Under sunny skies surrounded by horses, Donna Friedlander happily talks shop.
Tally-Ho was created by the Tourist Association of Victoria as its first attraction. On May 9, 1903, the first stage made its debut, pulled by four horses. The last few decades, however, have come courtesy of the Friedlander family.
Today the humans are hard at work while some draft horses pull shifts in Victoria, a menagerie of dogs hangs out like teenagers on summer break and horses of the non-draft variety mingle with their larger peers.
Tally-Ho owner Donna happily takes a break from the heavy lifting to talk horses, pandemic, and how the company is celebrating 120 years of moving people in Greater Victoria.
While each schedule is different based on the needs of the animal, the horses work an average of three months a year.
But not everyone on the farm works, several are retired, including the iconic draft horse King, made famous on the Tally-Ho brochures and marketing materials worldwide.
Donna started working for the business at 19 and met her husband there. A James Bay boy, Larry Friedlander was 15 when he started running errands for drivers. By the time Donna came along he was a 23-year-old part owner in the business. It was his passion and quickly became hers, especially once the couple moved into Hidden Acres Farm with all the horses on site in Central Saanich.
“They’re part of our family,” Donna says, gesturing to some of the 23 draft horses on the farm. It’ll be an even two dozen soon, as one returns from training and assessment in Chetwyn.
The Tally-Ho herd also includes three breeds listed as “at risk” by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. They spend time and money turning to tried-and-true professionals to ensure they do right by the animals in their care. It’s a sentiment hammered home by the farriers on site this day, as they craft an expensive orthopedic shoe of sorts for one gelding. He arrived with an impediment and has had special shoes for one hoof from day one.
“We’re really careful about the horses we use, not every horse is cut out for this.”
Donna says they need to be curious, like people and enjoy doing new things.
The life isn’t suited for all humans either – the animals come ahead of date night and kids’ activities.
The family’s passion carries on in the wake of Larry’s death in 2015. Daughter Brianna is the manager and Kennadie works it into her schedule despite demanding training with Ballet Victoria.
So when family and staff sat down and decided how to mark the 120th anniversary – it was all about the draft horses.
“We wanted to honour the stars of our show – the horses – by getting back to the basics of why we love these amazing, strong, goofy animals,” Donna says. The new ‘Grass Roots Experience’ in downtown Victoria offers hands-on time with the horses and the opportunity to learn about their lives.
A sold out, reservations-only open house this weekend allows people to meet the horses, learn about their care, and watch demonstrations of harnessing, driving and horseshoeing.
Both are also about giving back to a community that was “so kind and so supportive” after COVID closures hit, Donna explains. “It really says a lot about where we live. Part of the reason we’re still going is people love the horses.”
In March 2020, the company had invested in the season and was four days in when the pandemic lockdown struck.
Just over three years later, and celebrating 120 years in business, things are happily amping up earlier and faster than usual.