published Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Horse, buggy service downtown facing hard times

Name: Chattanooga Horse Trams

Location: The barn is located behind The Terminal on East 14th Street.

Products/services: With a presence at the Tennessee Aquarium and the Chattanooga Choo Choo, he gives tourists and locals alike a quiet and romantic way to get around town. He runs four horses, four carriages and six drivers Thursday through Sunday. One-way rides are available. Moving more slowly, giving a more scenic look at the town, and enjoying a quieter ride are all important parts of what make horse trams fun, according to owner Mark Neal.

Age: Mr. Neal has been providing a green form of transportation and entertainment since 1992.

  • photo
    Staff Photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press Junebug, a 14-year-old Belgian draft horse, pulls a carriage with driver Vickie LaRose and owner Mark Neal down Market Street on Sunday. Mark Neal is selling his 14th Street stable facilities near the Chattanooga Choo-Choo and relocating his horse-drawn carriage tour business to a more distant location.

Startup investment/annual sales: $250,000 to buy the business, annual sales are $100,000 to $165,000

Biggest hurdle: Trying to maintain a green business while Chattanooga’s local and tourist population is increasingly hanging onto its hard-earned dollars. He works a second job and is selling downtown stables. He is trying to expand his marketing by partnering with local businesses and reaching out to locals with gift certificates.

Challenges: Streamlining the business to remain profitable.

Lesson learned: Rising costs create a problem, and with the cost of food and other inputs going up, the challenge is to keep prices for customers reasonable, he said. The key is finding a way to ride out economic turbulence while keeping one’s customer base.

Five-year goal: Sell the barn and move the horses to the Chattanooga Choo Choo to keep overhead costs down.

about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

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fftspam said...

I wished Mr Neal would pick up all the horse, um, crap, that is all over the streets of downtown. Its not hard to miss or smell on a Monday... Chestnut and Broad Streets between 2nd and 5th. Horse pucks everywhere. His driver of Eagon told me that it was not his responsibility when his horse crapped on a City street. I beg to differ... check the city code. Is there an enforcement arm of the Taxi and Horse Commission? Where do I send my pictures?

July 13, 2010 at 1:31 a.m.
flyonapile said...

MARK NEAL doesn't tell the truth. This is another one of his money making pity schemes BESIDES the one he uses while he abuses these horses.
Just ask him to visit his facility located near the Choo Choo. Why can't you see where these horses are stabled? Why does he pick up and drop off at the Choo Choo and Aquarium? Why is the facility where he keeps his horses and dogs "all gated"? For safety purposes. NO! Absolutely not. Its because you would be disgusted to see the small confined, chained areas that these horses live in. And the small nasty kennels where his dogs are kept. His dalmations are also confined 24/7 to a kennel. They are given no "run time/free time". They come out of their cage to go straight to the carriage. They use to work a 10 to 12 hour day on Friday, Saturday and Sunday (when tourist season was at its highest) to go straight back into the pen.
They are dumped dry dog food into balls that are nasty and have ants and bugs and maggot infestation in them from not being cleaned. Oh, I have so much to tell. And some awesome (no really, they are extremely sad) pictures to share.. Just ask Mark Neal to visit his facility. Ask him why he has been in business all these years and not once has opened his facility for "public viewing". If you have any "horse knowledge" at all......check out Mark's horses when you see them. Check out their hooves? Are they cracked? Are they clean? Check out the horses teeth. Mark will tell you a horse is "oh, about 4 to 10 years old" when they are 20 years old.
Mark will tell you how these horses are given hourly breaks and rotated to "his farm in Apison". Really? Spend a few hours hanging out at the Choo Choo or Aquarium and "see for yourself". If business is good...these horses will trod the heated/hot streets of Chattanooga nonstop.
Watch the dogs. Watch the poor dogs. In the boiling, blazing heat all day? How many hours on that carriage seat? 8 to 10 hours with no breaks. No food and very little water. Some of these dogs have been beaten if they have an accident on the carriage so they have "learned" to hold it. Instead of enjoying your scenic ride and view of the beautiful City of Chattanooga.......pay close attention....Check out the horses and dogs for yourself.
And Mark, you want to deny all of this? You want me to see if the Free Press will "run the pictures" that I have of the horse stalls and dog pens? You want me to give names of past drivers and wives and ex-wives of your's? I've tried to involve PETA. I've tried to involve several Humane Societies. Now, I will get the public involved..... Mark, its all about money to you..You just proved it "again" with your "pity article".....What about the horses? What about the dogs? What about public viewing of the 14th street facility........? An unexpected visit when your gates aren't locked......

August 31, 2010 at 6:32 p.m.
flyonapile said...

P.S. Ask Mark Neal about his "past" horses. Are they finally enjoying some "down time" in the pasture or are they dead from being over worked and bad health?
He still has 2 horses, a white horse named Desi and a blonde Belgium named Sugar. These horses are at least 20 years old. (again, if you "know" horses - check em out - you can tell their age - from their teeth)....But ask him Sugar and Desi's age? Or ask one of his drivers, David...Well, then again...Maybe not. Its also nothing but a money maker to David. He will lie for Mark. He will lie about the horses.
On a good weekend......David probably pockets $300 to $500 for the weekend. As long as those horses are walking, walking, walking.....regardless of the heat or hot pavement.....its money in Mark and David's pockets.
Its nothing about "tourism" to them. Just money.......

September 1, 2010 at 8:24 a.m.
ellissmith said...

Flyonapile, If you have pictures, feel free to send them to esmith@timesfreepress.com. I find it curious that although there is a "contact" link at the top of this page for the newspaper, you chose to make unsubstantiated claims rather than give us the information so we could pursue it. Having visited Mr. Neal's stable, seen his horses and dog, and having ridden for over a decade, I found no truth to your claims. However, I would be more than happy to accept photographic evidence, if you have any. Otherwise, I would suggest that you take whatever beef you have directly to Mr. Neal rather than attempting to hurt his reputation through this venue. I eagerly await the proof of your claims.

October 8, 2010 at 10:02 a.m.
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