Sleigh riding a lasting tradition in Grand County
When the sun is peeking over the mountain tops and snow coats the ground, the stables at Devil’s Thumb Ranch are full of the sounds of stomping hooves, jingling tack and excitement as two or three of the ranch’s Percherons prepare to pull a sleigh of awaiting guests.
Their first stop is the middle of a pasture filled with dozens of hungry horses who rush the sleigh in their efforts to get at the 750 pound bale of hay strapped to the back. As the horses feed, guests can warm their hands in the horses’ thick winter coats, rub velvety noses and hear about the daily ranch work.
“This sleigh deck is so low and you’ve got all this space that they’ll practically climb on the sleigh,” laughed Amber Wiley, stable supervisor at the ranch. “I love getting to visit the horses and especially the feeding at 9 in the morning you get to watch the herd run across pasture because they’re excited about breakfast and that’s where the energy comes in.”
At the end of the hour-long tour of the Devil’s Thumb property, the sleigh stops at a campfire and guests are offered hot drinks and s’mores.
Stable manager Nikki Morrow said the sleigh rides are one of the most popular activities the ranch offers. She thinks this is because it’s an interactive, family-friendly experience where guests get an intimate look at ranching.
“Think about being from the city and then you have like 10 horses surrounding the sleigh, it’s a very unique experience and it really makes it so much more interactive and memorable versus you’re just sitting on a sleigh enjoying the views,” Morrow said.
Devil’s Thumb is just one of many sleigh ride operations in Grand County and they each have something unique to offer.
At Sombrero Stables at the YMCA of the Rockies, stable manager Anya Diaf has five teams of sleigh horses, each with their own personalities.
The YMCA sits on 5,200 acres of land and Diaf said the location helps make their sleigh rides unique. Guests go on a 2.5 mile loop to experience the beauty of the land and get the chance at seeing wildlife.
“You get to see a little bit of everything, there’s animals everywhere and they’ll come right up to the sleighs,” she said. “I think it’s nice how isolated it is and how much more willing the animals are to come out.”
Since the YMCA is family-oriented, the ride also includes hot chocolate or cider, as well as marshmallows to roast. Families are encouraged to play in the snow during their stop before they reboard the sleigh.
“The horses actually like to eat the marshmallows so a lot of kids will go and feed them and give them that little sugar boost,” Diaf said. “While you’re stopped at that campfire you get to actually hang out with the horses, pet on them and take pictures.”
For Stacy Ludlow, co-owner of Dashing Through the Snow, her favorite part of the job is hearing the joy of the kids and families she takes out. Since sleigh rides aren’t something families get to do every day, Ludlow said they try to make it special.
“You know how many people come here for the snow and little kids who have never seen snow, their squeals just makes you smile, you just can’t help but smile because they’re having so much fun,” she said. “So many people say it was the highlight of their trip and it was so fun for our family that we could do this together.”
Dashing Through the Snow aims for an old-fashioned, rustic holiday feel, so Ludlow said they often put jingle bells on their Percheron and spotted draft horses to encourage the holiday spirit.
Plus, she said, there’s something magical about a sleigh ride in glistening snow while guests sing their favorite carols in the crisp, winter air. So magical, in fact, that guests return year after year for that experience.
“Last year, we had a couple that it was their 30th anniversary and they got engaged in our office 30 years ago,” she said. “So you know, it really is a special family activity.” e
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