The black Percherons, adorned with bright red bows and a strand of jingle bells tinkled joyfully as we glided upon the crest of the new fallen snow.
That scene was a dream in my mind long before I ever met the draft horse people who would make the dream come true. In early November, Dale told me to keep December 13th open because he was hosting the Calgary Stampede Kids Committee sleigh ride at the farm and I could drive Shelly and Nelly. I was pretty sure I wasn’t busy that day!!
The planning started immediately. I knew I had a stash of big red bows in a box under the stairs. Those would go on the harness of each horse. And then I needed wreaths for the sleigh because why wouldn’t you make it all pretty and Christmassy?? I had a Charles Dickens Christmas scene in my minds eye so I needed an outfit for the sleigh ride. Off to the fabric store I went to seek out the perfect sewing pattern for a driving cape. And I needed a hat! The outfit didn’t end up being as Charles Dickens-ish as I had pictured but the end result was warm and functional. The black fleece cape was lined inside with my favorite color—red and black checkered flannel. Now, I know flannel is a pattern and not a color but if anybody were to ask me my favorite color, it would be flannel in any shade. I sewed a Newsboy cap which was…you guessed it…lined with red and black checkered flannel. Rhonda was also going to be helping out with the sleigh ride so I sewed the same outfit for her. By this time I was on a role and maybe just a little bit excited. If us girls were going all out and dressing the part, then my horses, Shelly and Nelly, needed matching red and black checkered nosebands on their halters. And I made a scarf for my furry buddy, Tank, who is Rhonda’s dog. This was MY dream come true and I wasn’t going to miss any little detail!
The night before the sleigh ride was a long one. I couldn’t sleep—it was like waiting for Santa Claus to come down the chimney and bring me the best present EVER. There wasn’t much snow on the ground and it had been very foggy the day before so the hoar frost on the trees was almost an inch thick. It was a picture perfect day! Due to the mild winter and the lack of snow, we couldn’t switch the wheels over to sleigh runners so it became a wagon ride.
We all got to the barn early and were getting the horses harnessed. Rhonda and I were driving Shelly and Nelly and Terry was going to drive Hank and Pete. We put the wreaths on the wagons and the strings of jingle bells and red bows went on all the horses. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t tear up a time or two as we were getting ready in the barn. Seriously—how many people have such a magical dream come true in their lifetime?? I had a talk with Shelly and Nelly before we hitched. I told them that although my dream always had black Percherons in it, I thought they were the most beautiful Grey’s and they were perfect. Then I kissed them both on the nose and thanked them for being part of my dream come true.
Dale had been running back and forth from the barn to the dugout where the sleigh rides and picnic were going to be held. Just before we hitched, we had our safety meeting in the barn and he excitedly said to Terry, Rhonda and I, “you’ll never guess who’s here?” We threw out a couple wrong names then he dropped the 3-word hint. Benny the Bear. Now, if you were raised in Central and Southern Alberta, you immediately knew who was in the house. Rhonda and I both shouted “Buck Shot!” and Terry, who grew up in Ontario, said something like “who the hell is Buck Shot?” The Buck Shot Show was a children’s television series that aired on a local station daily at noon from 1967 to 1992 and then on Saturday and Sunday mornings until 1997. If you were lucky enough, your mom or dad would have sent a letter to Buck Shot and he would read your name on TV on your birthday. If you were REALLY lucky like Dale, you got the chance to be one of the kids that was on the show with Buck Shot and Benny. Benny the Bear was Buck Shot’s talking sidekick puppet—a stuffed teddy-bear. Ron Barge, or Buck Shot as he is known to so many, was like a movie star to us and we were pretty excited that he was going to be part of our day. Buck Shot is also a long-standing member of the Calgary Stampede Kids Committee which is why he was at the sleigh ride.
We finally got the teams hitched to the wagons and we set off to the dugout. Rhonda was riding shotgun with me and I’m sure my smile was big enough to poke her in the cheek. It was a crisp -10 degrees Celsius but there was no wind and we were cozy warm in our fleece caps and hats. As we drove, we talked about how cool it was that Buck Shot was going to be there and we weren’t going to get all crazy and embarrass (or date!!) ourselves by making a big deal about it. That lasted until we took our first group of guests for a wagon ride. Buck Shot and his wife were the first people in the wagon. This day couldn’t get any better. My first sleigh ride. And Buck Shot as my first passenger? I did what any self-respecting 47 year old mature woman would do…I squealed in delight and told him what a huge fan I was and that he had read my name on TV on my birthday when I was five. So much for acting cool!
The rest of the afternoon was surreal for me. Our passengers bundled up in blankets and chatted happily as we drove around the field in the horse drawn wagon. I keep remembering the sound of the snow crunching and the happy sound of the jingling bells on the horses. The sun was shining, people were in the Christmas spirit and I was among my friends living out a dream.
A week later we were back at the farm for the Befus Family sleigh ride. Once again, we harnessed the teams, adorned them with bows and bells and enjoyed some Christmas cheer as we glided over the snow. The wheels were still on the wagon as there wasn’t enough snow for sleigh runners but nobody seemed to notice that minor detail.
Earlier that morning before we harnessed the horses, Terry and Dale handed me a box wrapped in Christmas paper. From the size, I immediately assumed it to be a box of chocolates and I was going to set it aside and open it later. They told me to open it right then because it was something I was going to need that day. Inside was my very own monogrammed center drop heart. The center drop heart goes on the lines between the horses and helps prevent getting a line tangled with the end of the pole. It was 4 months and 3 weeks since my first official driving lesson at Alberta Carriage Supply. Here I was hitching for my second winter sleigh ride and my driving teachers had gifted me with my own center drop to use with Shelly and Nelly. The gift was more than a nice gesture made during a season of giving. It was a vote of confidence in my ability as a teamster-in-training. It said they trusted me enough to put something of my very own on their equipment. It said I had gone from a farm girl with a dream of driving a sleigh to one of them. It left me humbled and almost at a loss for the right words. I remember thinking this is what an angel must feel like when she gets her wings. I harnessed Shelly and Nelly and proudly hung my center drop heart between them. I’m sure nobody else noticed the heart that day but to me it was as bright as a star in the sky shining for all to see. As I drove the girls to the dugout where the Befus family and their friends were waiting, I felt like a Princess on a glass chariot being pulled by two majestic white horses.
Somewhere over the rainbow, blue birds fly. And the dreams that you’ve dreamed of…dreams really do come true!