DALLAS — If you drive by Fair Park during the holiday season, there isn't much action going on—except in one particular stable.
This is where Cat Dowden brings 10 of her 16 horses for work.
"I'm focused on constant care," Dowden said. "Even if they're not working, they're still horses."
These aren't just Dowden's companions; these animals are her employees. The Texas native is the owner of Four Winds Carriage, a horse-carriage riding company.
"It's exhausting, but it's a good exhausting," Dowden said.
Dowden's horses live with her in Celina, Texas, which is about 30 minutes north of Frisco. She owns multiple barns and 30 acres in total.
Dowden said the busiest time for business is easily in the winter when people are wanting to look at holiday lights. This is why she rents out a stable to keep them in when they are so frequently working in the Dallas area.
Each horse has a specific work schedule, partnered with different drivers each day. Her animals also have weekends, just like her human employees.
"We just rotate them in and out," Dowden said. "It's a no brainer. We want them to enjoy what they're doing."
While staying at Fair Park, each horse has his or her own stall that includes multiple toys to lick, bite or nudge along with mineral blocks to help with their digestive systems.
Beyond staying happy, the horses have to stay at the right size.
"Every single day, they get a weight check," Dowden said. "We put it in a log book and keep measuring every single day. We don't want them to drop too much weight with how much exercise they're getting."
Many of the neighborhoods the horses work in have hard pavement, which can be difficult if they don't have the right horseshoes on. That's why Dowden brought in Andy McConnell to create and forge handmaid shoes for each animal rather than buying pre-made shoes.
"You want to make the horse comfortable and go well," McConnell said. "We're riding these horses on hard ground, so they need protection."
Each horse gets his or her hair washed, brushed and braided regularly. It's not just about care for Dowden. It's about comfort, too.
Victoria Hostetler is one of Dowden's employees usually found with a brush in her hand.
"Keeping them brushed is really important," Hostetler said. "It is almost like a massage for them. They love it."
Hostetler is also a driver, as she said it's important to constantly check in on her horses when driving. It's a part of the job Dowden believes has to happen.
"A lot of time, when their ears aren't as perky and their eyes aren't as twinkly or they just seem more relaxed and calm and you know that's not normal for them, they're getting tired," Dowden said. "We have backup horses ready to step in if necessary."
Dowden's horses are separated into three categories: Young guns, middle age and seniors. While the younger horses usually have the energy to work back-to-back nights, her older animals will get more breaks.
Once the holiday season ends, Dowden get her horses back in a trailer and back home.
"I knew early on I just wanted to be around horses for the rest of my life and that's all I cared about," Dowden said. "I love it."