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December 28, 2012

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The Horse Knows the Way

Two draft horses, one black and one gray, swiftly gallop to greet us. Snow crunches under the tires as we drive up the entrance of RS Ranch in Bourbon. A truly nostalgic winter pastime awaits— horse-drawn sleigh rides.

When we approach the log cabin, Tanya Schoenbeck, a tall woman with long brown hair, greets us and waves us inside. Upon entering the cozy cabin, the smell of a crackling fire mixes with the aroma of fresh chili cooking on the stove. Tanya and her husband Roy chat about the history of the ranch and sleigh riding. The Schoenbecks have owned RS Ranch for more than 20 years. The team heading up their nearly 100-year-old antique sleigh is made up of Percheron draft horses, a breed from France built for pulling and known as Gentle Giants.

All of the horses’ names begin with an ‘R’ and were purchased from an Amish man in Curryville. The two beauties that met us on the road were Ruben and Roman, weighing about 1,600 pounds apiece. As for the sleigh, it can hold eight people and comes with antique blankets for warmth. The Schoenbecks own two other sleighs— one that holds four people, and an 1880 Albany Cutter single, purchased from the Busch family (of beer and Clydesdales fame).

We head outside where Tanya and Roy have hitched Ruby and Rachel to the sleigh. The two horses eagerly await us. RS Ranch promises a different experience every time. With 500 acres, Tanya says, “When you leave the driveway, you will never come back the same way.” Snuggled and toasty under the blankets, our journey begins at the log-sided barn built by Roy. We amble through a meadow with rolling hills. In the distance, the scenery is dotted with trees and horses.

As the horse-drawn sleigh meanders to Evans Creek, Tanya points directly behind us. “Look quickly!” We turn around to see Prairie Dawn, a buttermilk buckskin mare, rolling on her back in the snow. As the mare rises, a herd of Foxtrotters—bays, buckskins, and sorrels— bolt down the hill to check us out. I pause to capture the moment with my camera. Once at Evans Creek, I feel the Gentle Giants dragging the sleigh through the solid rock bottom beneath me.

A forest with majestic cedars lies ahead. The sleigh glides along, and I notice the exquisite trees, their branches laden with snow. My mind is quiet. The woods exude a peacefulness and serenity. The only sound we hear is the scraping of the runners and the jingle of the harness. Resembling a Currier and Ives Christmas card, a curved tree branch drapes overhead as the sleigh exits the woods.

As Roy stops the sleigh for several minutes, I gaze at the pasture. The unfolding scene is picture perfect. A pale blue line dances on the horizon. The sky fades into bright white and then into blue again. Silhouetted trees in the distance offer a dark contrast against the stark snow. Willie, a red heeler, rests with Ruby and Rachel in the snow, contemplating the cornflower-colored sky.

After the break, more surprises await. Our sleigh enters a field with longhorn and beefmaster cattle where we meet Ruthie and Pepsi, donkeys protecting the cattle from wild dogs and coyotes. We pass old barns, view an ice-covered lake in the distance, and observe and identify species of birds. Near the end of our journey, Tanya and Roy direct Ruby and Rachel to pull the sleigh into the stable. The couple unhitches the horses, who settle comfortably into their stalls.

While our snowy trek was filled with noteworthy sites, numerous unseen delights remain to be experienced another day—an 1869 cemetery with Civil War descendants behind the main house or a moonlight ride lit only by carriage lights. Imagine all the stars! “It’s one of the nicest rides,” Tanya says, and she promises to “keep it interesting, anytime you want to go.”

Sleigh rides are an exceptional winter activity for family members of all ages. The Schoenbecks’ granddaughter, also named Ruby, loves horse-drawn sleigh rides, and one woman took a sleigh ride for the first time at age 86. The Schoenbecks’ neighbor, Debbie Anderson, says, “If you love horses and love outdoor life, you can’t beat it.” Sleigh riding reminds her of being around horses as a child. “After the ride is over, the campfire is blazing—you can sip hot chocolate and converse.”

Because of the horses, Tanya has met amazing people. Guests from 11 countries and 35 states have visited the ranch. The schedule is flexible for sleigh rides, provided the ground is frozen. The draft horse team, black-and-white spotted Raymond and Ramona, is available for rides. The cost is $25 per person for a one-hour ride. And remember: Wear your winter clothes!

Visit rsranchrailrides.com for more information.

By Sheree K. Nielsen

by

December 28, 2012


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