Tiffany Payton’s horse farm is less than an hour from Portland but it feels more like a world away. There’s no honking horns, rumbling buses or shouting pedestrians. Out there, you only hear jingling bells, swooshing sleigh runners and giant horses breathing a steady rhythm.
This isn’t just the season of fighting frozen pipes and doing battling with a snow shovel. There’s also quiet beauty in the deep freeze and riding in the back of Payton’s sleigh — covered with a blanket, sipping hot chocolate — might be the best way to come to a truce with Old Man Winter.
Payton owns and operates Carousel Horse Farm on a hill above Pleasant Lake in Casco. In addition to winter sleigh rides, she offers trail riding, wedding carriages and wagon rides.
“We are the only guided, trail ride horse farm in Maine,” Payton said. “And one of the reasons we’re the last place doing this in Maine is we have access to 5,000 acres of open recreational land.”
Payton’s farm borders the Jugtown Forest, a working timber farm owned by Hancock Lumber. It’s open to the public for riding ATVs and snowmobiles, skiing and hiking, as well as horseback riding.
“And we have direct access onto it — which, when I bought the farm, I had no idea,” she said, laughing.
According to Payton, to get a good sleigh ride, there has to be at least six inches of snow on the ground. Check. Then, it has to be packed down with a tractor or a snowmobile. Done. After that, two or three more inches of snow must fall. That’s covered, too.
“Otherwise, you feel every rock, bump, lump and hole that you go over,” she said. “There’s no shocks on a sleigh.”
“They’re best friends,” Payton said.
Both are white percherons. The massive draft horses are powerful animals but as solid as they come. Rose once slept through Fourth of July fireworks on the causeway in Naples.
Big John’s first job was twitching logs out of the woods in Canada. He’s even pulled emergency equipment out of the woods for the local fire and rescue team. Payton sometimes jokingly calls him “Casco Fire and Rescue Off Road Unit 4.”
Payton said she and her horses are working steady right now. The snow is perfect.
“Every weekend, as long as the weather’s good, we go,” she said. “We’ve definitely gone out in the sleigh … in snowstorms. People will ride in the snow. It’s a lot of fun.”