New Orleans Carriage Company Rebuilds

The horses and mules rescued last September from the flooded stables of Charbonnet Mid-City Carriages helped usher in Valentine's Day in Baton Rouge and Mardi Gras in New Orleans to the delight of many residents in Katrina- and Rita-stricken Louisiana. Business is much slower for the company than it was before Hurricane Katrina, and the stables aren't what they used to be, but a series of little successes have kept the Mid-City family hopeful.


Darnell Stewart and Brandy participated in the Mardi Gras Zulu parade in New Orleans.

Horse people around the world were captivated by harrowing rescue of the horses and mules from floodwaters in New Orleans, La., last fall. The Horse received hundreds of e-mails from concerned readers who wanted to know how they could help. (Click here to read "Saving the New Orleans Carriage Horses.")

Bonnie Clark, president of the Louisiana Equine Council, managed the equine staging area at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales after the hurricanes, and she says that Louis Charbonnet, owner of Mid-City, his family, and Mid-City's employees are like family to her after the ordeal. Charbonnet has kept her updated on the happenings. Darnell Stewart, who was shown on the November 2005 cover navigating floodwaters on his Paint stallion Brandy is living in temporary housing at the stables. Robby Murphy (pictured in the November 2005 issue holding a rescued parrot) left his former career and has begun working for Mid-City, both as a driver and helping with maintenance of the carriages.

Clark explained, "I got a call on Valentine's Day, saying that a downtown development group in Baton Rouge had made a contract with Louis to bring up the carriages. Louis, Darnell, and the horses Bear, Gorilla, and Fidel (all who were rescued and stayed at Lamar-Dixon) and some of the mules were all there, and I got to take the inaugural romantic carriage ride around downtown Baton Rouge."

A few weeks later, Clark was invited to the Mardi Gras Zulu parade, where Stewart and Murphy rode. She waved and jumped to get Stewart's attention near the end of the parade route. "He stopped Brandy, stopped the whole parade, and reached down and gave me a golden coconut--the highest prize someone can give you at that parade," she said. "It was so sweet. He was just beaming. He and Brandy were back doing their deal, and it was neat seeing him so happy."

Stewart said he felt it was important to participate in the Mardi Gras parade to show that things are slowly inching back toward normal. "I just wanted to be out there," he said. "I've been riding for the last 22 years, and I won't miss this one. So we got some guys together, went to talk to the president of the Zulu club, cleaned up the horses and tack, and came Tuesday (Feb. 28) morning and rode and looked the best we can look."

Stewart is optimistic about business. "It's been up and down," he said. "One week we'll have a wedding or two, the next week nothing, but it's coming back. People are calling now about weddings and parades. We've had two parades this year. We still don't have all our animals." (Some of Mid-City's animals are still in Tennessee, where they were taken for evacuation last fall.)

"We don't have the pens like we used to," Stewart added. "They're all busted up and stuff down here. We're using the little stall room we have."

Last week, Charbonnet was attempting to purchase a barn north of Gonzales as a base for special events, carriage rides, and to be used as a boarding stable. Stewart said Charbonnet is keeping in mind the advantages of having a place farther north, should another hurricane hit. "We're only three months away from the storm season again," Stewart said with concern.

But right now, Stewart is focusing on the show and parade season. He and Brandy won ribbons in six out of seven events at a recent horse show; barrel racing and pole bending are the pair's favorite events. The St. Patrick's Day and Easter parades are coming up, and Brandy remains popular with the crowd. "Aww, they love him to death," said Stewart. "A lot of people have seen him and said, ‘That's the horse we've seen in the book!'

He laughs on recollection of Clark's golden coconut, an honor he says she deserves for all of her hard work and help. "That's the biggest treat they give in the Zulu parade," he said. "People come from miles and miles just to get that coconut."

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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