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David Larabee's Belgian, Bob, waits at Flynn & Dagnoli-Montagna Funeral Home for the funeral of Michael DeMarsico. Larabee has provided carriages for weddings, proms and other events but said the military funeral was the most memorable.

Q&A with David Larabee of Specialty Carriages

By Phyllis McGuireSpecial to iBerkshires
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David Larabee of Williamstown has been around horses his whole life. He's been operating Specialty Carriages since 2000.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — David Larabee has held a number of roles as an adult, from serving in the Army to working for the former General Cable Co., then retiring after 21 years from the Water Department in 2010.

He's also been a community volunteer. He received the 2000 Faith Scarborough Award for his outstanding service, particularly in launching the Turner House, a transitional living center for veterans.

But there has been a constant in his life since childhood: horses.
Horses have made it possible for Larabee to take on a new role as a "creator of memories." As owner of Specialty Carriages, he is the man to go to for an old-fashioned sleigh ride with family or friends or a sentimental carriage ride with a sweetheart that will be remembered long into the future.
In an interview with iBerkshires, Larabee spoke of the part horses have played in his life. 
Question: What is your first memory of being around horses?
Answer: I would help my father feed our horse Dick, and my father would let me drive the horse from time to time. One day, I was driving the horse on North Hoosac Road and was stopped by Police Chief Royal. He said to my dad, 'Sam, you know that horse will run away!' (I was 4 then). My father replied, 'Don't worry about that boy, he can handle a horse better than you.'

Q: Did you have a horse of your own as a boy, and if so, did you know how to take care of it?

A: I always helped my dad take care of his horses. We kept his last horse (Kit) at Charley Notsley's farm on Bridges Road and would have to walk over every night after supper to feed, water and clean the barn. My father did not have a car. I got my first horse (Puff) in 1977.

Q: What year did you establish Specialty Carriage and what was involved in starting up the business?

A: In 2000, after having horses myself since 1977, I told my wife that I was going to do more with the horses or get rid of them, so that was when Specialty Carriage was born. I then had to buy a horse trailer, a carriage, a bigger truck and fix up some wagons and sleighs that my dad had.

Q: How many horses do you have now?

A: I have three horses: Bob (13 years old), Karen (19) and Bud (9). The most I've had at one time is four horses — Puff, Rosie, Bob and Karen. I also have had others. Ted was born on my farm, her mother was Rosie, and another horse named Babe was also born on my farm. All the horses I've owned have been Belgians. I had Puff for 25 years and Rosie for 23 years.

Giving rides at last year's Christmas tree lighting in Adams.
Q: What is the most satisfying  part of the business, and the most difficult?

A: The thing I enjoy the most is driving and spending time with the horses and my family. A lot of the job is hard and time consuming keeping all of the equipment in good shape and making hay for the horses.

Q: When is your busiest time of the year?
A: The busy time with the horses is from Labor Day till New Year's. The best season (if we have enough snow) is sleigh season from Thanksgiving to mid-March. Lack of snow is a problem as is unsafe trails or ices. Initially, my biggest problem was not having a good place to do rides. 

I now have the best spot ever with beautiful views, safe trails and a cabin in the woods to warm up and give the riders a chance to warm up and the horses a good rest which is located at Sweet Brook Farm, 580 Oblong Road, here in Williamstown. The only downfall is that no one knows I'm there. Last year, I only gave one sleigh ride and that didn't even pay for the gas to get the horses to Sweet Brook Farm.

Q: How do you keep occupied in the slow season? 
A: In the off season is when I have time to do the repairs on the equipment, cut and bale hay and do all the other stuff around the farm. I guess you could say there is no off season, just a season to spend money not make it.

Q: Besides sleigh rides what other services do you offer?
A: I've done with my horses over the years: weddings, funerals, proms, parades,
birthday parties, Super Bowl parties, Christmas tree lightings, anniversaries, mowed hay, raked hay, teddered hay, plowed gardens, plowed snow, some logging, hauled firewood and when I have time, just go for a ride. My favorite is informal wagon and sleigh rides. When a wedding is done with a horse and carriage they may forget most things, but not the horse and carriage ride.

Q: Has anyone done anything unusual during a ride?

A proposal (she said yes).

Q: What was the most memorable drive?
A: The military funeral for Michael DeMarsico. Preparation took a week and I felt we would have a problem with my horse Bob at the church. The trip from the funeral home to the church went as planned (perfect). While waiting outside of the church, the horse decided he didn't want to stand. My son, daughter and son-in-law took the horse to a side street away from the crowd to see if he would calm down, no such luck. A police officer that was helping us with the traffic was standing by. I said to him, 'I have to get my horse trailer at the funeral home and go home to get my other horse.' He said 'Lets go!' and with a police escort, I got my other horse, Karen, and got back to the church in plenty of time to continue the services. I don't think anyone knew the difference because Bob and Karen look the same, so Karen did the last leg from the church to Southview Cemetery. Bob could have done it OK but I wasn't going to take the chance. My son-in-law took Bob home.


Larabee has three horses, all Belgian drafts.
Q: Do any comments people made on a ride stand out in your memory?

A: One man asked me: 'Is there more land?' We were on a sleigh ride on my small farm of seven acres and only about two were safe enough to ride on — that was the first and last ride at home.
I don't know how long I'm going to do this with the horses, but I do know that I'm not giving up right away. I have a new horse to pay for that I bought the beginning of October (Bud). I now have a great place to give rides year-round at Sweet Brook Farm

'I'm living the dream.'

Thanks to Berkshires Trails for use of their great photos from the 2011 Winter Carnival. See more here.

Tags: carriages,   domestic animals,   horses,   Q&A,   

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