LISBON, Maine — The smell of horses and homemade doughnuts mingled under a blue sky in Lisbon on Sunday. More than a dozen teams of Percherons, Haflingers and Belgians hoofed it over a frozen field, hauling sleighs and wagons brimming with with rosy cheeks and smiles. Squeaking leather harnesses, jingling bells and calls of “gee” and “haw” were heard all day.
Around noon, a chorus of muffled squeals and pointing fingers announced the grand entrance of Ernest Garcia. He rode his his towering black horses through a gap in the treeline like a Roman chariot racer or three-ring circus performer: standing astride their backs, one boot on each furry pedestal. Gloved hands applauded. He smiled and climbed back down to his seat before piloting his pair to a graceful stop in front of the waiting crowd.
Garcia grew up around horses in Texas and now runs Gar-Lin Farm in Peru.
“I think I came out of my mother riding a horse,” he said.
The 19th annual World’s Greatest Sleigh Ride, organized by the Pejepscot Sno-Chiefs, was not blessed by an abundance of snow this year, but the weather was fair and there was a steady stream of visitors ready to pony up $4 for a sleigh ride. All the proceeds from the yearly event go to support the Pine Tree Society’s Pine Tree Camp on North Pond in the Belgrade Lakes. The camp offers a barrier-free, fully accessible camp experience for Maine children and adults with physical and developmental disabilities.
The Sno-Chiefs’ running total of money raised, since inventing the event nearly two decades back, is around $48,000.
“This year, we should break $50,000,” said Vice President Gordon Curtis as he directed the sleigh traffic.
Curtis said the event was a success from the get-go and the volunteer horsemen, doughnut makers, ticket takers and the rest keep coming back every year because they all want to help Pine Tree Camp.
“If you could see what they do up there at the camp, with the kids,” he said, “it’d make your heart feel good.”