July 23, 2016

Mostly clear

Just in time for the holidays, these Brunswick Hills horses will take you dashing through the snow


Special to The Gazette

When it comes to an old-fashioned sleigh ride, those beloved Christ-mas songs really knew what they were talking about. The horse does know the way to follow the sleigh, and oh, what fun it is to ride! 

For Medina County residents, a snowy trek over the river and through the woods is not too far away at Spring Mist Farms in Brunswick Hills Township. 

Jake Farley guides the horses through a winter wonderland Nov. 22 at Spring Mist Farms in Brunswick Hills Township. (Sandy Barnosky | Special to The Gazette)

For the past 13 years, Howard Goodyear and his father, David (affectionately known to everyone as “Uncle Dave”), have been offering winter sleigh rides on their third-generation family farm at 691 Pearl Road.

The rides began as something they did for friends, and then, Goodyear said, “It just got bigger and bigger.”

And this year is no exception, as Goodyear introduces a new 14-person sleigh built by his longtime colleague Amos Yoder, an Amish woodworker from Farmerstown.

A long tradition

Goodyear’s ties with the Amish community date back to his childhood, when he and his Amish friends would take turns going back and forth from his farm to theirs.

They taught him to drive and farm with horses, and eventually they built the duplex he and his girlfriend, Abby Gutzman, share with his parents and his younger brother, Dakota, as well as some of the barns on the property. 

Growing up on the farm, Goodyear, 33, never even considered leaving. “I was buying into the farm before I turned 18,” he said.
While he works fulltime for the Ohio Department of Transportation, his days begin and end on the farm, and he said he wouldn’t have it any other way.  

Sleigh rides were a natural extension of Spring Mist Farms’ many services, which include carriage rides, hayrides, barn rental for special events and a petting farm.

From hosting weddings by their lake to providing horses for funeral hearses, the Goodyears have a long tradition of making their farm and their animals available for others to enjoy. 

Storybook rides

This winter — “If Mother Nature cooperates,” Goodyear said — the farm will offer sleigh rides every Friday, Saturday and Sunday as long as the ground is frozen. A mild winter last year made for few sleigh rides.

The converted hay wagons Spring Mist uses as sleighs have wider runners than traditional sleighs, allowing them to glide over a certain amount of grass, dirt and concrete.

But the sleighs function best when the ground is frozen solid with a “candy coating” of snow or when it’s covered with several inches of hard-packed snow.

The most popular sleigh ride is what Goodyear describes as a “storybook ride,” the kind families of an earlier era would have taken in and out of the woods to collect maple syrup.

Two to four muscled Percheron draft horses pull the wooden sleigh, originally a “breaking sled” used to break new horses.
Three wooden benches seat six adults or the equivalent, with room up front for the driver to either stand or perch on a small wooden seat.

Nine times out of 10, the driver is Goodyear himself, although Gutzman or one of Goodyear’s friends occasionally step in.
The typical ride is half an hour.

“The horses set the pace,” Goodyear said, adding that it’s important not to overtire them, especially when back-to-back rides are scheduled. 

The 45-acre property promises plenty of natural beauty for riders to enjoy.

“There’s a good chance you’ll see deer,” Goodyear said. “We’ve seen coyotes out there before.”

Goodyear said he finds the scenery especially picturesque after a freezing rain has iced the tree branches.

Asked if he ever gets tired of giving rides, Goodyear shook his head and smiled.

“I love it.” 

Ciupak may be reached at accent@ohio.net.

If you go…

Candy Cane Christmas

Alpacas, emus, donkeys, elk, reindeer and a baby camel will be the stars of Spring Mist Farms’ annual “Candy Cane Christmas.” Every Friday and Saturday night through Dec. 23, the Big Barn will be open for families to celebrate the season with themed Christmas trees, Santa’s workshop, model trains and miniature towns, and a life-size nativity scene with live animals.

The Goodyears spend weeks preparing the indoor Christmas wonderland that includes photo opportunities in a vintage sleigh. Admission is $4 for children age 10 and younger and $3 for everyone older than 10. 

Sleigh rides

To arrange a sleigh ride at Spring Mist Farms, call 330-225-3565 or visit www.springmistfarms.com. Prices start at $50 for half an hour in the six-person sleigh. The new 14-person sleigh rents for $100 per half hour. 

— Sandy Ciupak