While I will always be a huge fan of the parks, there are times that even I need a break from the crowds and the noise (the 5th of July and January 2 come to mind). There are several places on property that I’ve found that get me back to zen, and I thought I’d share one of my favorites. Just past Pioneer Hall (that place where they do the Hoop De Doo Musical Revue) at Fort Wilderness (not the Wilderness Lodge) there’s a series of barns and paddocks that make up the Tri-Circle-D Ranch. The ranch is home to the horses of Walt Disney World including the Main Street Trolley horses, all the horses that pull the various carriages and wagons around property, and even the Cinderella Carriage ponies. And, in a happy turn of events, you can visit these gorgeous animals free of charge daily from 8 a.m. to around dusk. The ranch officially closes at 3:30 p.m., but there are often ranch hands in the open barns until well after that caring for the animals.
There are a couple of ways to get to the ranch, my favorite being to walk the trail from Wilderness Lodge. My good friend Krissy Murphy wrote a blog post about this particular trail here and if you have the time to take this trail for a great walk or run, I recommend it. You can also park at Fort Wilderness and take a bus from the stop near the parking lot to the Pioneer Hall stop. The bus routes can be a little confusing around those parts, so just ask a bus driver if you’re not sure where you’re going to end up. Or, if you’re up for a water adventure, take a boat to Fort Wilderness from Magic Kingdom, Wilderness Lodge, or the Contemporary. If you find yourself hungry when you get there, Trail’s End has a really fantastic “camp food” buffet for a reasonable price.
Once you get to Pioneer Hall, take the path around the building (you’ll see and hear the ranch) and stop by the paddocks to say hello to the Shetland ponies, famous for pulling Cinderella’s Carriage. They are often out in the paddocks romping around. Just a quick etiquette note – there are signs posted all around the ranch asking you not to pet the horses. While it is incredibly tempting (those ponies stick their noses right out there!), it’s best to wait for a ranch hand to give you permission. Too much petting can overwhelm the horses and occasionally fingers look just like carrots.
If you can make it past the ponies, head toward the barn. Upon entering, you’ll find to your right a small room full of Disney memorabilia with pictures of Walt Disney and the Disney horses as well as a fantastic set of tack including a stunning show saddle. Across the barn from the room is a scale model of the Dragon Calliope, the horse-drawn musical instrument that Walt Disney purchased for the Mickey Mouse Club Circus Parade at Disneyland Park in the 1950s.
I love to see all of the photos and often spend a while reading, but my most favorite thing at the Tri-Circle-D is visiting the horses. The ranch houses between 80 and 90 horses at any given time and employs around 30 Cast Members specially trained to work in the AZA accredited Animal Programs department, the same department that oversees care for the animals at Animal Kingdom and The Seas. Cast Members are happy to share the horse’s stories with you like that of Jacob, the rare black Clydesdale who plays Merida’s horse Angus in Magic Kingdom events.
If you have a moment next time you’re on property, stop by to say hello to the residents of the Tri-Circle-D. It’s a really neat experience for kids, who may not have a chance to be this close to such gorgeous animals otherwise. The Ranch also offers trail rides, carriage rides, and wagon rides, with more information here. And if you can’t get enough of the Disney horses, don’t worry – a couple of years pulling trolleys can get a little boring for a horse, so Disney adopts their animals out. The adoption process is long and intense, but who wouldn’t want to own a Disney horse?