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Horse drawn sleigh rides a time-honoured Cariboo Christmas tradition

For almost 25 years Karen and Kim Sepkowski have provided a bit of winter magic with horse-drawn sleigh rides in the Williams Lake area.

“Many of our repeat clients have become friends,” Karen says of their hobby-turned-small-business, Cariboo Carriage Company. “We have had people from China, France and Australia.”

Giving Santa a ride in their sleigh during the Santa Claus Parade has been something the Sepkowskis and their mother-daughter team of Suffolk horses have done for years, pre-COVID.

“A funny thing with the Suffolks is that Santa would stand up and go ‘Ho, Ho, Ho,’ but we finally had to ask him to stop doing that because when he did, the horses stopped because they thought he was saying, ‘whoa, whoa, whoa,’” Kim says.

Often they’ve taken foreign exchange students on the rides and in the case of a group from Southern China, the students had never seen snow before and were very excited.

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“It is nice to provide something for people from out of town, especially an outdoor adventure,” Kim says.

A local daycare normally books two times a year and brings an elder along and one year, Karen says, the elder had lost most of his eyesight.

“We went on a ride in a meadow west of here and he told me where we were and what direction we were going. When I asked him how he knew that, he said he could tell by the direction of the wind and sun. He’d grown up riding horses and he was amazing.”

Kim, left, and Karen Sepkowski with their Suffolk Punch horses Grace and Hope are looking forward to offering sleigh rides this winter after having to cancel last year’s season and part of the season the year before due to COVID-19 restrictions. a(Monica Lamb-Yorski photo – Williams Lake Tribune)

The Sepkowskis have lived on Anderson Road in the outskirts of Williams Lake for 15 years.

Nearby they have access to several trails on Crown land where they take their guests on the rides.

“It is very magical when there is snow covering the branches. People love it,” Kim says.

When COVID-19 halted the sound of their sleigh bells part way through the season in 2020 they were disappointed, so they are looking forward to offering the rides again this year.

“We have submitted the documents for our insurance and once that is accepted we will be offering limited bookings,” Karen says.

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Some aspects of the ride are changing because the Sepkowskis will have to sanitize after each ride. They will not be able to offer hot chocolate, hot dogs and goodies, although customers can bring those for themselves to enjoy around the bonfire after a sleigh ride.

Karen has owned horses since she was a teenager and has been driving draft horses for more than 20 years.

The Suffolk Punches who pull the sleigh are Hope, 18, and her daughter Grace, 10.

“Suffolks are critically endangered,” Karen says. “There are only about 2,500 of them left in the world. In our area, I think there are three out west and I know of a breeder in Prince George. When I first got these guys there wasn’t a breeder in B.C. We are lucky to have them.”

High school sweethearts, Karen and Kim met in Prince George, got engaged at graduation and have been married 47 years. They have four children and five grandchildren.

Their property is also home to more horses, a pony, goats, donkeys, four dogs and a cat.

A transfer with Save-on-Foods for Kim in 1985 landed them in Williams Lake and it didn’t take long for them to ‘feel like it was home.’

“Here we have four definite seasons, and we actually have more sunshine than anywhere in B.C.,” Kim says.

He worked at Save-on-Foods for 25 years, but in 1996 also formed his own company Air and Water, which does bottled water and water treatment for commercial and residential clients.

Karen has been working at Williams Lake Veterinary Hospital since the fall of 1991.

Recently the Sepkowskis have started working part-time, which will give them more days to offer sleigh rides.

“It takes at least three people because I’m driving the horses, somebody has to be on the sleigh when we take people out in case there’s a tree across the trail or something, and somebody has to be back at the property watching the fire and making sure everyone is OK there,” Karen says.

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