Summit County draft horses and mules help make magical memories for visitors
When the animals aren’t pulling sleighs, most are grazing in nearby pastures in Fairplay and Silverthorne
Though many visitors are coming to Summit County for its skiing, there’s one other activity that is especially festive around the holidays: sleigh rides. A handful of operators offer open sleigh rides locally, and making it all possible are the mules and horses that lead the way.
Two of the operators that have long been hosting sleigh rides in the community are Two Below Zero Sleigh Rides in Frisco and Golden Horseshoe Sleigh Rides in Breckenridge. The businesses have been running since the 1980s, but new owners have since taken over and are keeping the holiday spirit alive.
John Lampe, owner of Two Below Zero, said he has one draft horse that pulls a private sleigh and 14 draft mules divided into teams of two that tow visitors on a scenic sleigh ride with hot cocoa. Both routes run through the Frisco Adventure Park and last around 45 minutes.
This is Lampe’s 15th year as the owner of the business. In all the years he’s done this kind of work, he said his favorite part is how enchanted people are by the whole excursion.
“I really like what the guests experience,” Lampe said. “They’re making memories and it’s just very satisfying that we’re making memories for people.”
Before guests experience the mules and his horse, Lampe said there’s a bit of work that goes into getting the animals prepared for the rides. He keeps them all in a pasture at Pass Creek Ranch in Silverthorne, and he usually brings them to Frisco in November so his staff can begin to get them used to the routes again.
“The mules have extremely good memories,” Lampe said. “So, they are very well conditioned to pick up right where they left off.”
Lampe said he has relationships with brokers in Kentucky and Nebraska who have already trained the animals and gotten familiar with being around people and pulling things behind them. Lampe said they can usually pull a sleigh or wagon behind them until they are around 18 years old.
Lampe usually gets a new mule or two every two years. Once they get too old to pull the sleighs, Lampe said he either sends them to a horse rescue or sends them back to a broker for a younger team.
Jenn Shimp, owner of Golden Horseshoe Sleigh Rides, said she gets her animals from Kentucky and Nebraska. She has 12 draft horses that pull either a one-horse open sleigh or a group sleigh ride with hot cocoa. The business also offers winter wagon rides.
When the horses are not in use, Shimp said that they are sent to pastures near Fairplay or to a broker in Montana who uses them to pull coaches.
Shimp bought Golden Horseshoe three years ago. Before that, she worked for the business as an actress for its dinner theater show until she eventually learned how to drive the carriages. Now the owner, she said her favorite part is getting to watch the customers interact with the horses.
“(The horses) are called gentle giants, and draft horses just have a beauty and draw to themselves,” Shimp said. “They’re big and they’re very loving and fun to be around, and it’s so much fun to watch the joy on people’s faces when they come and they get to pet a horse. Maybe they’ve never seen one before and to really get an intimate experience of the horses.”
Shimp said the business added the wagon to its list of offerings this year, and that she might offer wagon rides in the summer. Lampe also offers a chuck wagon dinner ride a few times a week over the summer where guests get to experience the mules and watch a Wild West show.
For now, both sets of animals will continue to lead the way on whimsical winter sleigh rides during the holidays and into the new year.
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