How to Dash Through the Snow in a One-Horse Open Sleigh

Sometimes, you’ve just got to put the car in the garage. Making the holiday season memorable can occasionally lead to some movie-worthy goof-ups, but every so often, a good idea will rise to the top and make you look like the family hero you were meant to be. While a one-horse open sleigh may not be the best contrivance for bringing home groceries,there are few more romantic gestures that are guaranteed to win you quite so many brownie points this year.

While they may be quaint by today’s four-wheel drive standards, a horse-drawn sleigh at the beginning of the automotive age was a standard conveyance for well-to-do families. They were used both for transportation and for leisure, and with a strong horse, could even be raced. Today, you will find that sleighing on city streets is unwise and in some cases illegal, but some horse enthusiasts offer lessons in sleighing at their farms, lessons included.

Driving the sleigh is a bit different than driving a car, so you have to get yourself out of the enclosed-vehicle mindset. For one, backing up for a turn can be prodigiously difficult, depending on how anxious the horse might be with your lack of experience. The second, obvious difference, is that the sleigh’s exhaust might be a bit more difficult to contend with, particularly if you aren’t familiar with horses. The controls consist of reigns, which you are likely vaguely familiar with, but as to how they are used, you can’t just slap the horse’s back and expect to go. In fact, most horses who are accustomed to drawing a sleigh or a cart require a verbal command that might range from “go” to “get along little doggie.” The owner of the horse will instruct you in how to urge the horse forward, and how to indicate to the horse that you want to stop. Usually, that magic word is simply “Woah.”

When holding the reigns, it’s important to hold them with some strength, not allowing the horse too much rope. A good indicator is when the reigns are loose, but are tight enough that they don’t hang behind the horse’s back or flanks by more than a few inches. You will hold the reigns in both hands with the leather looped under your pinkie finger, up through your fist, and then draped over your thumb on each hand. These reigns are connected to a bit that is held in the horse’s mouth. Most horses respond to increasing levels of tension on either side. For instance, if you draw the reign in your right hand back gently, the horse will respond by gently pulling to the right. Likewise to the left.

To gain speed, gently flick the reins and use the command that the horse owner tells you to use. In general, you’ll want to go no faster than a trot, particularly if you aren’t experienced with horses. This is a very smooth gait for the horse, and allows him to move at approximately 5-7 miles per hour. This is also likely to keep the horse’s owner from getting too nervous. In this gait, you’ll notice that the horse lifts his diagonal legs at the same time. This allows him to remain level. As with anything, though, make sure you learn to walk before you start to trot.

Give yourself plenty of room to either side of the sleigh, and make sure that you try to stay in open areas as much as possible. If the place where you’ve gone to sleigh has designated trails, stay on these trails at all times.

When you want the horse to slow, apply gentle pulling pressure to the reigns. This will bring him to a slow stop if you continue the pressure. Keep in mind that pulling too hard can hurt the horse, so use gentle pressure until you’ve gotten the result you desire. When you’re ready to take on a passenger, get the all-clear from the horse owner and take that special someone out for a winter drive they’ll never forget!

EquitrekkingTV: Driving a Horse Drawn Sleigh:

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