PALMYRA, Maine — Tallulah Mae was high stepping. Ginger seemed always to be in a hurry. Yukon was patient, and Sophie … well, Sophie was in rare form, winning at least three categories in Saturday’s annual Beef Stew and Biscuit Sleigh Rally in Palmyra.
These horses and their drivers were among more than a dozen competitors, most of them hobbyists, who put their horses through their paces Saturday at the Gary and Amy Beem Farm.
“It’s a time to get together, to do something fun in the winter,” Amy Beem said. “It’s a gentle reminder of what we used to have.”
Red sleighs contrasted against the crisp, white snow, cream-colored horses were backdropped by dark evergreens — it was almost a Currier and Ives afternoon. Sleigh bells jingled and horses dashed through the snow and little ones were lifted high to pat the horses’ noses with their mittens.
The event, sponsored by The Trail Riders of Today, was free, and spectators were three and four deep at many of the events.
Some of the sleighs were homemade, while others were near a century old, called Portland Cutters and lovingly restored. Women and men wore bulky fur hats and long fur coats and had thick woolen blankets pulled tight across their laps.
Often a dog or two was tucked under the blankets and, in at least one case, the dog seemed to be doing as much directing of the horse as the driver.
“This is a hobby for most folks,” Beem said. “Most of us are members of TROT. It’s sort of a horse show in the mid of winter.”
Competitors came from Wesley, Deer Isle, Dexter, Glenburn, Exeter, Albion, Monroe and beyond.
Jody Stevens of Exeter, driving her Appaloosa quarter horse, Yukon, said she does more trail riding than sleigh driving but found the event a nice winter break. “We’re all horse lovers here,” she said.
Kathy Chamberlain of Monroe said, “This is fun and a good way to get outside in the winter.” Chamberlain had borrowed a sleigh and horse but said the horse, Tallulah, was “a push button” and her competition was going well.
Documenting the activities was Caroline Samson of Litchfield, who is photographing and writing a coffee table book on the stories of Maine’s horses.
“I’m really trying to capture the relationships between the person and the horse,” she said.
When feet got cold and drivers needed a break, drivers headed to the heated cafeteria the Beems converted from a hay barn. The welcome respite offered a full array of refreshments and several tables of wares including horse toys, horse models, cookies for horses and plaques.
Some of the individual event winners:
— Appointments and Sleigh: Laurie Chabot of Dexter, driving Sophie.
— Junior Pleasure and Junior Reinsmanship: Emily Hawkins of Wesley, driving Taproot Molly Stark.
— Senior Pleasure: Paula Leavitt of Troy, driving R Kay’s Autumn.
— Senior Reinsmanship and Currier & Ives: Laurie Chabot of Dexter, driving Sophie.