DANVERS, Minn. - Few experiences are more exciting at Christmas than a horse-drawn wagon or sleigh ride.
Dennis and Cheryl Beyer provide this fun activity to people in west central Minnesota using their two Percherons, Donna and Dixie.
Each year, Dennis brings the horses and wagon to Appleton, Minn., so that church members can have a ride and sing carols. He also trucks the horses to a nearby tree farm on the first two Saturdays in December and gives sleigh or wagon rides, depending on the snow cover.
A retired county assistant engineer, Dennis lives just a few miles from where he grew up in Swift County. Cheryl is a medical transcriptionist from the area too.
"I've had horses all of my life, except for a couple years in the service," Dennis said. "It's mostly for pleasure, and I just got into draft horses in 1996."
They purchased Donna and Dixie from a stable in Eagle, Wis. The 1,700-pound horses are full-sisters, and are about 20 years old.
When they are pulling the sleigh, their jingle bell straps ring out a snappy beat.
On a very cold and windy day in late November, the horses are pulling the sleigh with Dennis, Cheryl, their Australian cattle dog, a red heeler named Roxy, and this reporter.
One can't help but think about great-grandparents, grandparents and even parents who traveled by horse and sleigh.
Horse or buffalo skins kept women and children warm while the man drove the horses. Families would go to church on Sunday or to town for supplies.
They'd visit relatives and friends on cold days to share meals and help with chores.
It's hard to imagine the endurance of our ancestors that lived and slept in cold houses, grew and made their own food, and took care of the livestock and horses before they took care of themselves.
A sleigh ride is a good reminder that although our forefathers worked hard, they also had the enjoyment of gliding across the countryside behind a horse or two.
Dennis enjoys all of it - the work with the horses, the sleigh and wagon, the opportunity to give rides, the living history lessons, and the chance to make someone's special event memorable.
On this particular day, he drops off his passengers and then he takes the horses out for some exercise, the cold temperatures completely forgotten.
For folks in west central Minnesota that are looking for horse or sleigh rides, Dennis Beyer offers this service. His phone number is 320-567-2163.