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Category Archives: How I Became A French Quarter Carriage Driver

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10 Reasons Why Mules are like 1500lb Toddlers

Posted by on December 06, 2016

Carriage Driver, Mark Orfila, has worked in the French Quarter with carriage mules for about 5 years now. As a father who's raised two lovely kids, his experience working with our mules seems oddly family to the early days of parenthood. 

10 Reasons Why Mules Are Like 1500 lb Toddlers

  1. Oversize fears of everyday objects. A plastic bag blowing down the street or a discarded couch on the sidewalk can send a mule into a full-on tantrum. A few words of encouragement usual helps us get past the scary plastic bag. 
  2. Speaking of tantrums, if you think that a spoiled toddler in the checkout line can create a lot of drama, just wait till you see a mule demanding a treat with every trick at his disposal. 
  3. Dirty diapers. We're talking ten pounds of wet stinking mule poo in a single dump sometimes! It's our job as carriage drivers to keep the diapers empty. 
  4. Hating baths. (To be fair some mules -- like some toddlers -- love baths.)
  5. Needing routine. Even minor changes to a route can sometimes be stressful. We try to do our best to keep them on new routes so that they don't develop bad habits! 
  6. All-around stubbornness (as stubborn as a mule), which truly is also a sign of their intelligence. They know they can win. 
  7. Testing limits. 
  8. Putting every disgusting thing they can find in their mouths.
  9. Rough/mean play. Ever wonder where the expression "horseplay" comes from? 
  10. BUT... at their best, they can be incredibly sweet and affectionate. 

When I started driving the carriage five years ago, a colleague said to me, "Working with a mule is like working with a 1,500 pound 3-year-old." Four and a half years later I'm still discovering how true it is. 

Written by Mark Orfila 

Veteran Carriage Driver & Tour Guide at Royal Carriages. 

Nancy's Story: How I Became A French Quarter Carriage Driver

Posted by on February 08, 2016

In my early 20s, I left behind a good job, friends, and family in rural Louisiana for a life in The Big Easy. Never living in a city, I was completely unprepared for such change. Constantly struggling to find enough work to pay rent like most, I found myself slinging drinks on at a jazz club on Bourbon Street. Working late nights in a crowded and smoky environment for months on end was enough to drive for me to find something different. 

For years, I had wanted to become a licensed city tour guide, but the application process and tests through City Hall were discouraging. I wanted formal education to prepare me and within a few months, I graduated from the Friends of the Cabildo Tour Guide Class and began working as a professional city tour guide. Walking groups of 25+ visitors throughout the French Quarter  for 2-hours at a time was not as much fun as it seemed and neither was giving tours on a tour bus. Once again, I found myself struggling financially and still searching for a rewarding experience. 

Through Friends of the Cabildo, I met an older man with a big smile named Mick. After expressing my concerns to him, he told me that I needed to work as a carriage driver for Royal Carriages. I never considered driving carriages or working with “poor overworked horses” and my own stubborn ignorance didn’t think highly of the carriage industry. He laughed and said, “If you see anything you don’t like, then don’t do it.”

Before applying to Royal Carriages to work as a carriage driver, I researched the carriage industry. I wanted to know everything that I could about what I was about to do. I learned that the horses were not horses at all, but mules, and that Royal Carriages has been in business since 1941! My confidence in the industry grew, and I looked forward to my job interviews with Royal Carriages. I even came across a vintage brooch of a horse-drawn carriage at a local thrift shop, felt that fate was working its magic, and wore it as good luck to the interview. 

Nancy is pictured with Queenie

Most carriage drivers agree that it is the best job in the city. We have the opportunity to spend our days working with hard-working and hard-loving mules that are well cared for, and provide visitors with the best tour experience possible. Our mule-drawn carriages enhance the beauty of the French Quarter, and the initial encounter that people have with a carriage mule can be unforgettable. Artists have painted works of art of my mule and me, and our photo has been taken by countless strangers. Those types of things don’t happen when you are a walking tour guide or a bus tour guide. 

Original Artwork by New Orleans Artist Wayne Griffin 

Over the years, I have become somewhat of a carriage mule-advocate. Whenever someone discovers that I work as a carriage driver, they have a ton of questions. They are always surprised and delighted to hear my response. I show them pictures of the carriage mule that I work with on my cell phone and speak of it as if it were my child. They are reassured knowing that people like me truly do fall in love with their working partners. 

When you're a newbie, your mule teaches you a lot. One of the most important things I've learned is that life is like a stubborn mule. You can try to be in control, but you’re not. I do my best to just work with it. I believe that fate can be a series of unfortunate events that lead you to a worthwhile experience. In this case, it leads me to loving mules and appreciating those who work with equines in various industries. I'm one of those "mule-crazy" people now. 

Kim's Story: How I Became A French Quarter Carriage Driver

Posted by on January 04, 2016

For as long as I can remember I have always been in love with equines.  As a child, I begged and begged my father for a horse.  I believe he thought I would grow out of it, but by the time I was eight years old, he realized this wasn’t a phase.  We lived on a small farm about twenty miles West of Casper, WY that my father purchased when I was about six.  One of the first animals my father got for the farm was a Shetland pony named Shorty who taught me as a small child all the easy and difficult things about having an equine friend.  My body still bears a few scars from our original adventures together.

It was when I set up wood fence rails on top of buckets and short posts and started teaching my pony to jump that my father decided it might be time for a full-size horse.  This started an adolescence of competitive jumping and showing.  We never had mules on our farm although we had friends with mules who participated in mule day’s events and pack horse races around the country.  I remember competing against a girl who had a mule that she jumped with.  Yet, like most people, as a youngster, I remained pretty snobbish towards the long ears and their abilities.  

As I reached adulthood, I would’ve liked nothing more than to make a profession in animals but, agricultural opportunities were slim in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and my parents urged me on to college where I just couldn’t decide on a major.  Eventually, I became a paramedic and moved to New Orleans, LA where I worked for the city of New Orleans until 2010, including during hurricane Katrina in 2005.  Time and circumstances will eventually take its toll on a paramedic’s body and mind and as my mother was aging, I felt the pressure of a job that has little room for family leave wearing on me.

One night my partner and I were driving the ambulance down Decatur street in the French Quarter and as we passed Jackson Square I saw the carriages lined up there and thought back to a time about fifteen years earlier when I’d seen an ad in the newspaper for carriage driver positions.  In New Orleans, the carriages use mules to pull them (it has been a law since the early 1980’s) and I loved walking around the square and taking in all the smells and affections of the horse hybrid that brought back memories of my childhood.  Walking by Jackson Square was just about the only equines I got to experience since the days back on the farm of my childhood.  Although I’d been interested in the carriages all those years ago when I saw the ad, I thought there was no way that I would ever be hired for the position since I’d never driven a carriage, much less in city traffic.  Something in me that night in the ambulance was different and I decided that carriage driving was the alternative I was looking for.  

The next day I started checking into the process and found out about the licensing for tour guides.  I signed up for a class through the Louisiana State museum system that trains tour guides on the history of the French Quarter.  After a month long every day of the week intensive program, I arrived at the offices of Royal Carriages armed with my tour guide license, my resume, and a staunch determination to become a carriage driver.  A couple of days later I was learning how to drive a mule!

Pictured is Blue who assists Kim in training new mules

My trainer told me to throw away anything I ever knew about horses because mules were totally different.  I wouldn’t say it’s a good idea to throw away all your equine knowledge but it wasn’t long before I realized how incredibility smart and special mules are.  My childhood experiences came flooding back to me and just like when I was a child I wasn’t nearly satisfied with just holding onto the lines while my mule leisurely ambled around the French Quarter.  I found myself consistently working on my technique to improve my line handling and communication with my mule.  My mule partners impressed me daily with how smart and responsive they were to me.  I love to call the mules connivingly smart.  As time passed, I was handed more and more challenging mules based on my ability, until I was driving the newly trained mules.

In July of 2013, the trainer suffered a debilitating hand injury that required surgery and in the days following, I arrived at the stable to help him groom and dress the mules that he was currently training, as his bandaged hand made it impossible to do some tasks.  I also rode along with him in case he needed help during the process. Before long everyone considered me the assistant trainer, helping with the daily training even after his hand had healed. In April 2015, the trainer left the company and I was promoted to his position.  I wasn’t quite sure I was ready but, we had nine mules in the wings waiting to be trained so it was time to step up to the task.

Week 2 of Training Elizabeth 

The hardest part about training the mules is the location I’m training them in, the French Quarter.  The mules come to me with some training already but they’ve never been in a city, or seen traffic, street construction, or pedestrians in feather boas with hurricane cocktails on Bourbon Street.  The mules and I are on stage every day in front of thousands of people who know nothing about mules much less the training process.  That means that nothing can go wrong once I’m out in the French Quarter with a new mule.  If people feel the mule is sweating too much or if it has a little white saliva around its bit from working, or it struggles with an obstacle, I’m suddenly the center of attention and advice.  That aspect alone was nerve racking at first because I was so afraid of making mistakes and having the general public go crazy yelling at me.  These days my skin is much thicker and I’m often so focused on my mule that I rarely hear comments from the sidelines.  Most individuals although well intentioned, are grossly uneducated in mulemanship and they all come bearing an opinion.

Week 1 of training Foot Loose

I love training the mules. I love watching them progress as they learn new tasks and become familiar with their new jobs.  It’s amazing to me when I see them learn something and remember it and when I watch them figure out an obstacle while those long ears I love to call radar turn forward and back while they think and listen to directions.  I love the bonding process with the mules when I recognize that they’ve begun to trust me and depend on me for direction.  There is something very therapeutic to my soul every morning when I walk into the stable, and I’m greeted by their beautiful faces. Each one hanging their head out of the stall looking for their morning affection.

I don’t miss being a paramedic, I realized what I was missing in my life was the fulfillment that working with a mule brings.  So many of my co-workers are the same way.  Many leaving professional careers like teaching, drafting, and the legal field to work with mules guiding visitors around our magnificent city.

-Kim Weikum, Stable Manager at Royal Carriages

This was my grandson 1st time and Nat made it very interesting for him. It was really cold and he still took his time to tell good stories. Great job!!

TripAdvisor Member: Cynthias F of Greensboro, North Carolina, USA

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