Unlike the dandified Currier & Ives experience favoured back east and in Europe, leisure-time sleigh rides in Alberta circa the late 1800s were rustic and relaxed — rare opportunities during the interminable winters for family bonding, social outings and perhaps some quiet canoodling under the Hudson’s Bay blankets. Indeed, less than a century ago, sleighs were a fixture in every Alberta farmstead’s two-cart garage. Even after the horseless carriage arrived in 1901, the wooden sleigh remained an essential means of transport across the frozen prairie for decades to come.
Today a small group of operators offer scheduled horse-drawn sleigh rides across Alberta’s wind-sculpted fields of snow. Heavy-set Belgians or Percherons, steam puffing from their moist black nostrils, lead nostalgia buffs through Rocky Mountain resort towns and locales such as Dixonville, Medicine Hat and Canmore. And, as on those Christmas cards, the air is crisp, the company jovial, the beverage of choice either hot chocolate or something warming from a hip flask.
“My favourite time to head out is sunset,” says Penny Scott, who organizes and sometimes helms sleigh rides alongside the Bow River for Banff’s Holiday on Horseback (403-762-4551). “Everyone gets real quiet, even the kids, as they soak up all that beauty.” Romantics can cuddle up in two-seaters, while as many as 18 clamber aboard larger, twin-horse-powered sleighs during the Christmas high season.
Where to do it in Alberta
Horsin’ Around Trail Rides, Fish Creek Provincial Park 403-238-6665
Rafter Six Ranch Resort 403-673-3622
Dixonville (and within 100-km radius)
Beaton Creek Ranch Sleigh Rides 780-971-3794
Dick Laurin’s Horse-drawn Hay & Sleigh Rides, Sherwood Park area 780-464-0234
Keno Hills Stable, Sherwood Park area Keno Hills
Longriders Horseback Riding, Gibbons Alberta Horses
MP Stables, Edmonton Hay & Sleigh Rides
Highlandview Guest Ranch, 403-395-2246; 403-395-2154
Jasper and area
Larry’s Riding Stables, Hinton Trail Rides and Day Trips
Pyramid Sleigh Rides 780-852-7433
Skyline Trail Rides 780-852-6091
Boundary Ranch, Kananaskis Valley Hay and Sleigh Rides
Brewster Lake Louise Sleigh Rides 403-762-5454
Westergreen Farms 403-527-0262