A passion for horses has created the perfect work and lifestyle combination for sister companies Swan Valley Wagon Tours and Charming Carriages.
Their impressive stable of heavy horses are kept in idyllic conditions on 50 acres in Bullsbrook under round-the-clock watch of Alida and Peter Watson, operators of Swan Valley Wagon Tours. Their daughter Sorrell Ferguson is the proprietor of Charming Carriages, who provide a horse and carriage service to give couples a perfect fairy tale entrance to their wedding.
Sorrell was just 22-years old when she dreamt up the idea of Charming Carriages in 2009.
“I was brainstorming ideas with my sister on what I could do to not be in an office job. And we came up with doing horse and carriages for weddings! That was it. That day we chose Charming Carriages as a name and then 6 months later it was all happening,” said Sorrell.
Although experienced with horses; “I’ve never not been horsey!” she laughs; there were new skills to be learnt to tackle her new venture.
“I had to learn everything. I didn’t know how to drive horses, I hadn’t done harness work, I had only ridden them. And I had to learn how to reverse a trailer!”
Sorrell’s first wedding with Charming Carriages for a friend will be forever etched in her memory.
“We pulled up, made this magnificent entrance and then Bob, my horse, weed in front of everybody! From that experience, we taught Bob and our others to wee on cue by whistling – which I have now done before every other wedding,” she says.
Sorrell suffered a heartbreaking setback when the star of Charming Carriages, Bob – a 14-year old black and white Shire gelding – unexpectedly passed away in July 2018.
“Bob was the heart and soul of Charming Carriages. He was involved in nearly 200 weddings and events bringing so much happiness to every person he met along the way. He would put his head down to say hello to kids and get little hands patting his nose. He would stand patiently for photos and he never put a foot wrong,” says Sorrell.
Fleeting moments of doubt on whether to continue the business after Bob’s passing were put to rest when Sorrell spotted 9-month old Shire horse Lady for sale.
“There’s only about 200 Shire horses in Australia, so when a filly foal comes up and they’re perfectly marked, they keep them as brood mares. To find one for sale was a rare opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
And while Lady is growing up, Sorrell is able to utilise the horses from Swan Valley Wagon Tours in her weddings.
Alida and Peter Watson have been operating Swan Valley Wagon Tours for the past four years. They are experienced in just about every branch of equine management imaginable – Alida grew up on a cattle station, completing stockwork on horseback and Peter spent 18 months of his 7 years in the West Australian Police Force with the mounted section.
Together, they ran a riding school in Port Hedland and trained racehorses, including the 1989 winner of the Marble Bar Cup, Able Monarch. This experience transferred well into prepping horses for the challenges of walking alongside traffic and mingling with the public.
“We start their training here in Bullsbrook, so they are exposed to a bit of traffic. We just know when they are ready,” says Alida.
“It’s part intuition, but that intuition comes from hundreds of hours of being on horses all your life.”
Their stable includes Clydesdale horses Major (9 years) and Toffee (11 years), Johnny an 11-year-old Percheron, Violet a Clydesdale/Percheron cross aged 7 years, Percy, a 5-year-old Clydesdale and the baby of the group, 9-month-old Shire horse Lady.
In these increasingly hectic times, there is certainly an appeal for meandering through the valley in a horse drawn wagon, taking the time to appreciate the scenery most would rush past. A reminder that it is about the journey, not the destination.
“We give a lot of pleasure to lots of people I think – people love the slower pace of it,” says Alida.
It’s a joy that is reciprocated – “We get to chat to people from all over the world – it’s wonderful!”
“Not only are our horses a part of our family business, they also are our passion and our pets who we love dearly.”