Reindeer a Tourist Draw

Michigan farm hooks visitors with reindeer and sleigh rides.

| February 18, 2008

Reindeer mystique is only part of the magic found at Antler Ridge Farm, east of Traverse City, Michigan. Owners Dave and Sandy Hoxsie turn their century-old fruit orchard into a cold-weather tourist attraction, offering horse-drawn sleigh rides over the snowy hills and through dark cedar forests. Visiting the reindeer is a favorite part of the experience for children and grown-ups alike.

This year, the Hoxsies will offer sleigh rides as an attraction at the annual Cherry Capital Winter Wonderfest, February 15-18.

“Don’t worry,” says Dave Hoxsie, opening the gate to the reindeer pen and stepping inside. “They’re as tame as dogs.”

The four stocky animals certainly act gentle as they nose up against Hoxsie and snuffle at his pockets in search of treats. But it’s hard to ignore the impressive load of cutlery they carry on their heads, or to avoid thoughts of being snagged – quite accidentally, of course – on those complicated antlers.

“It’s all part of the fun,” says Dave Hoxsie, a fifth-generation fruit grower who’s been taking groups through his farm for 26 years. “It isn’t only the children who find them fascinating. I’ve had grown people tell me they’d never realized there were such animals – they thought it was just a legend.”

In good winters, when the snow is deep and thick, hundreds of visitors stop in at Antler Ridge Farm to ride the big 12-passenger sleigh out to a clearing in the forest where they roast marshmallows, drink hot cocoa and swap tales. The trip takes a bit less than an hour, thanks to Hoxsie’s team of huge draft horses – jet-black Percherons with muscles as thick as steel cables.

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