Anna Stöckler is 25 years old and works in a bank – nothing unusual so far. Her side job, however, is much more special: In her spare time, Anna sits on the coach box of a horse-drawn sleigh and shows guests around Lech. Five years ago, she started to help her father Josef who has been riding horse sleighs around Lech for more than 40 years. When you see father and daughter interact it is clear to see that the two have a special connection - and a lot of affection for each other. Sure enough, our interview with the two of them was very entertaining as well.
What does a typical day in the life of a coachman look like?
Josef: I get up at five, go to the stable to groom and feed the horses. Then I have breakfast and at 11 the latest I am out and ready to take passengers on a ride. And then that’s what I do until I’m done, that’s around nine or nine-thirty on most days.
Anna: I only do pre-booked tours. Waiting on the carriage rank does not work for me. No one ever wants to get in my sleigh there (laughs).
People don’t trust you?
Anna: Well, it does seem to make a difference who sits on the coach box, at least it did when I started out. I am the only girl and also young; I was 19 when I started.
...an age where you are allowed to drive a car.
Anna: Well, a car stops when you hit the brake. Horses don’t work that way. But I passed my coach driver’s exam already at 16, an age when people aren’t considered safe to drive a car in Austria.
Josef: And after all it’s more important to know how to drive a coach than how to drive a car.
Anna: Well, that’s debatable...
Even though you differ on this topic it is obvious that you have a very good relationship.
Josef: We’re doing a pretty good job, aren’t we?
Anna: At least when you’re listening to me!
Does he do that?
Anna: Not always of course, but often he does. It’s only natural that young people see things differently at times. And then we discuss things and maybe do something the way I want it and next time we try something else.
What is important when you are a coach driver? After all, you are responsible for your passengers’ safety.
Josef: Bitting and harnessing your horses correctly is the most important thing.
Anna: Every little detail is important from the start. The horse has to be trained well and must not be easily scared.
How to you train horses for this job?
Josef: You harness them and let them pull the sleigh without passengers to let them get used to it. It takes about a month until they get the hang of it. And then it is also very important to teach them when they have to stop. Our horses, for example, know exactly that they must not start walking when they have a blanket on their back. We train all our horses ourselves to make sure they learn it all correctly from the very beginning. It’s hard to break a habit once it’s established.
Anna: Also, we take a careful look at the horses before we consider training them for the job. We look at their personality, if you like, whether they are of the anxious type or not.
It seems like your horses are more than working tools for you.
Anna: Yes, absolutely. They are absolutely very important to us.
Josef: And it does make a difference. We have to call the vet a lot less than others.
Josef, when you started out as a coachman there were several others in Lech. Now it’s only you and one other business.
Josef: Well, most quit because there was not enough money in it or because they couldn’t find a successor.
Less competition for you...
Josef: Well, there’s enough to do. We won’t stop anytime soon. At least as long as I can get up on the coach box I will continue on this job. At home all I would do is get on my wife’s nerves.
Anna: Well, you could also take out the trash, do the hoovering or the dishes...
Josef: The dishes? I thought that’s why we have a dishwasher?
Sorry for interrupting your discussion of household chores but Anna, can you imagine taking over the family business one day?
Anna: Not really.
Josef: She’d have to have the right guy by her side, one who’s good with horses.
Anna: See? That’s exactly why I wouldn’t do it. As a woman you’ll always be second class in this business.
Josef: Well, let’s wait and see. We never know what we’ll be doing one day.
And who’s your main target group?
Josef: More or less anyone. Couples, grandparents, kids...
Anna: Don’t forget the proposals.
Josef: You’re right. There are at least ten of them every season. Guys love to propose on a sleigh ride.
Anna: Or they set up a scene with torches somewhere and we take them there to pop the question.
Is that what you’d like your proposal to look like one day?
Anna: No, not really. My future husband better propose to me by the sea.
Josef: By the sea? And then you drown?
Anna: Well, I know how to swim. A proposal up here in the mountains just wouldn’t be special for me. I see the mountains every day.
Talking of mountains, what do you like most about Lech?
Josef: The whole Arlberg region, it’s just so incredibly beautiful. And there’s this wonderful grass for our horses. I really can’t imagine many places more beautiful than this one.
Anna: Same here. I don’t even think about leaving!
March 21, 2017