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Enjoy a sleigh ride in a winter wonderland

Ed Kavanaugh pulls the sleigh over for riders to take a break, enjoy the scenery and take photos. Riders in front (from left) are Rajive Das and his teenage sons, Ruben and Gabe, and Angela Wuollet. Riders in back (from left) are Carolyn Das, who said she is smiling underneath the scarf; sisters Bella and Sophia Das; and Ramon Das. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal1 / 4
Bob and Dandy pull the bobsled down a trail around Ed Kavanaugh’s family farm last Saturday. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal 2 / 4
Sophia Das, 10, pets one of the horses that pulls the sleigh for Kavanaugh Sleighrides. Owner Ed Kavanaugh talks to Rajive Das and his 16-year-old son, Ruben, about how to safely approach a horse. Jamie Lund3 / 4
Ed Kavanaugh, owner of Kavanaugh Sleighrides, talks about his family history as he stands beside his horses, Bob and Dandy. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal4 / 4

Trotting through the snow, on a two-horse open sleigh, over the fields they go, chattering all the way.

It was a picture perfect winter's day, complete with sleigh bells, as an excited group of nine friends and family members raced across the countryside near Chub Lake in rural Carlton, singing carols and enjoying an entirely new experience over the Christmas weekend.

The group included four members of the Das family from Wellington, New Zealand, who were visiting relatives in Duluth. Expatriates Ramon (who grew up in Duluth) and Carolyn Das said they wanted to create fun and unique winter memories for their daughters, Bella, nearly 12, and Sophia, 10.

The weather cooperated Saturday with blue skies and balmy temperatures in the mid-teens. It's currently summertime in Wellington, with average daytime temperatures in the upper 60s and low 70s.

"It was really fun, but our toes got really cold," Bella said excitedly. "We saw a deer." The girls also thought the blinders on the horses were interesting and demonstrated how the horses wore them.

"I thought it was peaceful and beautiful," Carolyn said.

Ed Kavanaugh carries on the family tradition of giving sleigh rides on his family farm in Carlton, as did his parents before him. He officially opened as Kavanaugh Sleigh Rides about three years ago.

"It's a lot of work, it takes about three hours to get ready to give the sleigh rides," Kavanaugh said, explaining he hires a few teenagers to help brush and feed the horses. "There's watering, brushing, cleaning hooves, hooking the sleigh up. It's fun watching people experiencing new things."

The horses pull a wooden bobsled on red metal rails that hold up to 10 people. There are a few bales of hay to sit on during the 90-minute ride through wide open fields and quiet trails in the woods.

Kavanaugh stops in the middle of the ride for the people to take photos of the scenery, the horses or each other.

"It was really cool," Sophia exclaimed with her Kiwi accent.

The horses, Bob and Dandy, are Haflingers, also known as Avelignese. They are a beautiful golden color with flowing light blonde or white manes. The breed originated out of northern Italy and Austria. A Haflinger became the first horse to be cloned in the early 2000s.

Kavanaugh traded in his larger Belgians for the easy-going, lower-maintenance Haflingers several years ago.

His Belgians were 18 hands tall and required higher maintenance and heavier harnesses, according to the 67-year-old retired geography teacher.

The sprawling farm has been in the Kavanaugh family almost 100 years, Kavanaugh said, explaining that his grandparents were burned out of Cloquet in the 1918 fire and purchased the farm in May 1920.

"When my grandparents came here they had teams of horses to work the fields and my dad had horses," Kavanaugh said. "My dad got the farm after World War II."

He enjoys sharing details of his family history during the ride. Kavanaugh's father came from a large family and he also has 12 siblings, ranking number four out of eight sisters and four brothers.

"For three years in a row there were 11 kids getting on the school bus," Kavanaugh told the group, chuckling as he guided the horses through the open field. "We're all still alive, which is interesting considering how hard we tried to do each other in!"

Kavanaugh offers sleigh rides seven days a week during daylight hours when there is enough snow. He also has an old cutter sleigh he is training another horse to pull. The smaller sleigh will hold only three people. Dress for the weather. Bring your own blankets for the ride.

For more information, call 218-340-2982 or visit Kavanaugh's Sleighrides on Facebook.

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