The Draft Horse Driver’s Countdown to Christmas

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!… and for draft horse drivers, it’s one of the busiest times of the year too. Here are a few seasonal signs for our draft horse lovers.

Photo by Erik Bentley.

Photo by Erik Bentley.

The holiday season and horse-drawn sleighs go hand-in-hand: we’ve printed the image on everything from our Christmas cards to our cookie tins. We sing songs about it. No matter how much of a Grinch you might be, you have to admit that the sight of a horse-drawn wagon or sleigh coming down the road with the musical echoes of iron-shod hooves clip-clopping along to the sound of sleigh bells puts a little warmth and cheer in your heart.

However, if you are a draft horse driver, you’ve been in the Christmas spirit — whether you like it or not — for a long time now. Because that cheerful clip-clopping, bell-jingling Santa-parading horse-drawn wagon? That’s you, my friend. You are the bringer of Christmas.

Polish that horse. Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

Polish that horse. Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

Every time you see a parade, Santa greeting or tree-lighting ceremony advertised, a mysterious knot develops in your stomach. Because you know that if you haven’t already been booked to drive that event, you’ll get the call within the next 24 hours. Thanksgiving is only a 24-hour oasis in the middle of parade season, really. Your horses are on constant standby, polished and ready to go. Dust off those strings of bells you only use at this time of the year, maybe hum a little “Jingle Bells” to yourself if you’re feeling punchy. If you haven’t already had the farrier double-check those borium-studded shoes and given your wagon a thorough tune-up, time’s a-wasting!

End of November:

You’ve laid in a good supply of these … by the case. Yeah, sure, your hands and feet get cold when you’re riding, but it’s another thing entirely to be sitting on a wagon bench for a few hours straight in the same relative position in winter weather. I don’t care what kind of thermoinsulated boots you have or magic gloves that retain heat and wick moisture and make you a hot chocolate: your hands and your feet will get cold. Hot Hands are your new best friend.

Your Black Friday is spent with your jaw clenched, first at navigating your truck and trailer through madhouse traffic as you battle deal-seekers and then as you feel that first chill of winter all afternoon on the driver’s bench. Your blood will thicken as December progresses, but the first big drive is the coldest. Not even your Hot Hands can cut that chill.

Early December:


No further explanation necessary. “Clydesdales” have become to draft horses what “Kleenex” has become to facial tissues.

Mid December:

You now hate this song. Remember when you hummed that song to yourself happily when you were preparing your harness in November? That was before every single person who went on a wagon or sleigh ride with you this month decided to sing it… over and over and over again.

View from the driver’s box. #percherons #sleighride

A video posted by Kristen Kovatch (@thehorsebackwriter) on

Speaking of jingling bells, that sound never really leaves you. It’s all you hear for three to five hours a day, and it’s all you hear when you close your eyes at night. You feel like maybe your head is actually a snowglobe, but you’re too tired to care. (Turn your volume up when you watch the above video for maximum effect.)

The week of Christmas:

Remember that scene in Black Beauty where Jerry Barker, the nice cab driver, waits for hours on the driver’s bench in the winter cold, getting sicker by the minute while waiting for his customers to leave the party? Of course you remember, because you’re living it, in your own way: mysteriously, no one ever remembers the driver. True story: on a cold night of wagon rides, an event coordinator walked up to the wagon and handed my sister-in-law and me each a Styrofoam cup of instant hot chocolate and a crumbly cookie. It was the nicest gesture we had ever received as drivers and we literally stared at her in wonder before remembering our manners and thanking her profusely.

Christmas Eve:
And to all a good night. Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

And to all a good night. Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

As long as you’re not the poor guy who’s still giving wagon rides all over the neighborhood for truly last-minute celebrations, you’re counting your blessings, thawing your frozen fingers and toes and rejoicing that Christmas is here at last. You step into the barn for evening chores and your draft horses look back at your fondly with those ancient and ever-patient eyes, and you remember that all the hours of hard work and probable suffering were totally worth it for this moment, the strange magic surrounding your big horses, and you know you’re the luckiest person in the world.

Go driving!

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