Saturday, January 4, 2014

Day 237 - Riding in a Horse Drawn Sleigh


I have never ridden in a horse drawn sleigh. Considering the classic, almost revered status of the activity in our depictions of winter and Christmas, the activity has been something I have wondered about since I was a child. I remember seeing decorations, cards, and advertising containing horse drawn sleighs and imagining what it must be like to glide across the snow under the power of a massive horse. Despite the fact I have had no firsthand experience with horse drawn sleighs, to this day images of the vehicles plowing across winter landscapes leave me nostalgic for my childhood winters. It seems odd, but the sense of wonderment that came with the idea a horse drawn sleigh in my youth was powerful enough to evoke such a response. That stated, the cherished winter mode of transportation of an era long since passed wasn’t easy to come by at any point during my life. In fact, I can’t recall a time I saw a horse drawn sleigh in person at any point in my first 30 years. Consequently, I figured riding in a sleigh would be an experience I likely wouldn’t encounter during my life. It was disappointing, but I knew unless the rare chance to ride in a horse drawn sleigh came my way I wasn’t likely to know what it would feel like to have such an experience.

Of course, that mentality proceeded my “I have never...” year, which has inspired me to seek out ways to make good on some of my lifelong dreams, regardless of their rarity. When it came to the experience of riding in a horse drawn sleigh, I knew I would have to do plenty of research, and I would likely have to travel to make the experience happen; however, I was fully prepared to do both of those things. In turn, I started researching horse drawn sleigh rides several months ago in hopes I could find a location to visit during the winter. At first, this effort led to plenty of dead ends by way of closed businesses, outdated web pages, and inaccurate claims on internet forums, but those findings did little to affect my commitment to making the experience happen. As a result, I continued digging until I eventually came across a website making mention of horse drawn sleigh rides at Paradise Ranch in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. A quick call to the location confirmed they offered the service, which caused me to act quickly to find a date that worked for the event and make a reservation. It took a little legwork, but I was finally going to make good on experiencing an event that I had longed to obtain since I was a child.


With the sleigh ride scheduled for this evening, Rachael and I bundled up and traveled east as the sun slowly dissipated behind us. A lucky one-day break in the record break cold that has gripped our part of the nation lately made me grateful the experience wouldn’t be spoiled by a real risk of frostbite. As a result, it was easy for me to get excited about the experience as we approached Paradise Ranch. Having made prior plans to meet Rachael’s father, Al, and his fiancĂ©e, Paula, for the ride, Rachael and I were quick to make out way to the main grounds of the ranch when we arrived. Cast in an array of colors streaming from lights strung between the trees and buildings, our first sight of the ranch stopped us in our tracks. To our left an aged, but very well maintained stone barn stood cloaked in warm yellow and blue light. From it, a path led to a small cabin surrounded by trees wreathed in multi-colored bulbs. On the far side of the plot, a massive stone fire pit flickered and glowed from the flames it contained. The sight was like something off of a postcard. It was simple, but it was undeniably beautiful.

The stone barn

YES.
After checking in for our scheduled ride, we made our way into the stone barn, where a comfortable, livable space containing tables, chairs, and festive decorations greeted us. We warmed ourselves until Al and Paula arrived, which spurred us to move to the far side of the barn structures where the horse drawn sleigh was waiting for us to board. Although I was eager to get the experience underway, I took a few minutes to take in the sight of the two mighty black horses standing proud before a raw wooden sleigh resting on four runners atop the snow. I had yet to board the sleigh, and I was already taken by its beauty against the backdrop of the hibernating forest and the twilight sky.

The horses
After several moments I forced myself into action and walked to the back of the sleigh to take my seat inside. Climbing into the sturdy wooden vessel, I nestled myself between Rachael and another rider and prepared for the ride to begin. With a lift from the drivers, the reigns climbed into the air and gently fell on the backs of the horses at the front of the sleigh. In response, the horse began a slow and steady acceleration to a trot, causing the sleigh to free itself from the snow and begin coasting along the trail. As we rounded a corner and drove into the quiet woods surrounding the property, I smiled to myself. The sounds of jingle bells beat with each step of the horses, only accompanied by the wispy sound of the sleigh runners dragging across the snow. The sleigh ride was everything I had imagined it would be, and it couldn’t have occurred on a more perfect winter night.

Ready to ride

On the trail

Our ride continued through trails that wound through pine and maple forests lit with strings of colored lights running along each trail. AS we moved deeper into the forests I leaned my body back and turned my head toward the front of the sleigh. I watched as the horses pressed into the snow with a consistent rhythm over the uneven terrain. The sight was impressive, and under the blues, reds, and greens of the overhead lights it was remarkably beautiful. With the exception of some conversation between our fellow riders, the movement of the horses and the sleigh were the only sounds that accompanied our ride. It was silent and peaceful in those moments where the group took breaks between conversations, which is exactly what I was hoping to encounter during today’s “I have never...” experience.

The fire pit

The sleigh carried us through the woods for the better part of 30 minutes before we wound our way back to the ranch and came to a gradual stop. Although the time on the sleigh was ample, I was a bit disappointed it couldn’t last longer given the relaxing feeling that came with the ride during those periods it was just us, the horses, and the scenery. While plenty of our group was ready to disembark when we returned, I would have been happy to continue a trek through the woods with Rachael at my side. In fact, I could have spent time in that sleigh well into the night if the opportunity presented itself. However, that wasn’t the case, and I knew I needed to bring my first experience riding a horse drawn sleigh to a close. As a result, I reluctantly found my way to the rear of the sleigh and climbed back down to the snowy ground below.

After taking a little time to pay the horses some respect and warm up in the nearby stone barn, Rachael and I parted ways with Al and Paula and began our trip home. Although my first experience riding in a horse drawn sleigh was everything I hoped it would be, it felt all too brief as I looked back on the experience. That tells me today’s event was one that was worth having, and that it is likely an experience I will have to revisit in the future. If it gives me an excuse to get out of the house and enjoy the beauty of nature on a winter day, I don’t see why I wouldn’t do just that; even if it means a trek half way across the state to have the experience.

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