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Let It Snow!
by Lisa Cenis
please read our copyright notice

All photos accompanying this article are courtesy
Lisa Cenis of "Shoot That Horse! Digital Imaging Services".

As the coordinator of the Pioneer Valley Sleigh Rally, 'Let It Snow' seems to be my mantra every year come January. The first time I went to a rally was in Hampden, MA, I was enthralled. This was cool, all the different sleighs and equines pulling them, the sounds of the different sleigh bells, pieces of our history right here before my eyes, this was how people used to get around! I was definitely born in the wrong century.

I found out shortly after my visit to Hampden that a friend from college was running that rally. We renewed our friendship and somehow I found myself running a brand new sleigh rally a few years later with her encouragement and guidance. That was more than ten years ago. Things have changed a lot since then, the Hampden Sleigh Rally is no longer in existence and my rally has now moved out to Dufresne Park in Granby, MA and is now being supported by the Granby Regional Horse Council.

How does a sleigh rally happen? Here is the story behind the "Pioneer Valley Sleigh Rally":

A lot of pre-planning goes into a sleigh rally that most folks never see.

First you need to scout a good flat location with plenty of area for a ring and parking both for trailers and spectators. Water is not the necessity that it is during the summer because all exhibitors bring their own from home. My first year the rally was held at Mount Holyoke College Equestrian Center. That year I learned you really need more parking!

You then need your officials to Judge, Announce and Ringmaster your rally. Sometimes this is easy to do and sometimes you have to beat the bushes. You have to remember your asking them to stand out in the cold all day. Who, if they really thought about it, would say yes?

The rallies are run for fun and don't have to have licensed officials but we all try to have someone that we feel knows something (preferably a lot) about driving. This year Lani Sattler, one of the big driving winners in the Morgan World Show, is my judge. I try to remind people that the rallies are supposed to be fun and the judges opinion is just that. "The Judges opinion".

Once you have your officials you now need to come up with someone to give sleigh rides to the public, cook the food for the masses (That you hope will come) and people to park the public who have come to see your rally. After wearing out all my friends to fill these positions, I finally asked the Granby Regional Horse Council, Inc. (my local club) to help me out. The GRHC, being the great group they are, not only helped to staff all these positions but one member even built a ring at his house and offered to have the rally there! Horse people are the best!

Next on the list is the all important porta-potty or two, sending out your press releases (some of these are sent out in September!), getting sponsors to support your rally, ordering the ribbons, the list goes on and on it seems! One of my favorite parts of organizing was to select the background music that creates the mood for the day. I found that the local library was a treasure trove of old albums. This was fun and especially gratifying when people asked where it was from and if they could get a copy! All this work and yet, Mother Nature may not cooperate!

The class list that I use, 11 classes, essentially comes from the thoughts of who will come and how much daylight do we have. Most of us don't start till around 10:00am, to allow for trailering time for exhibitors and hopefully for the day to warm up! You plan classes for horse, pony and drafts, singles and multiples. This year we are adding an end of day Pairs Championship Award because we've been seeing a lot more pairs in the past few years. (I'd love a four hitch!.any takers?) The classes are judged in different ways. In a Lady, Gent or Junior to drive, the class is judged on the driver and their ability. In a pairs class its on the hitch. Do they work well together? Are they matched in size and way of going? The Currier and Ives class is judged like a costume class, best picture of bygone days usually wins but to separate them out some time the accessories will count. Do they have a foot warmer? How about a lap robe?

I get lots of calls before a rally to ask about the snow. The years that we have had to cancel because of conditions, most people were understanding, and its nice to get to talk to some people that I only hear from, or see, once a year. Weather watching becomes you hobby if you let it when you plan a rally. The ground really needs to be frozen under the snow or you end up running sleighs in slush/mud.(very unattractive) The snow has to be at least four or more inches and it can't be the stuff that flies away. You can run a sleigh on less but its really tough on the sleigh and the horses' legs.

We don't take pre-entries for the sleigh rally because of the weather and that lends its own stress to the day. You wonder who will come, or if they'll come. One year I had only seven entries but we all had a great day and everyone went home with ribbons and a smile.

This year once again, we're hoping for snow, if past history is of any help we should be okay this year. We seem to have the rally every other year and this is our year.

The Pioneer Valley Sleigh Rally is scheduled for Jan. 7,2001 at Dufresne Park on Taylor St. in Granby, Ma. For more information on the Pioneer Valley Sleigh Rally and 4 more rallies check out: http://community.masslive.com/cc/sleigh or if you just want to see sleigh pictures go to: http://sleighrallys.homepage.com and see the photo albums.



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