Horsing Around 9-1-2005

A horse-drawn carriage carries clients in style

By: Marty Wentzel

Eight years ago, my daughter and I stopped at Kauai’s Kilohana Plantation, where a horse-drawn carriage was parked out front. I asked the driver if I could take a picture of my toddler with the handsome Clydesdale.

“Sure,” he said. “Give him a pat. His name is Buddy.”

Back in Kauai recently, I passed the plantation and noticed the same fancy rig and driver. Once again I stopped, only this time I climbed aboard for a ride around the grounds of the restored sugar plantation, with Buddy still doing the dirty work. The driver, a bearded gent named Doug Albrecht, smiled when he heard that I remembered Buddy from years before.

“When people walk up and want their photo taken with the horse and carriage, I always say yes,” said Albrecht, owner of Plantation Carriages. “Every photo is a memory that people carry home, so others will come to Kauai and take a ride with me.”

Since 1986, Albrecht has been squiring visitors around the grounds of the historic plantation estate.

“Kilohana’s owners contacted me because they felt a horse-and-carriage operation would add a sense of elegance to the attraction,” he said. “I ran a similar operation in Alaska.”

So how does someone get into the horse-and-buggy biz?

“I bought my first carriage, a 1932 Amish surrey, while I was growing up in Anchorage,” he said. “I’d run around town in it, doing grocery shopping and errands.”

One day a woman asked him to provide rides for a children’s party for $100, planting the seed for Albrecht’s full-time business. He moved to Kauai when he was 19, and in 1992 he was named Young Business Entrepreneur of the Year by Hawaii’s Small Business Association.

Each day, 35 to 40 customers climb into one of his carriages for a spin. Albrecht, his rig and one of his eight Clydesdales always look their best. The driver dons a top hat, bow tie and red jacket, and the horse turns heads with its showy, custom-made harnesses.

Albrecht also runs longer horse-drawn wagon tours of the acres around Kilohana, with 100 people signing up each week. The route passes through fields once full of sugarcane and now sprouting with new ventures. Along the way, clients learn about the history of agriculture on the island and its effect on Kauai’s culture.

Since Albrecht can’t always hold the reins, he makes sure his other drivers are proficient in Hawaii and Kauai history by testing them every few months.

“I teach all my drivers communication skills, if necessary, like how to smile and interact with visitors from around the world,” he said.

The horses are equally well rehearsed. As we passed a pasture of Clydesdales, Albrecht whistled, and they trotted over for a pat between the ears.

“Here’s another big selling point,” he said. “All our horses are potty-trained.”

Weddings further boost Albrecht’s business. He takes part in 100 nuptials a year in Kilohana and provides the same service island-wide for another 150 per year. He can deliver the bride and her father to the ceremony and give the newlyweds a private celebratory ride in his 1827 reproduction white French wedding carriage. For group functions, he can escort the company VIP to the ballroom, perhaps in his flamboyant 1870 replica French-country touring coach.

After nearly 20 years of carrying clients in style, Albrecht still calls his work “horsing around.”

As he snapped a photo of me with Buddy, he said, “I love what I do. If it ever starts to feel like a job, I’ll quit.”


Plantation Carriages
3-2243 Kaumualii Hwy.
Lihue, HI 96766

Carriage tours of Kilohana Plantation are conducted daily from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. The 20-minute trip costs $12 per adult and $6 per child under 12 years.

One-hour horse-drawn wagon tours of Kilohana run Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Rates are $29 per adult and $15 per child, commissionable to travel agents at 30 percent.

Wedding packages featuring horse-drawn carriage rides are also available. Commissions on wedding packages vary according to the level of need.