It sounds like a scene from a Hallmark Christmas movie – riding through a winter wonderland in a one-horse open sleigh, snuggled close to your loved one, listening to the sleigh bells jingle.
That movie scene becomes a reality when you visit Autumn Breeze Stables.
In their seventh year at Snowshoe, owners Skip and Peggy Heater provide memories that last a lifetime for couples and families who want to experience the old-fashioned tradition of a sleigh ride.
The Heaters began raising horses when they lived in Greenbrier County, prior to moving to Snowshoe where they opened their business.
“We have draft horses,” Skip said. “We started raising and breeding what is called a Suffolk Punch draft horse which is the oldest breed of horse on record. They’re out of England. There are only about twelve hundred left in the world – they’re rare – so we started breeding those and cross breeding.”
The horses were used to being ridden, but the Heaters were looking for something new to do with them in the wintertime. That’s when they decided to buy their first sleigh and added sleigh rides to the services they provide.
“Our sleighs are vintage, antique sleighs,” Skip said. “The oldest is 1861, and the newest is 1878. A lot of places you go to – out west or other areas – you get loaded onto giant sleighs pulled by Belgians. It’s kind of like being in a Greyhound bus or a 747.
“Ours is like a Hallmark moment,” he continued. “It’s the real deal. I’ve got my great-granddad’s sleigh bells. It makes for a very nostalgic journey.”
Visitors are treated to a two-mile ride in one of the antique sleighs with either one or two horses pulling them along.
“We start out at the stables – we go down toward Shavers Fork, and we go around on Upper Spruce Road and then we come out where there is a wide area to turn, and we come back,” Skip said. “We go out one mile and come back one mile.
“We supply antique sled blankets,” he continued. “Some people will bring their own. Some folks bring hot chocolate for the kids, and a lot of times the kids are singing Jingle Bells. Or everyone is singing and having a good time. It’s a pretty unique experience for all ages.”
The stables have attracted visitors from all over the country; some who drive long distances so they can ski and have a sleigh ride – something they can’t do elsewhere.
“You’re at a ski resort, and most people don’t ever get a chance to experience a one-horse open sleigh ride, so we have people who will drive nineteen to twenty hours to do a forty-to-forty-five minute sleigh ride,” Skip said. “We have people that come to Snowshoe not just to ski, but because of horseback riding, trail rides or sleigh rides.
“We hear it all the time,” he continued. “You’re spending time with someone on a sleigh or on horseback, you say, ‘hey, what made you choose Snowshoe?’ and they’ll say, ‘because you guys had this. We all ski but we don’t go [elsewhere] because they don’t have horseback or sleigh rides.’”
Because it is so unique and can be seen as a romantic experience, many sleigh rides turn into proposals at Autumn Breeze Stables.
In one winter season, it’s possible to have up to 10 proposals during sleigh rides.
To make the moment truly special and memorable, Skip said he and his employees pull out all the stops.
“We do it in a manner where it catches her off guard,” he said. “We always do it in a very pretty area – it’s kind of like an ‘it’s going to last a lifetime moment’ in the pictures.”
Usually, the sleigh driver will come up with an excuse to have the couple exit the sleigh while he makes a turn. Then, during the proposal a photographer will be nearby to capture the special moment.
“We have a photographer hidden in the woods and we say, ‘we’re going to be shooting new photos for the website, do you guys mind if we take pictures?’” Skip explained. “The guy knows what’s going on, and the girl is like, ‘well, I guess.’”
Whether it’s couples starting the next chapter in their lives, families with young children bringing a favorite Christmas tune to life or just friends who want to say they’ve been on a sleigh ride, Autumn Breeze Stables will make sure that each sleigh ride becomes a lasting memory.
“We get people that have it on their bucket list, young and old,” Skip said. “People proposing; people celebrating anniversaries; people who have it as a last wish; all of the above.
“It’s pretty daggone cool.”
For more information on Autumn Breeze Stables, visit wvtrailrides.com or call 304-572-2262.