life in the Kearsarge area

what's happening in the Kearsarge/Lake Sunapee area of NH

Archive for December, 2014

Over the river and through the woods

A two-dog welcoming committee greets visitors to Ragged View Farm in Andover, N.H. Gwen and Scout wag their tails, run in wide loops and come close for a friendly pat to the head before they sprint off into the snow again. They know what’s coming up: a sleigh ride around the 18-acre farm.

As soon as there’s enough snow on the ground, Mark Cowdrey and Lea Ayers LaFave offer hay-filled sleigh rides on weekends to friends, families and visitors to the area. Two chestnut Suffolk horses are hooked up to a red, wooden sleigh filled with hay and woolen blankets. Eight people can pile into the sleigh for a 40-minute tour of the farm.

Cowdrey handles the sleigh — the original snow machine — and the horses, Misty and Woodrow, well. “Gee. Good girl. Behave. Good team,” he says to the horses. The snow is deep and crusty, and a few of the turns on the trail are tight, but Misty and Woodrow are doing everything Cowdrey asks of them. Without turning in his seat, he explains over his shoulder to the passengers that there are several interconnecting trails on the property, forming various loops around the farm. “I’m taking the horses on a different route. They think they know the trail better than I do.” Once out of the trees, there’s a broad expanse with sparkling, snowy views to the right and left.

Cowdrey and LaFave bought Ragged View Farm in 1999 and have fixed up the house, built a barn and added a garden. The farm has expanded from a small garden and one pig to a larger garden with garlic for sale, four horses, a sow with two litters of pigs a year, and sugaring taps for maple syrup. On a typical sleigh ride, folks can see every part of the farm, including a view of Ragged Mountain to the north.

“It’s a good way to get people out to a farm and see horses, pigs and chickens — animals they may not see in their everyday life,” says Cowdrey. “People are interested in agriculture. If I drive the horses down the road, everyone slows down, stops and waves. I like to promote the idea of local agriculture when I can.”

Cowdrey worked at a farm a couple summers when he was a teenager, and although he didn’t work directly with the horses he “got bit by the bug.” In the mid-1990s Cowdrey took a workshop at horse-powered, family-operated Fair Winds Farm in Brattleboro, Vt., and later, when he had the space at the farm, he bought his first horse. “It was a realization of something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” he says.

Cowdrey’s day job is an architectural draftsman in New London, but since 2005 he’s been giving sleigh rides to friends on the weekends. In 2006, it didn’t snow until March (not a good sleigh ride season), but in 2007 there was so much snow by March that it was too deep for Misty and Woodrow to pull a sleigh. “It is ironic when I have to say, ‘No, I have too much snow,’” Cowdrey says. “But if there’s a good amount of snow on the ground, I’ll probably be giving rides.”

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