Dashing Through the Snow... (in a draft horse open sleigh)
Horse-Drawn Sleigh Riding in New Hampshire
By Lorie King Rogers

In Keene, New Hampshire, life moves at a manageable pace and there are still
traditional, time-tested activities to enrich childhood ... and adulthood.

One such activity is the
sleigh ride offered at Stonewall Farm.  

Stonewall Farm is Keene’s premier working and teaching farm that has
something fun, interesting and educational to offer the community all year long.

When I discovered that Stonewall Farm offered
winter sleigh rides, I booked an
outing for a group of our friends and their children. What could be a more
quaint, more quintessential way to spend a winter New England afternoon than
being down on the farm with kin folk? And what could be a better way to
strengthen the bonds of friendship than with a multi-generational recreational
activity?

Truth be told, I wanted to recapture the true essence of the holiday season,
establish new old traditions for my family, and enjoy winter in all its snowy
glory.

So, with unanimous enthusiasm on a brisk, sunny December afternoon, we
bundled up our broods and ventured off in a caravan of minivans to the farm.
(Actually, Stonewall Farm is located very close to the heart of Downtown Keene,
so it was a brief venture.)

Just beyond the old stone arch bridge and the huge white farm house, we turned
left at the bovine welcome sign and drove along the farm’s entryway. It was a
short ride over the brook and around the bend, but there was plenty of time for
our excitement to build.  

At the clearing, we were greeted by a classic Currier and Ives scene; weathered
wooden shingles of the impressive barn and silo stood out against the snowy
white landscape, smoke billowed from the fieldstone chimney, and the smell
of burning wood filled the crisp winter air.

Right in the middle of it all was our two-horse open sleigh and two magnificent
creatures -- handsome 1,700-pound draft horses that have developed an
excellent working relationship and a reputation for being as sweet as they are
strong.

As we watched our teamster check the equipment and give his team a final
safety inspection, young and old marveled at the idea that these animals were
strong enough to haul six adults and eight children on a 45-minute ride over hill
and dale through the woods.

It was finally time to load our precious cargo. The dads hoisted the kids into the
hay-lined sleigh, and the little ones scrambled to stake out their territory and
settle in for the winter’s ride. Once we were seated and tucked in under our
warm woolen blankets, our teamster climbed up into his seat and with a gentle
movement of the reigns signaled the draft horses onward.

With a snort and slight jerk, the team stepped forward in tandem and we were
on our way. Snow crunched under the runners and the sleigh bells jingled in
time with the rhythm of the hoof beats. At that moment it was hard to tell who
was more excited -- the children about to go forward into a winter wonderland
or the parents about to go back into childhood memories.

Just a few yards into trail, I was amazed at the solitude and the peace of the
woods.

I could see this feeling mirrored in the faces of our children as they looked wide-
eyed at the surrounding beauty. It was as if we’d entered our own special world,
a world without stress and without holiday hassles. This simple, old-fashioned
sleigh ride was providing an opportunity to experience so much -- to view
nature up close and personal, to make world slow down, to feel connected with
friends and family in a special environment, to create fond memories, and to
experience an activity from days gone by.

As we rode deeper into the woods, I was overcome with a tremendous sense of
satisfaction.  It’s the special feeling I get when I know beyond a shadow of a
doubt I’ve done the right thing.  

This sleigh ride, as simple as it seemed on the surface, was absolutely the right
thing at the right time.
 

I also found myself fascinated with the notion that we were so swept away with
this novel mode of transportation, almost forgetting that “over the river and
through the woods” was actually how families used to travel to Grandma’s
house. It was a humbling and refreshing perspective check -- something
holidays should do for us all.

My quiet contemplation was broken as the group burst into song. As predictable
as every group before and after us, we belted out a rousing rendition of (what
else!) "Jingle Bells." From there it was Old MacDonald, then back to holiday
tunes including the Little Drummer Boy and Silent Night. With our shrill choir,
it was anything but a silent night, but we sang until we were hoarse, stopping
only when we stumbled over the verses in Twelve Days of Christmas.  

We sang and snuggled under cozy blankets for nearly an hour. The draft horses
never missed a hoof beat, pulling us effortlessly over the snow packed trails that
wound through the woods, up hills, over bridges, and inevitably back to the
barn.

While we were enjoying our magical ride, the Stonewall Farm staff was busy
tending a roaring and preparing a warming treat of hot cocoa, cider, and
marshmallows. We capped off our day by toasting each other with steaming
cups of cocoa and roasting our marshmallows.

I may never remember if it were it nine lords a leapin’ and 10 ladies dancing, but
I always remember that it was 14 of my friends and family in a poignant scene
that transcended the present and captured a snapshot in time.

Need-to-Know  Before Dashing Through the Snow
If dashing through the snow at Stonewall Farm sounds like fun for you and
yours, make your reservation early! The secret of this popular pastime is out
and people from all over the area are making the trip to Keene for a sleigh ride
with the farm’s newest draft team, Prince and Magic. Before you book, here are a
few things you should know:

The 45-minute sleigh ride (or wagon ride, depending on snow cover) will take
you through the trails and fields of Stonewall Farm. Then it’s back to the
Learning Center where your can warm yourself by a roaring fire, and defrost
with a piping hot cup of cocoa, nibble on some snacks and roast marshmallows
at the campfire outside.

The sleigh can comfortably accommodate 12 adults. For more information visit
Stonewall Farm.

About the author: Lorie Rogers has been a writer and communications consultant for
longer than she cares to admit.  Suffice it to say, her (20+) years of experience have made
her wise and well-versed in a number of areas.  She has worked for large corporations, non-
profits, newspapers, magazines, radio, and more.
Sleigh Rides with Draft Horses at Stonewall Farm, New Hampshire
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