Sleigh bells ring
CHAUTAUQUA – Spectators armored in multiple layers of coats, hats and scarves fought the cold as they dotted the outside of the course of the Currier and Ives Sleigh Rally at the Chautauqua Institution early Sunday morning.
About 10 participants competed in 24 different classes with Bill Young of Cherry Creek judging.
The rally, which is the only fundraiser for the Chautauqua County Equestrian Trail System, is one of the largest sleigh rallies in the northeastern United States, according to Missy Whittington, an organizer of the event.
“It’s run by all volunteers,” she said.
The rally started in the fall of 1979 when Shawn Eddy Lord came to the Chautauqua Horsemen’s Association meeting with the idea of doing something in the winter with sleighs. The first sleigh rally was held in February 1980 in Randolph, as firemen cleared parking lots for horse trailers and spectator cars, made arenas and provided gallons of chili and coffee as competitors arrived. Teams of draft horses and ponies, saddled to a variety of sleighs, bobs and sleds, competed with an array of bells, buffalo lap robes, foot warmers and other artifacts pulled from barns, attics and local antique shops. As the word for the sleigh rally spread, more people prepared turn-outs.
However, conditions in Randolph never allowed the opportunity for a pleasure drive, so brainstorming began for a new site. With the help of Don Hogan from the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau, the Currier and Ives Sleigh Rally came to the Chautauqua Institution.
The classes can be broken down into six different types of events: pleasure driving, reinsmanship, obstacles, Currier and Ives, timed trotting race and drive and ride.
Pleasure driving is judged on the way of going, apparent ability to give a pleasant drive and manners, including the ability to stand in line. Reinsmanship places emphasis on the driver, and their ability to get their horse to produce all the required gates and be able to reinback their horses.
Obstacles are judged as a timed obstacle class, with time faults given for knock downs and break in gait. Currier and Ives is judged on turnout and overall impression with appointments to count before departing on a 3-mile drive through the Chautauqua Institution grounds. The timed trotting gives fault for cantering, where three breaks results in an elimination from the event. The drive and ride has a single horse to be driven at different gaits, and is judged on performance, way of going and manners both in harness and under the saddle.
John May of McKean, Pa., with his horse Cody won the single draft horse pleasure driving. Leigh Semilof of Sodus, with his horse Orin won the single light horse pleasure driving. Kathleen Haak of Pittsburgh, Pa., with her horse Aiken won the single pony pleasure driving. May with Cody and Sarge won the team draft horse hitch pleasure driving.
The sleigh rally turnout is highly dependent on the weather, and in a good year where competitors are able to use their sleighs instead of wagons, as many as 30 to 40 people show up to compete. These competitors come from all over New York, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio to compete.
“People come up to Chautauqua County because it is one of the few places that offer the sleigh rally that has the snow for it,” Whittington said.
After the competition, sleigh rides were available by the Stateline Draft Horse Club. These rides are offered until February every Saturday and Sunday at the Chautauqua Institution at $4 for adults and $2 for children.
The Chautauqua County Equestrian Trail Services needs volunteers building trails. Anyone who needs community service or just wishes to help out can call Whittington at 655-2045. The Equestrian Trail Services posts where they will be on Facebook.
“It’s (Equestrian Trail Services) good for the county,” Whittington said. “It brings in jobs and tourism.”