Horse-drawn carriage tours could roll into Bluffton

Before horse-drawn carriages can brighten old town Bluffton's holiday season, town officials must first create rules that would guide the new venture.

Bluffton currently has no ordinance that deals with tour companies of any sort. So when Kay and Alan Ulmer, who own Buckingham Plantation Stables, applied for a business license for their Old Town Carriage Co., they might have, well, put the horse before the cart.

Town Council has asked Police Chief David McAllister to write the book on an ordinance regulating all tour companies. Horse-drawn carriage regulations is not only the first chapter, but so far, the only one.

"We the town are not set up for horse-drawn carriages," McAllister said. "I did some research and found that in every town there's a whole list of ordinances that cover everything from where they can drop off passengers to the safety of the horses. I took what seemed to fit Bluffton and I'm looking for people to give me feedback."

The proposed guidelines include picking up after the horses when they answer the call of nature, annual carriage safety inspections and vet examinations for the animals twice a year. McAllister said he drew from existing ordinances in cities such as Beaufort and Savannah, where such equine ventures already are an institution.

He gave Town Council a first draft of the ordinance Wednesday.

Town Council will give the measure a first reading at its Oct. 12 meeting. A second and final reading is required if it is to become law.

Kay Ulmer, whose husband's family has been in Bluffton for generations, said the couple came up with the idea after they inherited a pair of draft horses from their friend and former councilman, the late Thomas Heyward, who passed away in 2007.

Heyward's retirement dream had been to operate a horse-drawn carriage business in old town, she said. After his death, that dream became their own.

Kay Ulmer said she would be the primary driver and would start with two pairs of horses and two carriages. She would only use one carriage at a time.

She has bought another pair of draft horses, Black Percherons, which her family will bring home next weekend from St. Augustine, Fla., to complement Heyward's palomino-colored Belle and Buddy.

"I enjoy driving and I think it would be a great asset to the town," she said.

If the town approves the ordinance, Ulmer's original application can move forward once she provides necessary documentation such as insurance information, said assistant town manager for finance Shirley Freeman.

At the Sept. 14 meeting, Town Council members were receptive to the idea.

"I'm thinking if Charleston can do it and Savannah can do it, why can't we?" said Councilman Michael Raymond.