Sleigh Rides: Trotting Through a Winter Wonderland

Sleigh Ride


Everybody associates holiday sleigh rides with a jolly, fat guy in a red suit, yet did you know that the first St. Nicholas was actually skinny and somewhat crabby? And that the famous poem that beefed him up and celebrated speeding in sleighs, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” probably wasn’t written by C. Clement Moore?

It may also stretch the imagination to believe eight tiny reindeer pull a sleigh through the sky, but sleigh riding on the ground has always thrived in regions where white is the dominant winter color.  Sleighs have been around for centuries; their heyday in America was from the early 1800s until the advent of the automobile.

The earliest sleighs were functional, like pickup trucks – horsepower in front, storage behind.  The “cutter” style sleigh was the most popular design in the United States after 1830 – it held two people and was pulled by one horse. Later, with the popularity of sleigh racing, the designs became more sleek and aerodynamic.  In fact, James Pierpont’s inspiration to compose the iconic song, “Jingle Bells,” was inspired by New England sleigh-racing mania. 

The use of bells on harness originated thousands of years ago to “ward off evil spirits” and attract good luck, then morphed into the 19th century version of the car horn.  Sleighs pulled through snow are so quiet, harness bells became necessary safety features. And, of course, there has always been the show-off factor – the fancier the bells, the wealthier the owner.

Watch Coco and Guinness, a team of Canadian Horses, take their friends on a Christmas sleigh ride.


Today, sleigh rides are an increasingly popular part of the winter holiday tradition for many families.  Thanks to the advent of the Internet, locating a sleigh ride business is easier than ever with referrals and repeat business keeping many drivers busy throughout the season.

That’s been the experience of Linda Ward of Waterville, Vermont, who began offering sleigh rides to friends and soon realized she had the makings of a successful business.  In 2003, Ms. Ward began Raven Ledge Farm and since then has driven hundreds of passengers around her 130-acre farm at the foot of the Fletcher mountains.

“I started out with one antique, Albany sleigh, then bought a new, bigger model a few years later that has carried as many as six adults and four children at one time.

“The ride itself is about two miles long and takes us through fields, across my covered bridge, and into the forest.  I have given sleigh rides as many as six times in one day.  I get lots of questions, but there are also quiet moments , singing, and stories from folks who remember as a child going for a similar ride with a Grandparent.   When we return to the farm, we head into my heated tack room to warm up, snack on hot chocolate and cookies, and visit all the other horses in the barn to get photos for next year’s Christmas cards.”

Ward believes one needs to experience a sleigh ride to understand why they have always been such a perennial favorite.  She says, “No words can capture the romance of a sleigh ride.  I never get tired of them.”

A good sleigh horse needs the right footwear. Learn about winter shoeing here.


  1. Sleigh rides sounds like so much fun. I want to get runners for my cart. I don’t like the description of St. Nicholas though. That’s very disrespectful.

  2. I loved the article and thought it was very nice. I would love to take a ride in a slay or even to give rides that would be cool too! I like driving and would love to have my own teem and slay or cart some day. I think driving is one of the things people think the least of when they think of horses and riding. I enjoyed the it alot! There are many things about “the real santa” that people don’t realize.

  3. Was expecting an article about horse riding during the winter and in the snow. I was disapointed when I began to read about sleigh rides and santa claus. Very disapointing….did not enjoy the article at all. I was hoping for an educational article about safetly riding your horse in the winter. But all I got was an article on a horse website about Santa Claus. Oh and I also agree with Galadriela….your describtion of Santa was extremly disrespectful. This article was a complete disapointment.

  4. I agree with Laura Downer; I too was quite disappointed with this article….besides, Santa Claus does NOT exist: who sees you when your sleeping? who knows that you’ve been good? Well, you make that decision yourself, but the TRUE answer is: God. Yes, I said God. Santa Claus is just replacing God. If you want to know more about this, then I’d be glad to tell you by commenting 🙂
    Anyways, Have a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!!

  5. I liked this article it states plainly in the heading Sleigh riding in American history which most of the sleigh songs are associated to Christmas which includes the mythical Santa Claus. The article gave a historical view of Sleigh riding in America and how its traditions are living on today I would love to take a sleigh ride someday hopefully will be able to and knowing that there are places that offer their services to reliving a wonderful period of time when things seemed so less hectic and uncomplicated


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