Nancie Roahrig's interest in starting a horse carriage and wagon company may never have bloomed had her teen-age daughter's interest not turned from horses to boys.
"I've always had a love of horses, but I really didn't start thinking about them as a business until my teen-age daughter grew up and moved out," said Roahrig, co-owner with her husband Gregg of the Step Up Clydesdale Carriage and Wagon Co. "Then I had to have something to hang on to, to get my mind off things and be able to let go."
The business, run for the past year from the couple's home on 10 acres in West Marana, provides wagon, carriage, pony and cart rides for weddings, hay rides, birthdays and other special events, as well as presentations for schools, parades and retirement homes.
In the past year her horses have taken part in the Marana Founder's Day Parade, Marana Fourth of July celebration and the Marana Health Fair.
As a child, Roahrig had taken riding lessons under the watchful eye of her mom but pretty much had gotten away from horses while working first as a receptionist and then for the past 15 years as a certified nurse's assistant.
When her daughter grew up and moved out "it was so hard to let go, so I just got myself back into the horses," Roahrig said.
The business began about six years ago when the family was living on Tucson's southeast side after Roahrig began taking lessons driving carriages behind two draft horses from the owner of another carriage company and helping the owner of that business with her horses at weddings. Roahrig immediately fell in love with the draft horses.
"That's when I knew what I wanted to do, when I got behind those two large horses and found out how gentle and kind they were," she said.
The couple bought a carriage and surrey, which Gregg completely rebuilt, and a 2,000-pound Clydesdale horse named Lenny, found through contacts with the Clydesdale Breeders Association in California, to pull it and they were in business. Since then, they've added a small Shetland pony named Mosey, a Haflinger, or German-breed pony named Charlie and a black Arabian named Yah Yah to expand their services.
"I wanted horses and I felt I couldn't have them unless they worked and paid their own way," Roahrig said. "I don't know how anybody can afford to have horses without them paying their own feed bill."
Doing from 35 to 40 events a year, the annual gross income of the business is about $9,000, but after expenses only turns a profit of about $2,000, Roahrig said.
"It's more of a fun thing, a hobby," she said, adding that what she enjoys most about the business is sharing of information about her horses with people, watching how people react around them and how excited they get. It's what she calls horse-powered pet therapy and it shows up especially during the visits to retirement homes and the Tucson Medical Center clinics and pediatric ward.
Children with speech deficiencies talk to the horses as part of their therapy and patients with brain disorders or handicaps from birth are loaded on the horses as part of efforts to increase coordination and muscle strength.
The horses aren't allowed in the hospital, so the patients are brought out to them.
School presentations also provide an opportunity to educate children about respect, commitment and consistency, while letting them pretend they are cowboys or princesses, she said.
"It's more than the money," Roahrig said of the return she gets from all the work that goes into taking care of the animals and transporting them from event to event.
"When you enjoy something as much as I enjoy this, it's not work anymore," she said.