Among all the symbols of Christmas, the horse-drawn carriage is one of the most adored. The clip-clop sound is considered the sweetest melodies, especially here in Middleburg.
The history of Santa Claus and his mode of transportation is a vague compilation of cultural versions worldwide. The most popular started with Santa’s ancestor, Bishop Nicolas de Myre, who lived between the third and fourth centuries. Known as Saint Nicholas, he was called “The Boss of Children” and was given the task to decide if the youngster was good or not, distributing gifts and sweets to those who were wise and well-behaved! Santa’s beard and red costume likely originated from northern hemisphere cultures, as well as the animals who carried him around the world.
Santa was first known to travel with his sack of gifts on the back of a donkey. It wasn’t until author Clement Clark Moore describes Santa driving a sleigh in the beloved poem, “The Night before Christmas.” Published in 1823 in an American newspaper, St. Nicholas is a mischievous, portly figure in red with a long white beard flying from one rooftop to the next in a sleigh pulled by reindeer which we all know today as Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen. With his oh so bright red nose, Rudolf was added in the twentieth century and was put in front as the leader. Though commonly thought of as boy reindeer, the only reindeer with antlers during winter are girls, but Madison Avenue didn’t have fact-checkers then.
As adorable as they may be, reindeer were not the most practical animals to pull wagons or carriages, so up trot the horse and mule. This year’s Christmas in Middleburg parade featured five wonderful horse- and mule-drawn carriages.
Well known in the area, Mark Duffell of Whitestone Farm originally started with a pair of Belgians, Waylon, and Willy, and later added matching geldings Kris and Cash to make a beautiful four-in-hand presentation pulling eight happy passengers in a Wagonette. Anyone detect a country singer theme? In the winter season, Mark uses them to break up frozen ground (much more efficient than tractors, he says), and in the spring, he cuts and rakes hay, plows, chain harrows, logs, and hitches them to other farm wagons. On pretty days, the more elegant carriages are used. Mark says of the boys, “they love working, it keeps them fit and happy.”
Pat and Daisy are mules used for driving and ridden out in the hunt field. Owned by Donna and Garon Stutzman of Old Denton Stables, the Percheron cross pair pulled a Wagonette full of members of the MOC Beagles. With so many beagles, a smaller wagon hitched behind for a handful of little ones. Donna and Garon have had mules for most of their lives and believe mules “can do anything a horse can. You just have to be patient and understand how a mule thinks. It’s well worth it. And they are as bombproof as you could want!”
Next came a pair of the most adorable white Percherons named Colonel and Ozzie driven by Corinne Rohrbaugh of the Shenandoah Carriage Company in a Robert’s Wagonette. These pairs are seen all over the area, carrying brides and grooms to the altar or visitors around the countryside.
New to this year’s parade was a show stopper. Members of the Piedmont Driving Club, Lisa and Albert Andersen’s pair of matching dappled gray full brothers, Amos and Encore, was nothing short of stunning. Sired by a Dutch Harness Horse of deep Gelderlander blood and out of a Percheron mare, she sweetly describes them as “Amish warmbloods.” Not only good-looking with great movement, but they also have an “outstanding character and high level versatility.” Lisa bred and trained them to ride, drive and hunt.
Driving any wagon or carriage takes skill, a lot of practice, and a love for the sport. “Albert has become an excellent whip,” Lisa remarked with affection. This tall, lanky fellow looked marvelous, sitting six feet off the ground, tipping his top hat to the crowd during stops. Lisa wore a period hat and matching red gloves with red aprons to keep them warm for a classic but “old timey” look. And to complete the picture, their friend Curt Christensen, a professional symphony musician, played Christmas music with an old coaching horn from his brass collection. The red and black carriage was a rebuilt Brewster Gentleman’s Shooting Break, c.1880, and has a louvered rear compartment where hunting dogs were once kept. “We find it ideal for packing a picnic, or Christmas presents!” she exclaimed.
A few minutes later, Santa could be seen waving as he made his way down Washington Street. Perched high above the crowd in a c.1895 Park Drag coach by Henry Whitlock in London, the four-in-hand team of Shires from Sandy Lerner’s Ayrshire Farm were beautifully turned out. This sumptuously appointed and fitted coach was used by wealthy owner-drivers of both sexes to parade around public and private parks to show off driving skills, expensive equipages, and personal refinery. It was a requirement for elegant picnics at sporting events and other social outings and is considered the acme of horse-drawn vehicles. And a most fitting vehicle for Santa for his journey on Christmas Eve.
We are wishing everyone, two and four-legged, a very Merry Christmas!