Sleigh bells ring — are you listening? One-horse, open sleighs are ubiquitous this time of year. Music, Christmas cards, Currier and Ives prints and dishes are filled with the image. I have fond memories of riding in a one-horse, open sleigh, but I would guess that most of the people that I know do not.
I grew up in Butler County, Pennsylvania, which gets more snow than Pittsburgh but less than Meadville and points north. When we moved to our farm, we had a real sleigh which my father had used to decorate our lawn at Christmas. In no time at all, we were hitching our Saddlebred horses to the sleigh. That vehicle suffered a collision or two and was replaced by another.
When we were snowed in, my father took the horse and sleigh to our local country store. One winter, he drove a mile to the paved road to take my sister to the school bus, developing a tremendous trot on the horse he used.
I can remember a Sunday afternoon when we drove to a friend’s house and took her for a ride, five of us nestled together under blankets with our friend sitting on the floor. The shafts were short and the horse was full of hay, making our passenger fear what might land on her head.
By the time I was in eighth grade, I could hitch the horse or pony myself and off we went. There is nothing like it. The horse is moving forward silently while the sleigh glides across the snow. I suspect sleigh bells were used to prevent the mowing down of pedestrians, just as hybrid and electric vehicle will soon be required to have their own noisemaker. Even when the roads weren’t snow-covered I could take off across the fields. I can remember driving my mare through the drifts for a long time, until my brother scolded me for getting her hot. I had been oblivious to her plight and felt guilty for weeks. One Sunday, I took my mother for a ride, hitching a husky pony named Lollie. Mother had been cooped up in the house all week with my ill sister, and she very much enjoyed the outing.
In my romantic fantasies, my prince always arrived by sleigh and took me for a ride cuddled beside him. My real prince has never done that, although I have ridden in a cart with him. Best I remember, I was too busy hanging on to have any romantic thoughts.
Although we have had horses all of my life, there were few times when we lived in Kentucky or our current home in North Carolina when there was enough snow for another sleigh ride; that didn’t stop me from wishing for a sleigh.
So, if you’ve never been sleigh-riding, know that it is just as much fun as you might imagine, and almost mystical.
Photo by Fotolia/iofoto