THROUGH THE WOODS: The cutter sleigh

THIS RECENT SNOWFALL reminded me of a day on our farm when I was about 13. My saddle horse, once owned by my aunt, was trained for the harness as well as under saddle. Stormy was black with a few white markings and was quite amiable. The Taconic State Parkway roadbed had been established and there was a beautiful snow-covered gravel surface calling us to travel. My two younger sisters and I had been taking our saddle horses on it for months.

Looking around in our old barn one day I saw the cutter sleigh stored up on top of the second-floor oats-filled granary bin. I asked my father if he could take it down and I would hook up Stormy. He did and got out an appropriate harness from the harness room downstairs and went back to work with our dairy cows. The cutter was surprisingly light in weight and easily moved to the barn floor and all was ready for Stormy. With my sisters standing by to help, the harness went on with no problem outdoors, so we backed Stormy into the cutter shafts and attached the harness to it. I led him out of the barn to the snow-covered ground and the snow squeaked and crunched under the sleigh and all hell let loose. Stormy was wild-eyed and bucking, kicking up behind at the curved dash of the cutter. I was able to hold him from running and got him calmed down and he gingerly walked for a way.

My sisters and I wanted to travel so I got on his back over the harness to better control him and my sisters got in the cutter. Stormy settled down and we had a wonderful ride on the TSP.

We wished it would never be completed and cars would not be on it. It was sunny with pines covered with snow and lots of animal tracks to try to identify. Crows flew overhead. I was nice and warm sitting on the horse in my flannel-lined jeans and wool coat.

My sisters weren’t as toasty so after about a while we went home. In the horse era that my parents grew up in, they would have had a heated soapstone in the sleigh and a heavy robe to cover their legs. I had to admit that sitting on the harness and hardware was a lot less comfortable than my usual saddle. My father saw us come home and the damaged dash and front of the cutter. He was not happy. He and his family had taken great care of it for several generations and “my horse wrecked it.”

To me, it didn’t seem that bad and he should have been happy that we and the horse were unhurt. It had been a great adventure. He put the cutter away and that was our one and only horse and sleigh ride, a memorable event on several levels, and one I still remember and smile about.

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