The unforeseen impact of COVID-19 created immediate and significant financial and emotional challenges for Tally-Ho Carriage Tours in Victoria, B.C. As a horse-drawn tour operator, the business is grounded in the responsibility and care for 15 draft horses. Unlike other equine businesses, Tally-Ho solely relies on tourism to provide almost 95 per cent of revenues.
With no income and an estimated $10,000 per month in direct horse-care costs, plus another $10,000 per month on other non-discretionary operational costs such as leases and utilities, the financial shortfall was staggering. The situation was made worse from an emotional perspective as their family of horses simply had to be cared for yet Tally-Ho was facing zero revenue for an indeterminable amount of time.
Owner Donna Friedlander enrolled in the Vancouver Island Coastal Tourism Resiliency Program. “As a sole-proprietor, knowing there was someone I could call was incredibly beneficial,” she says. “This program provided me with one-on-one support and helped me figure out how to move forward and develop a sustainable business plan through the COVID-19 crisis.”
As a small, family-operated business, Tally-Ho is nimble so immediately cut all non-essential costs and negotiated payment deferrals where possible. All staff were temporarily laid off and Friedlander and her two daughters took over full-time care of the horses.
As a for-profit business it was humbling to seek public support, however with the health of the horses in jeopardy, they launched a GoFundMe campaign to create a revenue source for horse care and to-date 400 people have donated $33,000. Donations have also been made directly to Tally-Ho, enabling Friedlander to lower her target from $120,000 for one year of care to $90,000.
Tally-Ho also created a Horse Adoption Program, allowing the public to choose their favorite horse and sponsor its care. As a thank you, Tally-Ho made greeting cards of the horses, created an adoption certificate, and wrote horse biographies and a general carriage horse fact sheet that are sent to each donor. To keep donors apprised of how their money is being used, and how fundraising efforts are progressing, Tally-Ho distributes a newsletter and regular social media updates.
Additionally, Tally-Ho developed a partnership with three other local businesses to create the new Tally-Ho & Sea Cider Picnic Experience. The three-hour, horse-drawn carriage tour begins with coffee or tea at Fresh Cup Roastery Café, continues through rural farmland featuring ocean vistas and fun facts about local history, and arrives at Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse where guests enjoy a tasting of six award-winning ciders and a freshly prepared gourmet picnic by Truffles Catering. The experience concludes with a return carriage ride through the largest certified organic farm on Vancouver Island.
“In thinking about how to recognize the community in which my family and the horses live for their unwavering support and kindness, I wanted to do something that would provide a safe experience while helping to sustain local businesses,” Friedlander shares. “This tour has been a huge success. Our carriage tours are an outdoor activity, designed for guests to enjoy with people who are already in their small, consistent social bubble. Our guests are raving about the experience and the new venture has helped multiple businesses during a period of significantly reduced revenues.”
While Tally-Ho Carriage Tours has been able to re-start operations and bring a small team of staff back to work, reuniting them with their much-loved horses, they are operating at less than 10 percent capacity and will likely return to zero through the winter. It is imperative that they be able to cover horse care to achieve long-term resiliency. Donations can be made here.