Uncle Date’s Sleigh

Our previous visit to Vista Verde was in February of 2005… before we had kids. We own a few horses here in North Carolina but we were looking for a western ranch experience with winter horseback riding. While we get an occasional dusting of snow here in Eastern North Carolina we wanted to experience powder, horses in powder and all the great winter activities that are just not available here at home. We talked our friends Jamie and Linda into joining us and packed everything we could into our one week stay! We did spend a good bit of time riding the horses and it was fabulous but there were so many other things to do. We tried dogsledding, snowshoeing and rode snowmobiles for the first time. We spent a day downhill skiing at Steamboat and we soaked in the hot springs at Strawberry Park. We had the best sledding experience of our lives at the ranch. We also fell in love with cross country skiing. It was just something we had never had a chance to try here at home and could there possibly be a better place to learn than Vista Verde? It was (and I say this regularly) the best vacation experience of either of our lives.

So now we have two wonderful, intelligent and athletic kids. Darcy is five and John will be three in February. Since 2005 we have kept up with all of the changes at Vista Verde through the blog, Facebook and the website including new staff, new facilities, new ownership and the loss of the ranch’s visionary leader… and we waited. We have waited for the kids to grow up just enough. We have waited for them to crawl, then to walk and also to learn to ride. We have waited for them to learn to appreciate what they have and the opportunities they have been given. Perhaps most importantly, we have waited for them to be potty trained. We have waited to take the big winter vacation at Vista Verde until the kids were old enough to join us.

For the last two years we have waited for something else. About ten years ago I received a call from my now deceased great-uncle Date in Virginia. He wanted me to have his sleigh. It was an old pony sleigh, the Albany Cutter style with the graceful curves and delicate woodwork. He had pulled it out of a barn sometime in the sixties and had restored it (sort of) himself and painted it bright red. He kept a small horse near his home for several years and would hitch him to the sleigh for a drive about town when the weather permitted. The sleigh had been in storage for more than thirty years and was in a sorry state of disrepair. Date’s daughter-in-law had inquired about having the little sleigh to use as a planter in her front yard. He hated to think of the proud vehicle rotting away with a pot of begonias in the seat. I was his only relative with horses. When we picked the sleigh up I promised him we would drive it again someday. We placed the little sleigh in storage knowing that neither it nor the new owners were ready to go for a drive. My wife Amy is the equestrian but she had never operated a horse-drawn vehicle of any kind. In the fall of 2010 we decided it was time to purchase a pony for our daughter. We wanted a gentle, child-friendly pony with driving experience. We settled for gentle and child-friendly and sent our new pony off for a month of driving school. At the same time, we sent the little sleigh away for a professional restoration. It took nearly a year but in August of 2011 we brought home the nearly unrecognizable and very expensive sleigh. Restored to its original burgundy and red color scheme with gold pinstripes and wool upholstery it is a beautiful vehicle and something we hope to continue to pass through the family. It joined the pony, two harnesses and a cart which we had purchased for driving practice (something you can’t do very often with a sleigh in North Carolina it turns out) in a new barn built specifically for storage of these new toys. So we wait.

In 2010, before the sleigh was restored we were blessed with two wonderful winter storms which brought sleigh ride quality weather to our part of the country. In 2011 I brought the sleigh home and staged it by the barn door for easy access in the event of snowy weather. We purchased sleigh bells. We sing all of the sleigh riding songs… OK, both of the sleigh riding songs. We have built up the expectation of the sleigh riding experience for the kids to the point that they asked Santa for snow this year. Last winter was the warmest and driest on record here in North Carolina. This year, the same pattern has established itself. So we wait. The little sleigh still sits by the barn door ready to go. We have no snow.

Our Vista Verde winter vacation begins and ends with a nice long family sleigh ride through powder snow and the beautiful aspen trees. Let’s throw in a picnic lunch and hot chocolate! The kids know both the songs. Of course, in between sleigh rides we need to make room for snow shoeing, sledding, horseback rides, cross-country skiing and all of the incredible food. We hope to see you soon! Can we bring our own sleigh bells?

The Dean Family of Zebulon, NC – Matt, Amy, Darcy and John Wayne

Name: Matt & Amy Dean
City: Zebulon
State: NC