We can dash through the snow

Every holiday season, when we sing "Jingle Bells," do we want to go for a ride in a sleigh?

That can happen.

After all, what's the point of having a winter wonderland without as many magical elements as we can gather? Thanks to the amazing draft horse program at nearby Paul Smith's College, Lake Clear Lodge and Retreat can offer lantern-lit sleigh rides.

It's a wonderful experience to slide along the snow, enjoying the frosty air and the sounds of the horses, as we ride through a timeless forest setting. The lights on the snow creates a wonderful atmosphere, whether we are cuddling with a romantic partner or seeing amazement on the faces of our children.

As in this vintage Currier & Ives image, it's all about the sleigh.

echo of the past

The Draft Horse Program is an experiment in tradition and sustainability, one of a very few in higher education institutions around the country. Paul Smith’s College has had this program in place for over four decades.

It really takes draft horses to pull multi-person sleighs. These are specialized breeds of horses with extra-tall stature and a very muscular build. Their conformation is all about pulling something. That upright shoulder makes hauling easier for the horse, with their broad, short backs, heavy bones, and powerful hindquarters.

At left, a draft horse. At right, a typical riding horse: showing the differences between these two types of horse. (photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons, user Montanabw)

They range from 1,400 to 2,000 pounds. A literal ton of horse! A Shire horse appropriately named Mammoth, born in 1848, stood over seven-feet high and weighed 3,360 pounds. This was probably the high tide of horse use, as only decades later there would be the rise of mechanical "horseless carriages."

I can attest to the dramatic presence of such horses, with what seems like acres of rippling muscles, and big brown eyes the size of softballs.

I stood near them before our ride, and it's a rare thing to encounter an animal this huge that will also let us get so close. Horses are natural pack animals, and part of the success of a good driving team is their rapport with their handler, Bob Brhel. He looks like Santa himself.

As seen in their corral, these draft horses have the heft and thick coat that keeps them warm in the winter.

Our driver issued many different instructions during the ride, since these horses also learn how to do plowing, logging, and other agricultural demonstrations. It's not as simple as just charging forward; they need to be mindful of the people in their care, and negotiating different kinds of snowy landscape. The horse "team" includes their person.

perfect setting

Since the Lodge at Lake Clear is celebrating their 130th Anniversary this year, they are simply offering an experience to their guests that used to "come with the territory." This is how people would arrive from the train station.

Snow offers special transportation challenges. Wheels are perhaps humanity's first invention, but sleds in snow might be the second. The runners on the sleigh spread out the weight, riding above most of the snow and letting the horses pull a lighter burden.

The sleigh's runners let the wagon glide over the top of the snow, instead of getting bogged down in it.

The sleigh ride route uses the Lodge's own system of hiking trails through the forest which is part of their resort complex. This isn't a road with all the elements of modern civilization, like telephone poles or power lines. This is exactly what people would see and experience when they went "over the river and through the woods" to Grandma's house in the Jingle Bells song.

Yes, there's bells jingling. And yes, we all sing the song at some point. We just can't help it!

Draft horses hauling people in an old-style sleigh - now we're talking!

A sleigh ride at night enhances all our senses without overwhelming them. While it looks dark in photos, the snow makes everything much brighter than we might think, lighting up the forest with a gauzy glow.

The lanterns and colored lights are festive bright spots, while beyond them, the timeless forest is outlined in the reflective snow on its branches, while the horses are a lively, steam-blowing, constant presence. The group we are with all become smiling friends quickly, as we are jostled together on the turns and share the thrill of such an unusual form of transport.

I enjoy the experience so much I've done it more than once. One group I chatted with had brought a set of parents this time, while another couple had brought friends because they had told everyone what a great time they had.

with bells on

We can enjoy this thrilling experience in a number of ways. We can show up for the Group Sleigh Ride, which lasts for thirty minutes, and fits eight people in a sleigh.

There's also the full-immersion ride with dinner, which follows the ride with a three-course Great Camp Dinner. This is served in the original dining room, with plenty of Adirondack charm and the classic recipes with local ingredients that Lake Clear Lodge is known for.

The Lodge has a lovely, old-world, dining room and (in the basement) the best Rathskeller in the Adirondacks.

This would make for a lovely highlight in a family vacation, or even a bonding excursion for a family reunion. The Lodge has cross-country ski and snowshoe trails and is on the shores of famous Lake Clear, which is a gorgeous vista all year round.

Thanks to the traditional Great Camp architecture, there are cabins of many sizes and configurations, along with rooms in the Lodge itself. All of them have names.

This cuddling silhouette is a happy couple who have taken a romantic, private, sleigh ride. A wonderful highlight of a romantic getaway.

For romance, there's the option of booking a private ride for two that is forty-five minutes long. A great excuse to snuggle under a blanket together. It's a very popular option for proposals, I'm told. But shhhhhhhhhh. Some people want it to be a surprise.

Makes me almost sorry I'm already married. But there's always anniversaries, couple getaways, and Valentine's Day.

With all these different options, and the classic Adirondack Lodge offering a perfect setting, this might be one of the best ways to enjoy this vintage piece of yesteryear. Not to mention that by doing so, we are keeping these amazing draft horses busy with the work they were bred for, and enjoy. While we now travel in heated cars, it's also great to experience how our ancestors celebrated winter.

And realize how little some things have changed.

We don't have to stay at the Lodge to enjoy a sleigh ride, but it helps. There's plenty of other lodging choices. We have so many ways to enjoy our winter, from outdoor recreation to browsing our delightful downtown.

ADK winter bucket list items:

UFOs welcome

Loop the lake 

The bird list 

Snowshoeing for beginners

Snowmobiling our way

Winter at the chasm

Drop me a line

Author:Pamela Merritt
Categories:winter, Heritage, Family fun
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