Want to take a real horse-drawn sleigh ride? Here’s how

When people consider a sleigh ride, they think about horses charging through pristine white, metal r
Chris Boggia, owner and cowboy at Circle B Ranch, with Buckshot and Blackjack bring the Stempel family on a sleigh ride through the Adirondack woods in Chestertown on January 10, 2015.
Chris Boggia, owner and cowboy at Circle B Ranch, with Buckshot and Blackjack bring the Stempel family on a sleigh ride through the Adirondack woods in Chestertown on January 10, 2015.

Christopher Boggia had fresh snow at his Adirondack ranch last weekend.

That was good for business. When people consider a sleigh ride, they think about horses charging through pristine white, metal runners marking smooth trails through the woods. Snowflakes swirling in a light wind add to the atmosphere.

“It’s romantic, nostalgic. It’s fun, it’s exhilarating, it’s historical,” said Boggia, 64, who’s been on horseback since he was a kid, ever since his father moved his family from Queens to Chestertown in 1953. As owner of the Circle B Ranch in this small Warren County town, he is kept busy with sleigh rides during the cold weather months.

Rides through the snow can be hard to find in the Capital Region and North Country. The Circle B, open all year for riding lessons and during the summer for assorted horse rides, requires reservations for its three sleighs and weekend and holiday runs.

Lake Placid Sleigh Rides run in the far north; Hudson Falls-based A Time to Remember offers carriage and sleigh rides through Saratoga Spa State Park. Because the park roads are used, the sleigh is on wheels.

Last Saturday, Boggia worked under sunny skies and in 15-degree temperatures. People visiting Friends Lake Inn in Chestertown and the Sagamore Hotel in Bolton Landing found the Circle B for 45-minute rides through groves of pine trees and open fields.

Boggia loves the connection to the past. He said horses, carriages and sleighs were the ways people traveled during America’s early days. The horse days lasted into the 1930s, he said, when some people began trading in four hooves for four wheels. Even so, he said, cars were not always reliable. Horses generally did not break down on the road.

Every winter, people are reminded about their ancestors’ mode of transportation.

“This is my theory,” Boggia said. “If you think about it, I would say at least 50 percent of Christmas cards have sleigh rides pictured on them. I hear, ‘I’ve always wanted to do this’ and ‘This is on my bucket list.’ And at Christmas time, it seems everybody wants to take a sleigh ride.”

New Year’s, too. During the past 10 years, 26 couples have become engaged during sleigh rides; a smaller number on horseback.

Buckshot and Blackjack, two 1,900-pound Percherons — a breed of horse known for both strength and intelligence — were on duty last Saturday. Boggia warmed up the bridles and attached the harnesses, which included the requisite jingle bells. By the time Anne Marie Stempel and her family arrived, he was almost ready to start the adventure.

The Stempels, from Feeding Hills, part of Agawam, Massachusetts, were in Bolton Landing for a weekend getaway. They thought it was too cold for skiing or snowmobile runs; a sleigh ride seemed like the best way to experience the season and not freeze to death in the process.

“It’s just something different; we’ve never done it before,” Anne Marie said.

“And it’s a nice chance to spend time outside and do something you don’t get to do very often,” added husband and father Dennis Stempel.

“I hope it’s warmer than skiing,” said Katie Stempel, 20.

“I just hope they have some blankets,” added sister Jen, 17.

Blankets, plus hot chocolate or hot cider after the ride, are part of the deal. Shortly after 1 p.m., the Stempels were bundled inside the 12-person capacity, red-stained box sled. Ice delayed the trip for a few minutes, as layers of thick frost under one of the folding side benches prevented it from coming all the way down.

“I’ve developed such a hatred for ice that I won’t have ice in my drinks in the summertime,” Boggia said, as he chipped away chunks with a hammer.

The Percherons waited silently for the reins and the melodic commands to move out. Two minutes later, the horses took slow, steady steps out of the ranch yard and pulled the sleigh through the snow. The travelers passed a fenced-in stockyard and two tan-colored horses, who seemed curious about the event.

Like Boggia, Tina Purdy is busy around the Christmas holidays. Her business, A Time to Remember, is also built around Percherons, and she gets plenty of requests for private parties and weddings.

“I think it goes back to the old times, something families used to like to do back in the day,” she said. “I think it’s hard to find that these days.”

She loves the romance angle, too. “Valentine’s Day is on a Saturday this year, and that will be big,” she said.

Purdy hopes to secure access to a field for next year’s rides. Even if she had had the location for this season, she said it might not have helped for the Christmas trade. There just wasn’t enough snow.

“When it’s snowing out, that’s when my phone rings,” she said. “People are thinking, ‘Oh, snow! What can I do when it’s snowing out? How about a sleigh ride?’ ”

She offers group and couples rides and, like other sleigh drivers, provides blankets for the trip. And people don’t seem to mind having wheels on the sleigh — as long as horses are making them roll.

Group rates are $25 per adult and $10 for kids for the 30-minute ride. Couple are charged $175 for the more intimate, 45-minute sessions.

And while Purdy is running a small business, she likes the idea of promoting horse appreciation.

“There is nothing like the look on a child’s face when they approach the horses to touch them,” she said.

“Whether it’s in amazement of their size or because it may be their first time to see one up close. It’s also a great feeling to being part of a special event, such as a engagement proposal, wedding or anniversary.”

In Chestertown, the Stempels returned to the ranch office and barns at 2 p.m. “Awesome,” Anne Marie said. “It wasn’t that cold either, and when we stopped, it was really pretty.”

During a shorter ride a few minutes later, Boggia showed off his trails and trees. “I have 12 inches on the trail, 10 inches of packed snow and two inches of powder on top,” he said.

Except for the jingling bells, the trips can be quiet. In spots, the riders can hear the wind whistling through the trees.

Scenery is another selling point on 37 acres. People can stop to photograph some of the lower Adirondack peaks, although winter clouds can obscure the scene. Most of the open spaces have untouched snow, broken here and there by tracks from mountain residents.

The horses behaved during the brief stop, although Buckshot seemed anxious to keep walking.

“Buckshot isn’t patient,” Boggia said. “But it is their first work in 10 days. Blackjack is way more quiet, that’s his nature.”

Circle B sleigh rides cost $99 for couples during the day. The price jumps to $149 for evening runs, and if groups are involved, bonfires become part of the night. The ranch doesn’t sell alcoholic beverages, but people can bring their own.

Group rates are $20 for adults, $16 for kids. “Babies are free,” Boggia said. Everything is done by reservation.

Meghan Woodlock of Auburn and her friend Ryan Halter of Rochester were under the blankets on the late afternoon sleigh, one of the cozy, two-seat models.

“It’s very romantic,” Woodlock said. “We don’t really have these back home.”

Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected]

Categories: Life and Arts

Leave a Reply