It’s 7 a.m. and the barn doors slide open. The aroma of hay hangs in the air and soft whinnying can be heard as the horses peek out from their stalls anxiously waiting for their morning grain. The familiar ritual of feeding, grooming and bathing prepares these wonderful animals for their day of entertaining, educating and delighting.
And another day at Tri-Circle-D Ranch begins.
“I love that guests have an opportunity to visit the horses and ponies at the stables in their everyday environment,” says Assistant Animal Operations Manager Jay Sanderson. The barn is open from 10 a.m. to dusk for leisurely strolls to learn about the horses and to observe a genuine blacksmith at work (on select days). Heck, you can even check out the 1907 Dragon Calliope that Walt Disney purchased for the opening of Disneyland Resort. Later featured in the 1960 film “Toby Tyler,” it’s one of those unique Disney history gems not to be missed.
But the ranch doesn’t provide just stable tours. Unique wagon, romantic carriage (at both Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground and Disney’s Port Orleans Resort—Riverside) and thrilling horseback trail rides are also offered—and kids love the pony rides!
There are 90-plus residents—including such distinct breeds as Arabian, Appaloosa, Paint, Clydesdale, Percheron, Belgian, quarter horse and Shetland pony—that call Tri-Circle-D Ranch home. While certain breeds pull the trolleys down Main Street, U.S.A. and appear in parades and special events, we can’t forget to mention those lovable ponies that pull Cinderella’s Coach during the enchanting wedding ceremonies on property.
The wagon rides, perfect for the whole family, are one the most popular activities. Two large draft horses pull a rustic wagon that can accommodate up to 35 guests. That may seem like a lot of weight to you and me, but not for 2,000-pound horses that can easily pull three times their body weight. Taking riders through the fertile, green surroundings that encompass Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground, the wagon drivers keep the journey lively by offering tidbits and facts about the animals as the wagons pass the Pony Farm and the Draft Horse Barn. Rides last about 45 minutes and are always a big hit. For a really fun time, book reservations (call 407-WDW-DINE) to experience the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue at Pioneer Hall, then board the wagon to complete your evening out.
In the autumn, an extra-special treat includes the Headless Horseman riding his trusty black steed before Mickey’s “Boo-To-You” Halloween Parade at Magic Kingdom Park on select nights. And in December, guests are thrilled for the opportunity to enjoy horse-drawn sleigh rides at Fort Wilderness. Okay, it’s obviously too warm here for snow, but with a sprinkle of Disney magic, these sleighs just glide right through the Florida terrain.
For Jay, the most rewarding part of his job is “the opportunity to work with the cast members and horses at the ranch to create stories for our guests. These stories are what connect us, and without a doubt, the reason our guests return year after year to visit our magnificent animals. Some of these stories include a bride being picked up in Cinderella’s Coach, a child’s first pony ride, a group gathering on a guided horseback excursion, or even an unforgettable proposal on a carriage ride. These stories cannot be written without the team that cares for our gentle giants on a daily basis.”
Cast members at the ranch are part of Disney’s Animal Programs (“committed to delivering uncompromising excellence in animal care and nature conservation”) that care for the animals across Walt Disney World property. And the equines’ welfare is always paramount. “Our horses and ponies are just as much a part of our team as our cast members,” Jay explained. “They all have a role in the show and get plenty of rest when they are not ‘on stage.’ They work part-time hours, but get full-time benefits!”
The horses and ponies receive top-notch care from the staff, veterinarians, blacksmiths and nutritionists. It includes yearly physical examinations, vaccinations, routine dental appointments and getting new shoes every five to six weeks. Jay likes to call them the “happiest horses on Earth!”
As a child, Walt Disney, a well-known horse enthusiast, would draw his neighbor’s horse “Rupert.” Later, he became an avid polo player. With the Disneyland Resort a glint in his creative dreams, Walt wanted to showcase the animals in his brand-new, never-before-seen-kind-of-theme-park. When it opened in 1955, some of the equine-themed attractions included Stagecoach Ride, Conestoga Wagons, a horse-drawn fire wagon and horse-drawn surreys.
So it made sense that when he was planning Walt Disney World Resort (originally called “The Florida Project”), Walt was determined to repeat history. Tri-Circle-D Ranch was established before opening day, October 1, 1971, so that Walt’s vision of having horses in Magic Kingdom Park would be realized. If you attended the park’s opening, you may have been lucky enough to ride one of the street cars down Main Street, U.S.A. pulled by—you guessed it—horses.
Visit Tri-Circle-D Ranch and you’ll invariably overhear guest comments such as: “Oh my, they’re beautiful.” “Wow, they’re huge!” and “Wait, is that the same kind of horse that’s in those commercials?”
Tri-Circle-D Ranch, located near Pioneer Hall at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground, is the perfect place for animal lovers, nature lovers, horse enthusiasts and everyone of all ages in between. Call 407-WDW-PLAY (939-7529) for reservations or 407-824-2832 for more information.