Sunday, April 5, 2009

Nothing Like Sleigh Rides

Yep, there's nothing like a hundred sleigh rides or so to get a team of horses in the groove. It just gives them a good routine. Jack and Julie performed beyond my expectations throughout an easier- and harder-than-usual season. Easier in terms of the location and organization, harder in terms of weather and conditions, and talk about breakdowns, wouldja!?

First ride of the year, on December 20th, with the down-through-the woods section of the trail not yet sufficiently widened, we went out on the power line (which was cleared, but bumpy, very wet, with some stumps and logs and rocks scattered about) even with eight inches of snow on top of a month of frost (should have been a foot of frozen ground there--it was everywhere else), with fifteen people from Bluefin Bay, to break the trail. You might be able to chalk this one up to lack of preparation. Maybe I should have gone out with the empty sled and tracked the trail down the day before, so that it could freeze down at night and all, but because of, and perhaps in spite of the fact that I didn't leave myself enough prep time, the first disaster of the season occurred.

The beginning of the season is always just as tentative and hard to schedule as the end. My usual rule, based on years of experience, is that I have to have 12 inches of snow accumulation to cushion the uneven ground on any unimproved woodland trail to permit the passage of horse and sleigh. On this day, we'd had a total of eight. The real busy season for sleigh rides here centers and is pretty much limited to the twelve days of Christmas. If you can't go out then, there'll only be a few riders (which are primarily daytime skiers here) later, when it's colder (and the snow is deeper maybe).

We rushed to get the sleigh ready with a tail-light wired on for visibility on the snowmobile trail I was borrowing, and all the other loose ends that needed tying up, with the help of Dale Jackson, the main(tenance) man at Cascade Lodge, who upon the horses' arrival, was with Michael O'Phelan, Cascade's Owner, nailing the sheathing on the barn (my heroes!) Sally from LTTA, the Lutsen Tofte Tourism Agency, the entity who booked my rides and paid me to do them, dropped off some lap blankets. I sent a new friend (that would be Grant who I had met the day before at North House) down to the restaurant to do the impossible task of walking up the hill with a five gallon Igloo cooler full of hot cocoa, I turned the sleigh around and drove up the steep hill, we loaded the folks on board, and off we went.

This story continues after I go feed the horses, maybe, or soon thereafter.

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