Get to Know Crystal Langford and her trusty steed Hero: Horses, hitches & history

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Passion is what inspires most tour guides to do what they love, but lifestyle choice is also part of the equation for Kootenay Horse & Carriage owner, Crystal Langford. With three children under 10 years old, family life led Crystal to start a historic horse & carriage business in the heart of south-central British Columbia. The idea was to create something her kids would grow up to love and appreciate, but in doing so, Crystal has added another member to the family; a 2,300-pound draft horse named Hero. Kids, families and elderly couples now travel from far and wide to catch a glimpse of Hero in action. We sat down for a coffee with his owner to find out how it all began.
Hi Crystal, thanks for jumping out of the saddle for a chat! First of all, how did you come up with the idea of Kootenay Horse and Carriage?

I suppose I had to reassess what I was doing after I had my children because it didn’t make financial sense to put three kids into childcare. I realized that I wanted to do something I was proud of, passionate about, and that could be a part of our home life as well. I’m not sure how I came up with the idea at first, but I knew I wanted to do something fun that the kids could do with me.

Have you always been passionate about horses? How did you find yourself at the reins, so to speak?

I had horses when I was younger, but I never really saw myself working with them. Actually, I swore I would never have horses again, but draft horses are different – they are calm and docile, and they’re bred to work. My horse, Hero, is the most laid-back and down-to-earth working partner, but he’s also part of our family and we do stuff with him all the time.

Was it a challenge to get Kootenay Horse & Carriage off the ground? Any hurdles spring to mind?

Once I got the right permits, I had to find the right horse, which was easier said than done. We fell in love with our first horse, Jack, but he started to limp and we had to retire him after two weeks because his previous owners hadn’t shoed him very well. Unfortunately he passed away last year, but I don’t think we would have been able to make it if he hadn’t been our first horse. Then we bought a horse from the US, but he wasn’t trained as his owner had led us to believe. After that, we went through another two horses before we finally found our current horse, Hero. Five times a charm, isn’t that what they say?

How about the guiding part of what you do? Was it difficult to incorporate historical commentary into your tours?

Not really. I was born and raised in Nelson, so I know quite a lot about the area and its quirks. I have also read some great books, and I pick up a lot of stories along the way. We’re also planning to run free tours for the local retirement home, not only to give them a fun experience, but to also learn and share more stories of Nelson so we can incorporate them into our tours.

What’s it like having a 2,300-pound horse as a business partner?

I would say it’s the best part of my job. Hero is part of the family and we’ve built a strong relationship with him. He trusts that I will take care of him, and he gives me something back that other business partners can’t. My kids have also fallen in love with him. Whenever they have friends come over, they feed him carrots and my son even scoops his poop. They like doing it because they love him and it gives our family a focus beyond ourselves.

What do you love about your job?

I really love talking to people around Nelson and building a yearbook of knowledge for the area. But I also love it when kids see Hero. There is no horse like him in the area – he’s massive. The kids love him and he’s so gentle with them. I often get him to lower his head to the kids’ level so they can pet him.

What about the parts of your job that you aren’t that keen on?

Bureaucracy! It has been quite a struggle getting permits, and there is quite a bit of red tape. Also, people’s lack of education about horses can be frustrating. I’ve had some locals question whether horses like carrying people around, but he’s built to work – that’s what he’s bred for. If he didn’t want to do what he’s doing, he just wouldn’t do it. He knows that I would do anything for him and I will never let anything bad happen to him.

Hero is more than a colleague. He’s part of our family and he has an amazing life at home. (We even bought another horse to keep him company). He’s magnificent to look at, but his personality is also worth coming to check out.

Most memorable tour you’ve led?

The most memorable carriage ride was when I took an autistic boy and his sister in the Grad Cavalcade Parade. He loved it so much that afterwards he would come down to visit Hero when we were giving tours in town. They formed a very special relationship.

What attributes do you think are needed to make a good tour guide?

Guides can give their clients a more personal and authentic experience if they have a long-term personal connection to the place they are running their tours. Historical and geographical facts are good to know, but stories from locals make guests feel like they’re part of the community, even if only for a day. It’s also essential for guides to be passionate about what they do and where they’re doing it. Nobody wants to go on a tour with a guide who’s just there for the pay cheque. If you love what you’re doing, then people will love doing it along with you.

What elements are essential for a great tour?

Weather is the deciding factor for my tours. I wouldn’t want to work in the rain, and I’m sure my horse wouldn’t want to either. Also, I can’t let Hero work when it’s too hot, so we run evening tours in the summer to stay out of the heat. Every tour is different, but my favourites are when there are kids on the tour. Children just love Hero, and he loves the attention. They take the time to pet him and they love sitting up front with me while I’m driving – just to be closer to him. I also enjoy people who like taking the time to look around, marvel at our beautiful area, and ask questions. It makes me proud of where we live.

Have you got plans for where you want to take the business in the future?

I would like to do more weddings and kids birthday parties – It’s so rewarding to see people having a good time and the look on kids’ faces when they see Hero. I would also love to do sleigh rides in the winter, but I need to work towards buying a sleigh first.

And finally, is there anything you would like to share with GuideAdvisor readers? Or anything you would like them to know?

Sure – I would like to reassure them that Hero is more than a colleague. He’s part of our family and he has an amazing life at home. (We even bought another horse to keep him company). I would also like our customers to know that draft horses are built to work. In fact they need to work to stay healthy and happy. Hero is magnificent to look at, but his personality is also worth coming to check out. He’s slow and it’s not a terribly ‘exciting’ ride, but it gives you time to take in the scenery and history, and to ask questions. We can also bring our business to you for private events anywhere in the West Kootenay Region – not only Nelson and Kaslo.

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