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Sleigh driving

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  • Sleigh driving

    I have never driven a sleigh. We have one that has been in the back of the garage for years. I intend on getting it out this year.

    *I will make sure it's worthy to drive! I am an experienced driver and will take all safety precautions as far as that goes!

    My questions have to do with the fact that I have never driven a sleigh nor have my horses pulled one. Those are the safety issues I am concerned with.

    So....let 'er rip, what do I need to know?
    Kanoe Godby
    See, I was raised by wolves and am really behind the 8-ball on diplomatic issue resolution.

  • #2
    Snow's soft


    • #3
      ^ .

      I live in Florida but I dream of sleighing with my ponies. We go dashing through the sand instead.

      Best of luck and I hope your sleighing dreams come true for you.


      • Original Poster

        Originally posted by Thomas_1 View Post
        Snow's soft
        Well, aren't you just helpful as all get out! LOL
        Kanoe Godby
        See, I was raised by wolves and am really behind the 8-ball on diplomatic issue resolution.


        • #5
          Ive never actually driven a sleigh
          we usually dont get enough snow to make it worth having one

          BUT things Ive heard are
          1)It can be hard pulling in the snow - so dont overdo it

          2) Getting the sleigh moving takes extra effort (compared to stating a wheeled vehicle)

          3) The sound of the runners on the snow can sometimes upset a horse til he gets used to it

          4) making turns is harder because they need to be made wider - turning on a dime could bind the runners in the snow - since they do sink into the snow

          5) in the old days they packed the snow for sleighs so you werent driving in deep snow - which is hard work

          Best of luck


          • #6
            Check the steel on the runners, make sure it is fairly thick so it can wear off and not break if you hit some dirt or pavement.

            Depending on the sleigh, they often have a LOT of movement in the ride for passengers. We had a 2-person Albany cutter. We thought it was falling apart!! The whole sleigh is built with not much glue or fastening down part hard. Designed to go over rough ground and flex to prevent breakage. We likened it to being in a candy wrapper getting twisted open and shut!! Larger sleighs, maybe on bobs, might give a different feel, haven't ridden on one of those kind of sleighs. Heavy bob sleds that have wheels in summer, are heavy pulling, usually take a Pair.

            Depending on the ground surface, sleigh can be harder to start than most modern horses are used to with roller bearing wheels. Runners can freeze to the ground, need to be "broke loose" before asking horse to walk on. Often a person just giving shafts a slight jerk sideways, will break runners loose. Most horses can break their own runners loose AFTER some practice, just ask for a slight sideways movement, then walk on. No forward give may scare him if he never pulled dead weight before. A number of horses will rear with sleigh not moving with pull!! Carts don't act like this! And runners will freeze again, if you stop for a bit. Runners create friction, so moving sleigh is gliding on a layer of water, for easy pulling if light and forward moving. Stopping lets the water layer freeze runners to the ground.

            If you have decent snow, sleighs usually are easy to pull, slide right along. The cutters weigh nothing to move along. In Michigan, even winters have some dampness, makes the cold colder. Does make it easier to pull on our snow that may be wet or heavy. Other locations have "dry snow" and cold may add to conditions that create "squeaky" snow. It is higher pitched noise, may be just a different sound for horse to react to.

            Snowmobiles make a nice packed trail for driving sleighs on. We used horse coolers for laprobes, double purpose if horse got too warm. None of ours were clipped, so we had to be careful to not get the soaked with sweat. We often wore snow skiing goggles for face protection. Dashboard helped, but snowballs from the hooves often came over the top or sides. Might have rocks in them. Our horses wore snow rim pads to prevent balling up in snow. We like them a lot more than the bubble pads, hoof bottom is open for cleaning. Drive-in ice studs are also recommended for winter driving traction in all conditons.

            Condition horse to bells BEFORE hitching him to ANYTHING. Bells they can't get away from are frightening. Many folks have bells ringing while feeding, or working him in long lines. Helper can stop ringing if asked, let horse get brave again, then start bells ringing once more. You work up to horse wearing bells, getting non-reactive.

            String of bells is usually run around the saddle area, OVER the shafts to prevent crushing bells between horse and shaft. ATTACH string of bells to saddle, preventing it traveling back to rear of horse. We had to add an extension strap so our string went all the way aroundhorse. Evidently sized for a pony, though it has a lot of bells. Some gaits sound better with bells than others, find your best gait with bells to prevent nasty jangling and headache.

            Avoid that fatal mistake of USING ALL YOUR sleighbells at one time!! Your horse may be VERY crabby with all the noise. We stopped midway and removed everything except the saddle bells! Sound was just TOO MUCH for all of us!!

            Sleighing is a lot of fun, sure makes winter outings enjoyable. You will hear about it from the neighbors who hear your bells. The sound travels INCREDIBLY far!!


            • #7
              We've got nearly 2 feet of snow now.

              So much in a couple of days that we've even been on the television!

              I used to have a sledge but as I never used it I was eventually persuaded to sell it.

              I was never too sure about the weight or the footing and also when it snows enough to sledge I've always been too darned busy running about because staff can't get in and clearing the stuff, deicing water and feeding stock and other little essentials!

              I do recall that I was told that you put a load of candle wax on the runners to help it "glide" rather than jolt.

              The nearest I've personally been though is driving a "lookalike sledge" which was basically a carriage with pretend sledge bits stuck to the sides and to take Santa Clause to a school one year.

              I look forward to hearing about your experience and adventures though and to the photos.


              • #8
                Originally posted by CDE Driver View Post
                I have never driven a sleigh. We have one that has been in the back of the garage for years. I intend on getting it out this year.

                *I will make sure it's worthy to drive! I am an experienced driver and will take all safety precautions as far as that goes!

                My questions have to do with the fact that I have never driven a sleigh nor have my horses pulled one. Those are the safety issues I am concerned with.

                So....let 'er rip, what do I need to know?
                That it can be tons of fun!! Here's a sleighing video I did with one of our driving ponies that went viral on the internet last year when someone picked it up off a foxhunting forum and posted it on facebook. It was a hit!!

                We've been sleighing for over 32 years in the Eastern US. Got to learn all the tricks...and pitfalls... in that time!

                For yourself - Dress WARM! Have a thick, warm lap robe (blanket, whatever), warm boots(!!!) warm gloves that can still let you finger the reins, close-fitting wool hat, and a friend along to enjoy the sleighing.

                Tack - see if you can purchase a set of extra long reins.

                For the pony/horse - trace clipped, set of bells (I dress the ponies in the bells before putting them to. I don't run the bells over the shafts), studs on shoes (if shod). Make sure the pony/horse fit in the shafts with plenty of room to comfortably trot an extended stride without touching the sleigh at all!! Very important!! Go ONLY at a walk or trot - no cantering unless on a straight line as the sleigh may tip if you try to canter and turn. Also the hooves will create "snowballs" which will be thrown back onto the curl (hence the reason for the height and the curving) and it can make a very loud "crack!!". Just so you know.

                For the sleigh - (first time use) good check-over to make sure the wooden struts are solid, that the metal runners are also solid, curl is solid and on tight.

                For weather conditions - that the snow is "sleigh-worthy": ie: "fast" (dry) and deep enough (at least 1-2") but not too deep (over 4") so that it will snag the runners if you try to turn too fast. Temps should hover at or below freezing. Too warm will create wet snow which will "grab" the runners and make it almost impossible to turn, even if you treat them with the commercial ski wax (which you can pick up at a ski store). You don't need to treat the runners -- any wax coating you put on will wear off too quickly anyway. Be aware, if the surface is too icy or too packed, you risk your horse/pony slipping and sliding ...even on flat surfaces. If you have to use this type of surface, try to drag at least one runner in the snow to provide some resistance.

                Terrain - as flat and as object-free as possible. Preferably a gravel road, a farm track, or a pasture. If you sleigh cross country be aware - if your sleigh has no springs you will feel EVERY bump and dip under the snow.

                I'm sure I'll think of others!

                In the meantime, check out your sleigh thoroughly to make sure it is sound, start conditioning your pony/horse to the bells, and get ready for some snow to get that sleigh out.....and enjoy!

                Edited to add: There is no sound of the sleigh running on the snow except a very very soft "shhhhhhhhh". The pony/horse won't even hear it with bells on, or even if not wearing bells.

                The effort to start a sleigh is minimal if it is on a patch of fast snow. The metal runners won't freeze to the ground if the temps are below freezing; the friction created by the runners going over snow don't create heat. It is simply the dead weight (full unassisted resistance) of the object that makes it appear to be difficult to start from a standstill. But in decent snow conditions, it is minimal - easy as pie for an experienced driving animal.
                Last edited by gothedistance; Nov. 29, 2010, 06:33 AM.


                • #9
                  The most important point in sleighing is the snow conditions. Much like cross country skiing, if your runners break through the snow to wet ground, you will soon have ice chunks on them, then ... no slidey slidey.

                  The best surface is a frozen base on a road with several fresh inches on top of that. But, it's less than likely that you will get that until the temps get below the effective temp of road salt... so you're looking at temps near zero. (Thanks road crew )

                  If you can't get that, then you need a frozen field. Deep snow is not good for sleighing. Back before the days of plows, the roads were packed with a giant wooden roller to make a good surface. A hard frozen field with 3 to 4 inches of snow is ideal.

                  Sleighs turn differently. Your horse will have to be patient, and learn to put his shoulder into the shaft. I had a very smart litle ASB who could turn a sleigh on a dime on the hard packed road. All I had to do was give him a twitch of the rein, and he would cross his front legs around, and spin that sleigh so neatly it was like being on a turn table.

                  But, as mentioned before, in certain conditions a sleigh can be hard to start. I had one horse make a good effort at removing the dash board because he felt he had been hitched to an immoveable object.

                  The last hazzard I can think of is if you are on the road and you hit bare pavement, you could spook your horse with the sudden grinding noise.

                  But, despite all those considerations with conditions and training, I spent hours and hours of happy sleighing in my youth. Keep you harness inside where it's warm. It will make your hitching up much more pleasant. There's not much I hate worse than fighting with frozen leather


                  • #10
                    Excellent advice already given above. My sleighing experience is long behind me, but very clear in my mind, as it is a rush! We sleighed for fun and sledged for maple syrup. Both were very, very cold experiences, so be prepared.

                    I have known runners to freeze absolutely solidly to the ground. They were extremely difficult to break free. So I would always check before asking the horse(s) to move off.

                    There are no brakes. Remember that. There are no brakes. One sleigh we used had a kind of sea anchor business -- a metal scoop that we threw out to the side to catch in the snow and drag. Another had a friction brake that pressed down against the snowy ground and took some pretty careful handling. Neither was anything like the braking available on a wheeled vehicle.

                    I think a horse must be well trained to voice and very experienced to be a happy sleighing horse. But it's an absolutely amazing, almost mystical experience under a starry sky. If we ever find ourselves again in snow country, I intend to buy runners for my pipe cart!


                    • #11
                      Have fun!

                      Sleighing is noisy...sure never is in the movies, but it's noisy.

                      Sleighs are also rough riding...no suspension.

                      They're cold.

                      Make sure your horse has caulks/borium on his shoes.

                      Sleigh bells are fun...they're also noisy, really noisy, I can't believe we ever brought those things along noisy....but they sound pretty for a few minutes.

                      Attach the master bell (the biggest one) to the hook on the top of the saddle where the side checks would attach. It'll keep the bells from rolling.

                      The bells go outside the shafts.

                      An alternative to sleighbells are the Hungarian saddle chimes, 3 bells, much prettier noise and you can remove some of the clappers to keep things a bit quieter.

                      A good way to get your horse used to bells is to put the string on the boy and let him graze. Once they find out it doesn't get in the way of eating, it's "Bells, what bells?"

                      That's a great suggestsion about when you stop...the runners will freeze to the ground...have your horse do a little bit of a "come over" to break em' free...doesn't take much.

                      Have fun!
                      "Sic Gorgiamus Allos Subjectatos Nunc"


                      • #12
                        Beautiful Video! I miss sleighing so much, I moved to Ocala now and I have to say, my favorite part of horse ownership, was sleighing all winter long. I lived in Massachusetts and PA, with lots of wide open fields and miles and miles of sleighiing available to me on back country roads. I loved it and all of my driving horses loved it as well. The runners breaking through and grinding on the hard ground or road startled some, but they very quickly got used to it. Same with the bells. I wore my bells to feed with, so when I put them on the horse, no problems!

                        The sleigh pulls along very easily usually, after the light layer of rust is worn off, but you have to take into account how much snow your horse is stepping in. Just like you, running through an inch or two of snow is one thing, but if you have to pick your knees up and leap through 18 inches of the stuff, its much harder! (and if it is fluffy enough, you will be pushing some with the front of the sleigh as well, which creates a lot of drag on the horse) As another poster mentioned, snowmobile trails are packed perfectly for sleighing! (Just be careful, if you have a light rain, that then freezes, snowmobile trails can become very slippery too!) You also have to keep an eye out for crust, I have accidently had a horse get her pasterns cut while out sleighing, when we went through a crusty area. She was breaking through and the icy crust was too abrasize on the front of her fetlocks.

                        You will get cold, we used heavy fleece blankets and I totally cheat now that I have gotten older, and use those little orange warm-it packets that I think you can get in the sporting goods section of any store. You open the packet and crinkle it around and I put some in my boot toes and some in my gloves. Made a BIG difference! Take along a thermos of something warm too, as you will need to stop and give your horse a breather now and again and its nice to warm yourselves up.


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Trakehner View Post
                          Sleighing is noisy...sure never is in the movies, but it's noisy.
                          I've always found sleighing to be nearly silent... just the muffled crunch of hooves in the snow, and the whoosh of the runners. I suspect it would depend a little on the tuning of your bells. I have a set of smaller brass ones that were my great grandfather's, without graduated sizes. Some of the larger ones do make an ungodly racket.

                          Incidentally, although "horse bells" date back to the Roman Empire they were most widely used in the late 19th, early 20th century specifically for sleighing, becoming known from then on as sleigh bells. There were often laws requiring their usage on sleighs because of their silent nature, and more particularly, their lack of brakes which made an early warning system for other vehicles and pedestrians adviseable.


                          • #14
                            Smart Alex -- thanks for answering the question I was going to post -- why bells?

                            Here's another dumb question: why don't sleighs have brakes?


                            • #15
                              Most older 1-horse carriages didn't/don't have brakes either - the harness/breeching was the brake system because a one-horse vehicle isn't too heavy for a horse to stop. You need brakes on larger vehicles that the horse can't stop easily.

                              I don't know if larger sleighs have brakes or not.

                              We haven't used the sleigh in years - the pony got too old and died, and only recently have we had another driving horse who could be a candidate, but we haven't had the right snow - we can no longer sleigh on our road - it's too busy and they plow too well - before traffic got bad the best sleighing was a 3-4 inch storm before the plows came through.

                              The field was too bumpy to be comfortable- Now we have a driving track in the field, but the pony is away for the winter.


                              • #16
                                Originally posted by Kyzteke View Post
                                Here's another dumb question: why don't sleighs have brakes?
                                Well... a braking system usually functions to stop a wheel in motion. The sleigh runners are not in motion, therefore, there is nothing to physically act upon. They don't have a motor (like a boat) so you can't throw that in reverse. The only braking system I can conceptualize for a sleigh would be dropping anchor. And I don't think an anchor would be practical in either fluffy snow, or frozen ground.


                                • #17
                                  GTD, thanks so much for the wonderful video. Andy is such a cutie and well trained obviously. I so enjoyed the whole ride. Never have sleighed and it is really probably ever gonna happen here in Florida. But then again, ya gotta have that stuff that I don;t care for--why I moved down here to avoid.

                                  Thanks for sharing, wonderful.


                                  • #18
                                    Originally posted by Kyzteke View Post
                                    Smart Alex -- thanks for answering the question I was going to post -- why bells?

                                    Here's another dumb question: why don't sleighs have brakes?
                                    The bells were so that others could hear you coming.. BUT...they don't ring very loud. In fact, they are quite soft. We've often asked friends if they heard us coming down the road, but if they weren't within 50 feet, they generally heard nothing. Maybe because people just aren't conditioned to hearing them anymore...or our normal world is too noisy. But the jingle is quiet and minimal when on a trotting horse/pony as the "shake" from trotting isn't that intense.

                                    Very few of the old work sleds did have a brake - a serriated levered stake that could be dug into the ground to provide resistance. The casual riding sleigh, however, had no brakes other than the horse's britching. That was pretty much all you needed.

                                    Cartfall - thanks so much for the compliment. Andy retired to the great pasture in the sky this spring, but I have three other really lovely, experienced sleighing ponies to pick from this winter - and when the snow is perfect, I generally have all three in harness one after another. Being an old ski patrol-er, I can't ever get too much of the lovely white stuff!


                                    • #19
                                      Don't forget that Brakes on a carriage are not for stopping. Rather they're to keep the weight of the vehicle back off the horses and for such as going down hill.

                                      On a sledge the vehicle would still continue forward.


                                      • #20
                                        Nice topic.
                                        The video of GTD was very enjoyable. Can't imagine that much snow as we don't see it much here.
                                        We spend so much of our year being hot and sweaty that the vision of being tingly cold is appealing.
                                        Andy is a nice fellow!