Let’s take a ride behind the big red horses

Celebrate the season with a ride in a horse-driven carriage, wagon, or sleigh—complete with jingling bells and glowing holiday lights

By Kathryn R. Burke

Y Bar Hitch wagon rides

Y Bar Hitch wagon rides around downtown Montrose. © Sandra K. Knight

Y Bar Hitch wagon rides

Kids love riding with Val.     Courtesy Y Bar Hitch

[November 2019 | San Juan Silver Stage]

The vintage-style equipment pictured on our cover belongs to the Y Bar Hitch, a diversified horse-drawn transportation business, owned by Ken Spann & Val Barnica. The big, beautiful, red horses are the rare Suffolk Punch breed—gentle, friendly, and hard-working. And very pretty to look at.

The Y Bar Hitch Suffolks have been delighting holiday shoppers and revelers around downtown Montrose, Delta, and neighboring towns, for six years. They provide downtown holiday light tours with on-and-off stops to visit stores or restaurants. The rides are free, sponsored in part by local businesses. Y Bar gives guests a little detail about what to find inside each shop or eatery if they want to hop off for a visit. Visitors to the “Garden of Lights” at Montrose Botanical Gardens may also enjoy Y Bar wagon rides, which are offered to ticket holders at no extra charge. https://www.montrosegardens.org/

Y Bar also offers private light tours around various neighborhoods. For Otter Pond residents, carriage rides leave from the parking lot by the Camp Robber (south of town).

Another popular spot is Cobble Creek. Val recalls an instance when a grandpa living there wanted to hire a carriage ride for 4-generations of his family for a Christmas Eve ride. “There was a foot of snow on the ground, nothing had been plowed, and he was worried we couldn’t get there. But, of course we did, and the family had a wonderful time!”

She mentions another special event, when a man hired the carriage to pick him and his future bride up at the Stone House, and he proposed to her on the ride. Y Bar’s vintage carriages are perfect for romantic weddings. The company also provide rides for quinceañeras, private and neighborhood parties, family reunions, and hay rides.

Y Bar Hitch wagon rides

 Y Bar Hitch wagons picking up passengers at Cobble Creek in Montrose.     © Sandra K. Knight.

What better way to celebrate than a horse-drawn carriage ride? Bring your own beverages, like adult hot chocolate or coffee drinks, or maybe mulled wine. And snacks, too, if you like.

Val encourages riders to dress warmly. Private rides generally go about an hour, depending on weather and destination. Downtown shopping excursions are shorter, usually by wagon, determined by when you get on or off. Hay rides and sleigh rides can also be booked out at the ranch, and you bring your own refreshments. Those rides can last up to three hours.

“There’s nothing quite like a ride with the Christmas lights twinkling, sleigh bells ringing, and people joyously singing carols as we clip-clop along,” Val said. “It’s a truly heartwarming experience!”

Val especially likes taking the 50+ or older folks. “A lot of them grew up on farms and ranches, and used horses for transportation. This brings back so many good memories for them.”

During December, Y Bar Hitch makes regularly scheduled dinner trips to and from the Camp Robber Restaurant (on Hwy. 550, just south of downtown Montrose), with meals at 5 or 7 P.M. (before or after your ride). (Reservations, events.ourtownmatters.net)

Suffolk Punch Horses

Suffolk Punch Horses at Y Bar Hitch

Suffolk Punch Horses. Courtesy Y Bar Hitch.

During the Crusades (in England), while the men were off fighting with their war horses, the women were home ranching with the Suffolk horses. Easy to handle, hard working, and gentle with children, they were perfect for the job. Their physical anatomy also helped. They are wide of shoulder and short in the foreleg, which makes them stronger. A larger ribcage, for heart and lung capacity, helps them work harder.  If a horse didn’t measure up to expectations, it was killed for food. Thus, the breed developed into a perfect work horse. They weren’t  cross-bred or in-bred, so they stayed healthy.

The Suffolk Punch survives today, but in smaller numbers. Breeders like Y Bar Hitch are helping to bring them back. *