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'Sleigh ride' is not just a song for Slayton clan

SLAYTON -- Growing up on a farm just outside of Slayton, Christy Surprenant's holidays were steeped in family tradition.

She recalls the days her parents hitched up their old wooden bobsled to a team of horses each year in early December and the whole family went for a ride in search of the perfect Christmas tree.

Surprenant also recalls the fond memories of going to Grandma's house for Christmas -- all 13 of her dad's brothers and sisters and their families.

But when Grandma died the extended family stopped gathering for the holidays, and when Christy went off to work in Washington, D.C., so stopped the annual trek through the fields for the Christmas tree.

So it was that this year, Surprenant's first year back following a 15-year career in government, she wanted to celebrate the holidays with the family -- and involve the family's decade-long hobby of raising shire draft horses, too.

Saturday afternoon, nearly 60 people gathered at the Surprenant farm outside of Slayton for some old-fashioned fun -- complete with seven teams of horses -- mostly shires with one team of Norwegian fjords -- five bobsleds and an antique sleigh.

"When we started planning this, I just wanted to get the family together and reminisce and share (the experience) with the younger generation," said Surprenant. The planning began nearly two months ago, shortly after she discovered and purchased an antique horse-drawn sleigh at the Midwest Horse Sale in Waverly, Iowa.

While the sleigh was a start, she knew she needed more than one. Thus began the search through the groves and barns of friends and neighbors to come up with a few more.

"It took a while to find sleds and rebuild them and get them back in working order," said Surprenant, as a team of Shires pulled her red sleigh through a snow-covered field.

Her dad, Jim, still had the family's old bobsled, and she was able to get a couple of sleds -- without the bobsled boxes -- from Lowell Haack, of rural Reading.

"He had two sleds in his shed ... and we had to put makeshift boxes on them," said Surprenant.

"We also got pieces of three bobsleds from Dean Pearson of Hadley," she continued. "He had them stacked up in a machine shed and a lot (of parts) were rotted out, but we were able to complete two sleds."

The Surprenants had three full teams of horses for Saturday's event, while neighbor Ken Knuth came with another three teams and Luther Tostengard brought his pair of Norwegian Fjords from the Dovray area. The family also found some friends to help drive the teams and bobsleds through the fields.

Surprenant said the sleighing party may become an annual event for the family.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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