The draft teams at Western Connections Ranch get busy when the weather gets colder. While the teams generally have quiet summers, their work schedules increase in the fall with wagon rides and sleigh rides in the winter.
This past year, the teams had a lighter schedule than usual because a number of events where the teams provide wagon rides were canceled. The ranch, owned by Richelle Beene and Norb Renn near Rhinelander, has five draft teams it uses for pulling wagons and sleighs. The ranch is welcoming visitors to join them in enjoying the outdoors while riding in a horse-drawn sleigh.
“We are slower due to COVID-19 for sure,” Beene said. “We are missing many families this year due to COVID reasons. We do have many repeat customers, but always seem to get new ones every year as well.”
An average sleigh ride lasts from one to about one and a half hours. The large sleighs, some made of old logging running gear, can hold up to 15 people each and a smaller sleigh can haul six passengers.
“We have been offering sleigh rides for over 16 years,” Beene said. “It is a very pretty wooded trail that departs from behind The Woodpecker Bar & Grill, which is located near the ranch on private land owned by good neighbors. It is very common to see deer along the trail. We do a campfire in the woods and serve hot chocolate.”
Because of the pandemic, the ranch is modifying how it conducts the sleigh rides.
“As far as adjustments, I have been trying to stagger the rides a little and we have been building two fires on busy days, to keep groups separate from each other,” Beene said.
A crew of teamsters joins the ranch owners in hitching and driving the five teams of various breeds.
“I have two other drivers besides myself and Norb,” Richelle said. “Stacey Robinson and her husband, John, drive the older team of American Cream Draft. Sophia Cook and her boyfriend, Dominic, primarily drive the Percheron team Bonnie and Della. I drive the young team Barney and Hank and Norb drives Princess and Flora.”
The ranch’s main team consists of American Cream Draft brothers, 18-year-old Pat and 14-year-old Pete. The American Cream Draft is the only draft horse breed said to have originated in America. Listed with the Livestock Conservancy, the breed is considered rare.
Other teams include Percheron mares, 14-year-old Bonnie and 16-year-old Della. So far, Belgians Princess and Flora and a team of palomino quarter horse mares Sugar and Sherri haven’t been needed this season. One of the younger teams, Barney and Hank, has become crowd favorites, though.
“The 4- and 5-year-old Belgian geldings have been drive in downtown Minocqua before the holidays doing carriage rides with me as well as sleigh rides over the holiday season with the other teams,” Beene said.
Along with the sleigh rides, the ranch stays busy throughout the year by offering training, riding lessons, horse boarding, stallion service, horse sales and showing. The ranch owners offer breeding services with their black AQHA reining stallion.
“We show mostly stock type horses with a focus on the ranch style horses as well as the all-around horses,” Beene said.
More information about Western Connections Ranch and their sleigh rides can be found at www.westernconnectionranch.com and on Facebook.