One-horse open sleigh
Old fashioned entertainment at Lake Tahoe
Duke is lovely. His winter coat is soft and full—a warm caramel color along his flank that fades to cream across the barrel of his chest.
At the softly spoken behest of driver Dale Penney, Duke puts his 2,000-pound body and the sleigh yoked to it in motion. It’s a scene right out of “Jingle Bells,” played out on the snow covered parking lot of Sand Harbor State Park.
“Our world is so wrapped around noise—with airplanes and cars and buses and trains—and it’s nice to have a quiet thing you can go out and do and have fun,” said Dwight Borges, owner of Borges Sleigh and Carriage rides.
He’s right. Other than the sound of the breeze through the pines and the muffled clopping of Duke’s hooves in their special padded shoes, all is quiet at Sand Harbor. It’s an experience displaced from time, but one that Borges—who got his start in the sleigh ride business when he was just 3 years old—has always known.
In 1967, the Borges family won a raffle at the local car dealership. The prize was a Shetland pony.
“We named him Little Joe, because the family always used to stay up and watch Bonanza … and one of the characters, his name was Little Joe—one of our favorite characters,” Borges said.
“We made a little sleigh for Little Joe, and we cruised around the neighborhood in wintertime,” he continued. “Of course, when you see a horse and sleigh running around, people just come out of the woodwork to have fun. It’s a fun thing to do, riding in a sleigh.”
The following year, Borges’ parents launched their business, taking guests at a South Lake Tahoe hotel for sleigh rides through a nearby field. The horses were bigger than Little Joe, but the appeal was very much the same—and remains so now that Borges and his wife, Dianna, run the family business with the help of Penney and a few other sleigh drivers.
“It’s the nostalgia of it,” said Penney. “It’s a time of days gone by. It’s slow. … Little kids get on here and within just seconds, they’re sound asleep. Their parents are smiling about that. … And it brings them back—the adults, especially some of the older ones—it brings them back to their childhoods, when they can remember hearing about stuff like this.”
Visitors to the lake can get in on the nostalgia by scheduling a sleigh ride at Sand Harbor or a little farther south in Stateline. The company’s website provides details about the types of sleighs available—which range in size from intimate two-seaters to large sleighs that can accommodate up to 20 people—and the huge draft horses, like Duke, who pull them.
Some tips for sleigh ride attendees include bringing gloves and warm hats. The sleighs are also equipped with blankets. Caroling is encouraged, and Borges is right—the next time you hear “Jingle Bells,” you’ll most certainly think of Duke.