Cornish Sleigh Ride

Saturday, February 22, 2014
Ever since I learned the song Jingle Bells more than 60 years ago, I have wanted to go dashing through the snow in a one-horse open sleigh. But I had never ridden on a sleigh until recently, when I got to ride one with my grandchildren on the farm of Jim and Sue Fitch in Cornish.

We didn’t do any dashing. Jim Fitch’s horses are Belgians, huge animals weighing 2,000 pounds each. The sleigh itself is constructed of heavy wooden members — the bobs (or runners) are three inches thick and wrapped with steel. The box part of the sleigh is made of 2-by-4s and planks and easily accommodates eight. So we plodded though the snow, with two giant horses huffing and puffing. It was great fun. The Fitches’ dog Tucker, a Springer Spaniel, ran alongside, occasionally jumping up and into the sleigh to the delight of the children on board.

Jim Fitch is an eighth-generation Cornish resident, and lives in a house built by his ancestors in the 1790s. He is a farmer living on 80 acres on a high hilltop with views of Vermont. He has a sawmill and he and his wife Sue grow much of what they eat — including Scotch Highlander beef.

I called Fitch and made arrangements on a recent Sunday to take a sleigh ride. He announces the rides on our town listserv when snow conditions are right. For $15 a person, he offers a 45-minute ride through woods and fields, though our ride ended up lasting a full hour. He likes to stop and rest the horses from time to time, and he poinst out interesting places off in the distance. The horses took us off-road, on a trail that Fitch made himself.

The horses are no spring chickens. Prince is 20 and Rock is 15. So after the recent heavy snow, Fitch broke the trail with a tractor. And he always rests them an hour between rides. Fitch has had them for four years and uses them not only for rides, but sometimes to pull logs out of the woods. “You don’t get quite as much done with ’em as you do with a tractor, but it doesn’t matter if you’re having fun,’’ he said.

One of the great things about being a grandparent is that we get to do things that we never got to do as kids, or that we couldn’t afford to do with our own children. Like Jim’s horses, I’m no spring chicken, so I’ll avail myself of any opportunity to have fun and put another check on the list of things I want to do someday.

The writer lives in Cornish.