Sleigh and carriage rides support rescue habit | AspenTimes.com

Sleigh and carriage rides support rescue habit

A drive for Aspen Sleigh and Carriage on teh streets of downtown Aspen on Saturday.

For Sandy Dieterich, owning Aspen Sleigh and Carriage has been a dream come true.

But it's not necessarily because she likes winter weather, driving horses or running a small business.

Instead, it's because the business, which provides carriage rides around town and sleigh rides at the North Star Nature Preserve, allows her to support her true passion: rescuing horses from the slaughterhouse.

"Once you spend time with horses and the connection that you make, … you start to realize what incredible animals they are," Dieterich said. "It's kind of like a potato chip — you can't have just one."

Dieterich and her husband, Bryan, rescued their first horse about 20 years ago after they heard about a thoroughbred whose owners were ready to sell it to a feedlot. The 23-year-old horse had been used by hunters to haul dead animals out of the woods but could no longer do so, she said.

So the Dieterichs paid $300 for Lacey, and Sandy's addiction to rescuing the animals was born.

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Horses sold to feedlots are often, in turn, sold to slaughterhouses in Mexico that produce horse meat and byproducts for dog food, Sandy Dieterich said. Often, horse owners are not aware of that outcome and expect another loving person will come along to buy their horse once they cannot take care of it anymore, she said.

"There's so many out there we can't save," she said.

A few years later, the couple bought their third rescue, a draft horse trained to pull wagons named Josie. At the time, Dieterich said she was against the concept of using horses to pull wagons.

That's because she grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where the Amish use horses to pull wagons and think of them as beasts of burden, not pets, she said.

"I thought it was cruel," she said. "They were tools to be used."

However, Josie was "kind of a challenge to handle," so Dieterich decided to learn the language of driving horses to be able to better communicate with her.

"It didn't take long to learn that some horses loved it," she said. "It was totally the opposite of what I thought."

The six horses the business currently uses to pull carriages and sleighs "love to work (and) love to pull," Dieterich said.

It was about that time when her husband spoke up.

"Bryan said, 'If you're going to keep rescuing horses, you need to find a way to finance it,'" she said. "The Carriage and Sleigh business was up for sale. Bryan said, 'No way.'"

The couple were living in Denver at the time and knew nothing about running a carriage and sleigh business, she said. But they took a drive up to Aspen to check it out.

"We took a sleigh ride," Sandy said. "I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life."

Bryan enjoyed it, too, and wasn't hard to convince, she said.

"The next week we were refinancing our home," she said.

That was 12 years ago, and while there have been ups and downs, Dieterich said she doesn't regret a thing.

"What's not to love?" she said. "I get to spend all day with horses, experience the magic of a sleigh ride and I get to be with happy people.

"It's a great job."

The Dieterichs currently have 19 rescue horses at their homestead near Hotchkiss, which they are able to support and feed through the Aspen Carriage and Sleigh.

"There's an old quote: 'The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man,'" she said. "Bryan's favorite line is, 'She's living her dream and she's dragging me along with her.'"

For more information about carriage or sleigh rides, call Aspen Carriage and Sleigh at 970-925-3394.

jauslander@aspentimes.com