Crystal Newborn: A horse driver from a family of horse drivers

Crystal Newborn with Angel, one of the Clydesdale horses that take people through East Sacramento.

Crystal Newborn with Angel, one of the Clydesdale horses that take people through East Sacramento.


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Homes decorated with bright lights in the Fab 40s in East Sacramento attract many human onlookers every season—but the showy displays also draw in horses, and those horses draw carriages.

Crystal Newborn, 25, is one of the few holiday drivers who isn’t behind the wheel of an automobile. Instead, she and other carriage drivers lead tours down baubled blocks and sparkling streets.

Newborn’s family founded Top Hand Ranch in the 1970s, and since then, they’ve been providing Sacramento with some serious, literal horsepower. They use about 20 horses that are specially trained to share the pavement with cars. It’s a full-time job for Newborn, who’s also a full-time student at Sierra College.

Before taking to the Fab 40s, Newborn chatted with SN&R about her experiences with the family business, insider info on the world of horses and what it’s like driving a vehicle that has so many legs.

Where do the horses get their first road experience?

All these horses, you start them out in a team with a horse that’s more comfortable with this. When we do that, it builds their confidence, and once they build their confidence, it kind of settles them in.

If a horse extremely doesn’t like it, if it doesn’t fit for them, we just don’t do it. … We try to find them a job that is more suited to what they like to do and their needs. That’s why it does take so long to train them down here.

Is it the cars, mostly?

Honestly—the biggest thing they find kind of scary is the brew bikes. Just because it’s an odd vehicle. They see trucks, they see cars, that’s usual to them. They don’t see brew bikes; they’re like, “What is this thing?” Which, I mean, most people look at it and go, “What’s that?”

Do some of the horses like doing this?

Oh, they love it. They like having a job to do. They like having a purpose. These guys, especially the ones that work in the Christmas time out here, they like the people and all of that. It’s kind of easygoing for them. And after this, they get to go on vacation for a little bit and enjoy some time off.

What does a horse vacation look like?

Just time out in a pasture. Some of them actually don’t like it. The one on the far side here, he does not enjoy time off. He likes to work, to go and do stuff. I’m that same way, too. … Horses have the same kind of personality, just like dogs have a different personality for every one.

Do you drive a carriage?

I drive a wagon, so I drive two horses. … A horse can pull twice its weight on wheels.

And these are some heavy horses.

You’re looking at about, easily, 1,900 pounds or more. Each. And the wagons are made of wood, they’re pretty lightweight. All [the horses] have to do is get them rolling. If they go downhill, there’s brakes, so they don’t have to hold the wagon back with people in it. … You or I could easily pull a wagon.

How does it compare, stress-wise, driving a car to driving a carriage?

For the driver, there’s a lot more stress involved, because you have to be a lot more aware of your surroundings. Just like in a car, you watch for the person next to you, make sure they don’t hit you. Out here, you have to be twice as aware, give yourself way more space than you would in a car.

Do you think of the horses as employees?

No. No. These guys … I treat them better than I treat myself. Most people think we think of them as employees, but honestly, they’re like my family members. That one over there, we’ve had since she was born. … One of them, I trained him all myself, and he comes out here. I credit a lot of what I’ve learned to them. And yes, we make money with them, however, they get all of it. Because of what we do, they’re able to have things that a lot of horses wouldn’t have. They have acupuncturists and chiropractors—which you would never think of for a horse—and they have a dentist, they have a vet on-call, at all times, especially this time of year.

Is the future of this business an Uber-style horse app?

I don’t know about that. It’s kind of like an old-school Uber. At least, that’s what people tell me. Maybe. Who knows?

Are horses your favorite animal?

Horses and dogs.

Have you ever thought about dog sled racing?

No, but that looks so cool when people do it.


It is kinda along the same lines, I guess!

What are your goals?

I really want to just keep preserving history. The reason I love this company is because there’s so many people that come out here that have never touched a horse before, seen a horse before or anything like that. There’s really amazed by that.

So keeping that, and bringing in something that people in the city haven’t seen before. That’s important to me.

Have you ever consider doing anything else?

I’ve thought about it, and I just—I did trucking for a minute. … Hauling horses though! I had to have horses involved, somehow. I did that, and I traveled quite a bit. And I loved traveling and everything, but I found that I still had the horse bug, and I had to come back.