On the Job: Carriage Driver

Lifelong horsewoman Fillie Vanderwerken talks to us about being the lead driver for Denver’s Fairytale Carriage Company.

Authored by Erin Malcolm

Photo by Jon Rose

Nothing says winter merriment like a ride down the snowy streets of the city in a horse-drawn carriage that jingles and clicks along the pavement while you sip hot cocoa and laugh with loved ones. The timeless tradition is a scene straight out of a snow globe—one that lifelong horsewoman Fillie Vanderwerken used her equine passion to create as the lead driver for Denver’s Fairytale Carriage Company. Vanderwerken works out of her Brighton farm, located just east of I-25, where she welcomes visitors of all ages for countryside carriage rides drawn by her rescue horses. After the ride, guests can interact with other farm animals at Vanderwerken’s petting zoo, and even take a photo with her zebra-horse hybrid, known as a zorse.

What makes Denver’s Fairytale Carriage Company special?
“We have a lot of rescue horses and animals at the farm. Many of them have difficult pasts and our company allows them to have a good life. When people think of carriage rides, they often think of the animals as being overworked and under-socialized, but that’s the complete opposite of what we do here. Our horses have a herd network at the farm and get months at a time off in the pasture with our set rotation schedule.”

What does a typical workday look like?
“Every day is different depending on what kind of occasion we have going on. We drive horses for everything from weddings to quinceañeras to simple country carriage rides here at the farm. I prepare by bathing the horses, braiding them, putting sparkles on their hooves, and cleaning up their fancy harnesses and equipment. Simply getting to spend my life with horses is the best part of my work.”

What do people love most about your carriage rides?
“People love to get to know the animals and their stories. It’s not just sitting in the carriage and maybe getting to pet the horse for a quick second. They really get to have a hands-on animal experience.”