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Classic Reflections Carriages adds elegance to weddings

It’s a stretch for 5-foot-4 S. Amber Ballinger to harness her Percheron horse, Oreo. He’s 8.2 hands at the withers, 91 inches from ear tip to hoof.
It’s a stretch for 5-foot-4 S. Amber Ballinger to harness her Percheron horse, Oreo. He’s 8.2 hands at the withers, 91 inches from ear tip to hoof.
Published May 17, 2017

BROOKSVILLE — Wedding season looms for Oreo and Belle, Doug and Alexander, bridal attendants all, showy as any bride and groom, as they drive their charges in a bedecked carriage through the various functions of a matrimonial day.

The black Percheron and honey-colored Belgian draft horse pairs, respectively, are the stars at Classic Reflections Carriages, an ensemble of horse-drawn carriages with tuxedoed and top-hatted drivers that adds elegance to the nuptial ceremonies.

"What I am doing," said owner S. Amber Ballinger, "is making fairy tales come true."

Ballinger won't claim that an outfit's appearance outshines the bride and bridegroom, but some reception guests will grab a chance for a carriage ride before grabbing a cut of wedding cake.

"Adults get more excited than kids," Ballinger said.

"I loved and had horses all my life," said Ballinger, 46, "especially draft horses." While she rides her 2,000-plus-pound drafters for pleasure, she said, "They're really only happy when they're pulling.

"As soon as I started driving, back in 2012, I kept getting, 'Can you come to our wedding?' In 2014, I did my first wedding as a moneymaking thing. It's just so much fun, and the horses love it."

The horses, ages 10 to 17, have been specially trained as pullers. Ballinger is quick to point out the drafters have a comfortable working life up to age 30. All of hers she purchased — Alexander was a rescued horse — carriage-broke, meaning accustomed to wearing up to 125 pounds of harness, working in synchrony as part of a team, standing at attention without twinge or flinch.

In fact, standing is a big part of the steeds' wedding work day.

"When we do a gig," said Ballinger, "it's actually like a day off. It's seven to 10 minutes walking, but a wedding takes all day."

From picking up the bride at her abode, the carriage, decked with flowers and ribbons, carries her to the wedding plates. Then waits. Takes the wedded couple from the aisle to the photo shoot. And waits. Drives the newlyweds on what Ballinger calls "a breather, the only time the couple gets to be alone together for the day," a leisurely ride, before depositing them at the reception. And waits.

The final wait more resembles a pause, before the reception guests begin emerging for their own carriage rides.

Just as a no-glitch wedding requires a lot of work beforehand, so does the horse-and-carriage appearance. Ballinger works with three assistants, partner Russell Craft along with Ed Collins and Norma Stephenson.

Ballinger explained: three hours spit-shining and decorating the carriage, one to two hours bathing and grooming the horses, two hours on site polishing the rigging, harnessing the horses and dressing themselves in finest livery.

"The ceremony is the quick part," she said.

From their home some 15 miles southeast of Brooksville, trucking to the wedding site consumes more time. Classic Reflections Carriages has had gigs from Gainesville to Sun City.

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Rates range from $550 for one horse and rig to $650 for two horses, for two hours, $50 for each additional hour. Mileage is extra.

"It's usually two hours for a wedding and reception," Ballinger said.

While weddings give truth to fairy tales, Ballinger says 60 percent of her outfit's appearances occur from October through New Year's Day for festivals, hayrides, corporate events and various holidays, especially Christmas celebrations.

Yes, her troupe owns Santa and elf wear, and for this year has added a sleigh on wheels.

Contact Beth gray at graybethn@earthlink.net.

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