is!

    The Horses of Disney

    On Main Street, all is chaos. Children run from one gift shop to another, their parents trying desperately to keep up. There are balloons bobbing everywhere, with man-sized cartoon characters strolling in between. It is the entryway to a world of fantasy, one that millions of people from around the planet come here every year to see.

    In the midst of it all, among the din of laughter and frivolity, stands a majestic horse whose nobility is magnified by the scene around him. He doesn't move a muscle, but is perfectly still as children mill all around him, tentatively touching his shiny coat and struggling to look behind the blinders into his kind and gentle eyes. With all the rainbows that have been painted around him on that very special street, he is the one the children love best.

    I've been going to Disneyland ever since I was a child growing up in Southern California. Once a year, my parents would make the trek from northern Los Angeles County to the nether regions of Anaheim to take me to the Happiest Place on Earth. My excitement was nearly impossible to contain as we would pull into the Disneyland parking lot, the Matterhorn looming majestically beyond the entry gates, the Monorail whizzing by at what seemed like lightening speed. I couldn't wait to get on the Monsanto ride into inner space and take a spin on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. But my greatest expectation was always of seeing the big horses. There was nothing more thrilling to me than walking through that entryway and stepping out into Main Street where the Belgians and Percherons would be standing there, waiting.

    So much has changed in the world since those days, and in fact, so much has changed at Disneyland. The Monsanto ride was long-ago replaced by much more thrilling, high-tech adventures, and these days, no self-respecting adolescent would be caught dead on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. But amidst all the changes, the horses remain, the one bastion of reality in Walt Disney's deliberately unreal world.

    The Herd

    These days, Disney horses number less than they used to. In 1955, when the park first opened, there were as many as 125 horses and mules working at Disneyland. Now, only 25 remain.

    But what a 25 they are. The majority of the Disneyland herd are Percherons and Belgians, massive geldings in light palomino and black that pull the 19th century trolley cars along Main Street, from Town Square to Sleeping Beauty's Castle. A few Lipizzans are among the crowd, while the rest are light saddle horses: mostly Quarter Horses and Paints, all with amazing temperaments that make them more like St. Bernards than horses; the average equine would end up in the treetops at the sound of fireworks, yet this crew barely blinks an eye.

    The Disneyland horses live in a modest (compared to the park) stabling area called the Circle D, a 5-acre facility at the back end of the park. Considered part of the "backstage" area, the Circle D consists of a huge barn that was built in the 1950s before the park was officially opened. There are box stalls inside the barn and several medium-sized turn-out pens outside, where the horses take turns romping to their heart's desire. Wash racks where working horses are bathed each day and a huge tack shed are also part of the property, which serves as home for all the Disneyland horses in addition to a couple of cats.

    These are working horses, and each of the drafts on the Disney team has its own black leather harness, fitted with brass bearing a unique Disney design. These harnesses hang in a rack in the barn-adjacent Circle D tack shed, each peg bearing the name of the horse that owns it. All repairs to these massive leather works are done on-site.

    The woman who heads up this operation is a former veterinary candidate named Debbie Sly, a devout horse lover and experienced equestrian (what did she do?) who has dedicated her life thus far to the horses of Disney. Since 1981, Sly has been working at the Circle D, first as an equine caretaker, and eventually as the manager of the equestrian division of Disneyland.

    "It all started when I decided that I wanted to ride the Disney draft horses in the Disneyland Christmas parade,"says Sly. "I was just going to work here during Christmas time for that, but I ended up staying."

    Around 30 grooms assist Debbie in caring for the horses, most of whom are part-time college students. While Sly says it's difficult to find handlers to hire with draft horse experience, they certainly have it after they leave the Circle D. Some of these caretakers eventually learn to drive, and spend much of their time guiding the hitched horses through the park, guest-filled trolleys in tow.

    Basic care of the horses includes a diet of alfalfa and oat hay, or grass hay, along with 4-Way or oats, and certain dietary supplements, depending on an individual horse's needs. Each horse is groomed and sprayed with fly repellent every day, and seen by a farrier on a regular basis. Because of the type of work they do, the horses are fitted with steel-with-borium shoes to help them negotiate the slippery pavement of the park.

    A local veterinarian is kept on contract to provide preventative care for the horses of Disney. This is the same vet who treats the occasional emergency that comes up, although Sly says that overall, the park's horses tend to be pretty healthy.

    A Day in the Life

    The daily existence of a Disneyland horse may seem pretty cushy on the surface. For the draft horses, a typical work day means being trailered to Main Street from the barn so they won't have to walk through the guest-filled park, at 10:15 in the morning. A trolley shift through the park usually happens between 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. "The minimum shift is one hour long, and the maximum is four hours," says Sly. Even though the horses are hauling cars packed with guests during this time, Sly says their load is pretty light. "The metal wheels on the trolley cars and the corresponding metal tracks make the cars very easy to pull,"she says.

    But while this may sound like very light work, consider this: For the entire one to four hours that the horse is out on Main Street, it is being poked at it by hordes of curious visitors who want nothing more than to pet it and rub its nose. While this is going on, there are children running and yelling, balloons bobbing, strollers rolling and giant Mickeys and Plutos picture posing. And all this is happening within a relatively small space. "This kind of stimulation is mentally exhausting for a horse, even one that is used to it," says Sly. "This is why we keep their days so short."

    Because of this difficult atmosphere, the horses are worked for only two days at a time, and then are given the next two days off. Occasionally, they are asked to take part in a parade or wedding in the park. Once in a while, they do work off the property at a community parade or Hollywood party.

    Even though they need their rest, on their days off, the big draft horses don't just stand around swishing flies. "We like to ride them ourselves," says Sly, who explains that the horses get regular exercise from the Circle D handlers even when horses aren't working.

    The Belgians and Percherons aren't the only horses doing the work at Disneyland. The horses for the mounted patrol, one of the newer Disneyland activities, are usually taken out four or five days a week, where they stroll through the parking lot for around three hours a day, sometimes less, as part of Disneyland's welcome to its guests. These horses are the epitome of the term "bomb-proof." There's not much that can spook one of them, although they do have one Achilles' heel. "The only thing that really gets to any of these horses is if one of the characters comes running toward them,"says Sly. "We work closely with the cast members [the term for Disney employees] who work in the park, and we let them know when they need to get out of the way."

    Cast of Characters

    Just because the Disneyland horses are bomb-proof doesn't mean they don't have personality. Each one has its own quirks and attitudes that keep Sly and her crew hopping.

    Take Oscar the Percheron, for example. This big black gelding should have been named Houdini, since he can find a way out of any halter that is placed on his head. When Oscar was stabled in the barn's tie stalls, which made up the majority of accommodations until recently replaced by box stalls, he always found a way to liberate himself. "There was many a morning when we found Oscar wandering around the Circle D all by himself," says Sly. "He really kept us busy."

    Patrol horse and registered Paint, Silent Be Sure, on the other hand, is apparently the mellowest horse in the world. There's not much that can get this guy excited, or even interested for that matter. Our Horse Illustrated photographer discovered this first-hand while taking pictures of him for this article. No matter what noises were made or what items were thrown up in the air, the photographer couldn't get Silent to ***** those ears.

    The many different personalities apparent in the Disney horses are no doubt the result of their very varied backgrounds. Disney does not breed its own horses, but obtains them from a number of different sources.

    The big Waverly draft horse auction is one. Here, some of the park's Lipizzans were purchased. Other horses in the park were obtained from owners who could no longer keep them. Silent Be Sure, for example, is a former halter horse suffering from navicular. "The navicular ended his halter career, but the walking and light duty here at the park is fine for him." says Sly. And a Belgian named Doug was once part of a champion show team hitch in New Mexico. When his show career ended, he came to Disneyland to work.

    Most of the draft horses that come to Disneyland are already trained to drive, says Sly, and those that aren't are schooled by Sly and Circle D assistant manager, Brent Deines. Of course, there's a lot more needed than driving training to become a Disneyland horse. Each animal who is to work at the park must learn to tolerate the various sights and sounds it will be exposed to on a daily basis.

    "I spend a lot of time showing them things like balloons and strollers," says Sly, who does much of the training herself. "I also take them to hear the bands that are playing around the park. I give them as much sensory stimulation as possible." No matter how much audio and visual stimulation a horse is introduced to, however, if there isn't a basic, calm temperament present in the horse, the training won't be successful. "Some horses can handle it and some can't," says Sly.

    The horses who come to work at Disneyland often spend the rest of their working lives there, according to Sly. When a horse is retired from the park, it is usually because it can no longer handle the job emotionally. "You can tell when a horse has had it,"; says Sly. "They let you know that they won't be able to take it if one more person touches them out on the street." However, there are those who seem resilient to the mental stress of the job. One Belgian, a gelding named Mick, is 18 years old and has been a Disney horse since the age of 2. "Some horses can do it for a very long time,"; says Sly. "But if a horse does get tired of the work, I retire him with one of the cast members, take him home myself or sell him to a particular carriage company in San Diego that uses draft horses to pull wagons at the Seaport Village."

    Being in charge of the Disney horses just can't be beat, according to Sly, whose love for her job is more than apparent. "It's a blast to be in charge of these horses," she says. "It is definitely the greatest job in the world."

  • #2
    Re: The Horses of Disneyland

    Great article! Those horses are awesome!


    • #3
      Re: The Horses of Disneyland

      Lots of great information--thank you so much! We absolutely adore the horses and I'm trying to have my picture taken with each one. Some people hunt down characters for pictures--I always look to see which horse is out working.


      • #4
        Re: The Horses of Disneyland

        thanks for the story, I always enjoy those beautiful horses. I wonder if they have circle d tours?
        aka Sara

        :love: :love: :love: :love: :love:

        One of my children
        isn't pictured,

        ABE is still hibernating :sleep:


        • #5
          Re: The Horses of Disneyland

          Thank you for posting that!! Being someone who's always wanted to get into an animal care career, working at Circle D would be a dream job for me.
          "I don't need intelligent drugs because I don't know what they are. But I will put anything into my mouth that is given to me, whether it's supposed to go there or not. Because... I'm different."


          • #6
            Re: The Horses of Disneyland

            great article! im a horse nut too..been one since i can remember. my mom said my first word was pony LOL then I got my first one at 6 a shetland/Welsh cross. and now I am currently the mom to a Paint/Appy Mare, a Quarter horse gelding and a Quarter horse mare

            If i remember correctly they used to keep a few of the horses in the old fire station when i was little..once I would get in there I wouldnt want to leave for anything LOL


            • #7
              Re: The Horses of Disneyland

              Wow, great article about such a tiny part of the park. I was always impressed at how well the horses were treated when I worked at the park. They are probably the most pampered animals I'd ever seen.


              • #8
                Re: The Horses of Disneyland

                Originally posted by Where's Barbie?
                thanks for the story, I always enjoy those beautiful horses. I wonder if they have circle d tours?
                I wish. But I bet it's in the middle of some ugly backside area. In fact I looked it up on Google Earth and I found it and it's right near a bunch of storage for vehicles and service trucks it looks like. But it is nice to see the turnouts for the horses, they get leisure time too!!


                • #9
                  Re: The Horses of Disneyland

                  You can actually see the stables from the upper levels of the parking garage--my son is as nuts about the horses as I am so he zoomed in and snapped a few pictures of the "backstage" horses yesterday.


                  • #10
                    Re: The Horses of Disneyland

                    Thanks for the great article! Love those beautiful horses of DLR and I always check each name badge to see who is pulling that day. I always worried about them pulling such a load on the hard pavement, but I knew Disney would take good care of them. (Tho' 4 hours seems like a long shift). I have seen a couple of horses get spooked on their shift, and once even have to be taken off Main Street.

                    I don't remember horses ever patroling the parking lot?? Makes me wonder how old the article is.

                    Thanks again!


                    • #11
                      Re: The Horses of Disneyland

                      Here's a super secret spy picture of the Circle D ranch, so that you can see some of the horses of Disneyland!


                      • #12
                        Re: The Horses of Disneyland

                        Originally posted by Frogberto
                        Here's a super secret spy picture of the Circle D ranch, so that you can see some of the horses of Disneyland!

                        OmG!! You have just totally made my day!! Thanks so much!!


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