For Julie and Jack Kliever, it’s always been about horses. The couple met many years ago when Julie was boarding a horse at a farm in Kingston, New York, where Jack was working as a farm hand. “Horses were our mutual interest,” Julie recalls.
They began dating and eventually moved to Rhode Island, and this year marked 33 years of marriage. For the past 15 years, the couple has run New Deal Horse and Carriage, extending their love of horses to the greater Rhode Island community.
This fall, the Klievers will offer intimate carriage rides around Wickford. In lieu of traditional hayrides, they will instead suit up in the their 19th-century coachman attire of boots, birches and top hats — plus matching masks — and hitch their two horses, Lenny and Eddie, to their Vis-à-vis, and take couples or small groups through the village.
“People are looking for something to do, and they can’t go far,” Julie said. “We’re just reinventing ourselves like everybody else.”
Soon after moving to Rhode Island, Julie recalled seeing an advertisement for weekend help with Clydesdales. Her horse in New York had died and she didn’t have the money to take on a new one, but missed being in the company of those majestic creatures. She saw that ad and thought: “sounds like something for me.”
Clydesdales are draft horses, which means they are meant to pull things, which makes them very different from the horse Julie had been boarding in New York, which was a thoroughbred riding horse. She was soon smitten. “Clydesdales are the best horses, they are amazing,” Julie says.
It wasn’t long before she and Jack had two draft horses of their own, not Clydesdales but Belgian horses, which are the most popular breed of draft horses in the country, and which are especially popular among Amish communities.
There was only one catch: “We didn’t know how to drive horses,” Julie says, “we only knew how to ride horses.” She and Jack took a weeklong trip to Ohio, where they received instruction and a “crash course” on horse driving from an Amish gentleman.
Back in Rhode Island, they soon met others with draft horses in the area, including the late Jim Timpson of North Kingstown, who would become a lifelong mentor and dear friend. “Jim’s the grandpapi of everyone in Rhode Island who’s ever had a draft horse,” says Julie. When they met, Timpson was offering hayrides, and Julie and Jack helped with these events, not knowing at the time that they would one day offer rides of their own.
“We learned everything from Jim,” Julie said, recalling how Timpson made himself a custom truck for transporting the horses more comfortably. “We now have a very fancy horse truck we designed using his model.”
The couple first learned how to drive their Belgian horses with a two-wheel buggy, and then a red hay wagon. In the late 1990s, they were living in Exeter when a neighbor asked if they could come over for a kid’s birthday party, and bring the hay wagon and horses for a few rides. “And that’s how it started,” Julie says. Soon, they were offering more and more rides.
A few years later, they bought a white carriage known as a Vis-à-vis, which is French for “face-to-face.” The style of carriage dates to the 1800s and has two seats so its occupants can sit facing one another. It seats four people comfortably. “It’s white and perfect for weddings,” Julie says, explaining that the acquisition of the Vis-à-vis launched her and Jack into the regional wedding circuit.
They’ve since become a popular fixture at Indian weddings, which are days-long events that celebrate many South Asian traditions, including a portion of the festivities when the groom rides a white horse, surrounded by his family, to meet his bride, and her family. In India, this journey could be a couple miles; in Rhode Island, it’s often from one part of a wedding venue to another, but still a vibrant and lively experience.
“One of our horses, Lenny, loves it,” Julie says, “he thinks it’s a party for him.”
Big weddings are one of the things Julie is missing this year, as many have been postponed because of Covid-19 and restrictions on large gatherings amid a global pandemic. She and Jack have brought Lenny and Eddie and the Vis-à-vis to a few small celebrations, and are very much looking forward to being back in the swing of things. Julie also works at the Providence College library, and Jack is a retired Newport police officer.
The couple currently lives in Wickford and boards their two horses at the old Hazard Farm off Boston Neck Road. Both horses are Percheron Geldings, a breed that originates in the Perch region of France in the 1500s, when they were often ridden by knights. While still farming horses, they are “more fancy looking than other draft horses,” Julie explains. She and Jack no longer have the Belgians they first acquired in Rhode Island.
“Ed is the boss,” she says of the pair, and “Lenny totally accepts that Eddie is the boss.”
After Timpson died, the Klievers took over offering hayrides in the area, including at the Festival of Lights event in Wickford, which Timpson started in the 80s. “We owe that to him,” Julie said. A few years ago, they started offering carriage rides for Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, which became popular and made them realize the allure of riding around Wickford in a carriage. They’ve since partnered with local historian Tim Cranston to offer guided hayrides that double as history tours.
In lieu of offering hayrides this season, which don’t feel safe amid a pandemic, the Klievers will be offering intimate carriage rides for 2-4 people through Wickford Village. Each trip will be thirty minutes, and costs a flat rate of $75. The first two dates in September were booked almost instantly, Julie said, and she and Jack plan to add more for October, November and December, offering rides for as long as the weather allows. Anyone interested in these rides, or learning more about upcoming offerings, should follow New Deal Horse and Carriage on Facebook, or visit its website: newdealcarriage.com.