Cattle producers, would your animal-handling practices pass muster if you operated fully in an urban downtown environment with an open-door policy to the public? That hypothetical scenario is a reality for the extended Doyle family, which owns and operates Palmetto Carriage Works in Charleston, SC.

Tommy Doyle heads up the number-one carriage horse company in Charleston, a town boasting the world’s largest ridership of commercial carriages. He recently provided his insights on animal handling and public relations to an audience of cattle producers attending the third annual 4C Summit in Charleston.

The 4C Summit stands for: meeting Challenges, making Connections, establishing Collaboration, and empowering Commitment. It’s a collaborative educational program between Elanco Animal Health and MicroBeef Technologies designed to acquaint their customers with leadership challenges, techniques and lessons used in other industries.

A throwback to yesteryear

Horse-drawn carriages were the dominant mode of transportation 100 years ago, back when virtually everyone understood first-hand, and appreciated, the concept of animals and humans working together. Today, of course, carriage rides are a nostalgic throwback available in the tourist areas of many U.S. cities – a leisurely way to see and learn about the local history. Such locales, however, can also serve as flashpoints for animal activists who see any use of animals as exploitative.

“One thing my business and yours has in common is animal activists. I confront them face to face every day. The way I do my business is out in the public. Our barn is open to the public; they can come in with a camera. I'll even take the picture for them under some circumstances,” Doyle jokes.

Palmetto Carriage Works stables 50 horses and mules in a facility called the Big Red Barn, which is located in the heart of Charleston’s historic Market area. All of Palmetto Carriage Works’ tours start and end there, and the facility is a tourist attraction in its own right, serving as a showcase for the operation’s animal treatment. It even features a 24-hour live cam accessible on the Internet.

palmetto carriage worksThe animals pull a fleet of carriages that carry more than 100,000 tourists each year on an hour-long tour of this historic southern port city. “Our business model is built around people and animals working together to benefit both. And the customers recognize and appreciate that,” Doyle says. “We work to be proactive rather than reactive.”

By proactive, Doyle means having a well-trained staff, a high level of attention to public relations, and an open and transparent operation. It also means being an active booster of the community, and advocating for your business on the local and national levels, Doyle says.

“We employ over 100 people in the peak of our season. The fees we paid the city last year added $175,752 to the city coffers. Our hay bill last year was $44,000, $37,000 for feed, $45,000 in wood shavings for stall bedding, and $50,000 to keep shoes on our animals' feet. That $50,000 is the cost of putting them on, not the shoes themselves. All of this is bought within the Charleston and South Carolina economy. That's our economic impact,” Doyle says.

Doyle serves on the boards for the Carriage Operators of North America and the South Carolina Horse Council (SCHC). “I'm not a rider, but I am part of the horse community. Participation gives me the opportunity to spread our message among the horse people in the state,” Doyle says.

He also serves on the board for the local horse rescue organization. In addition, Palmetto Carriage Works donates the time of one employee for five hours each week to the horse rescue effort. Doyle says the gesture is a worthwhile effort, plus it builds amity within the local horse community.