Horse-drawn sleigh rides are a classic form of winter entertainment all over the world. In modern America, the “one horse open sleigh” from the song “Jingle Bells” is the closest we tend to get to a real sleigh ride.
The Stateline Draft Horse Club based out of Chautauqua County, NY, takes special care to slow the passing of time and keep the classic sleigh riding tradition alive.
In the 19th century, when horse-drawn carriages were a necessary method of transportation, horsemen would simply exchange their carriage wheels for sleigh runners when snow began to fall.
Our ancestors had quite a bit of fun when the runners came out for the winter. James Pierport’s famous “Jingle Bells” captures a scene of sleighs racing through 1850s New England (although Savannah, GA also claims the song’s origin).
Sleigh racing used to be a big deal, and a staple of winter entertainment – townsfolk would gather for organized races, horsemen would spontaneously take off like a modern-day drag race (to the excitement of onlookers), and local newspapers would print the latest racing reports.
With the advent of motor vehicles, sleigh rides evolved into a quaint, leisurely pastime, and sleigh racing fell by the wayside. However, there are still places throughout the U.S. that organize sleigh races and other winter equine competitions.
The Stateline Draft Horse Club doesn’t do sleigh races, but they’ll be happy to carry you and your family on a tour through the historic grounds of Chautauqua Institution. If no snow is on the ground, they exchange the sleigh runners for wheels and keep the carriages running.
The Chautauqua horsemen drive traditional bobsleds, which are pulled by two powerful draft horses. The horses are carefully monitored and rested after each tour.
Sleigh rides last approximately 45 minutes, with a sleigh departing every half hour. Rides are offered from 1-3:00 pm every Saturday and Sunday, until the end of February.
Oh, and one more thing: make sure to bundle up!