As I write this I am overlooking the very field from which come my earliest memories of horse drawn sleigh rides come.
As a child I would see the ranch hands at the 150 Ranch heading out into the field to load hay.
Once I caught the sleigh I was often handed the driving lines.
Of course I thought I was pretty big driving the heavy team of workhorses.
Little did I know that they really drove themselves, knowing the route and pattern from daily repetition.
Later the hands showed me how to tie up the lines on the crow’s nest (a tee at the top of the hayrack), loose enough so the horses could have enough free rein to pull the sleigh.
The other memories stem from the fun we had at the Onward Ranch when our friends the Cornwalls would have their open house on Boxing Day.
We would always try to get dad and mom to go early enough to catch Hugh Cornwall as he went out to feed cows with the team and sleigh.
Our greatest excitement came when we hitched our toboggans to the back of the sleigh.
When we had our own place many years later and were working horses we found that our children and their friends had so much fun doing that.
So we decided we could have some fun if we invited the community and friends to join us. One year the sow pig came along although she wouldn’t ride on the sleigh.
For 36 years we had between two and four teams of horses and guest teamsters join us. A tradition by now long established.
Regrettably, when one of our team horses died this fall, we were tearless. It has also been an extremely busy fall. So we decided to take a break this year, disappointing though it is.
I look forward to rebooting this tradition in the years to come
David Zirnhelt is a member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association and chair of the advisory committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching program which is starting at Thompson Rivers University in Williams Lake this January.