GRAND FORKS, N.D. — As a matched pair of handsome, massive black horses hitched to a wagon rounded the bend in the snow-covered park, children heralded their arrival.
“They’re coming! They’re coming!”
Wagon driver Clayton Vetter gently pulled back on the reins of Cooper and Henry, stunning Shire horses, and the team calmly came to a stop at the pickup point for the next load of eager children — and adults — to ride around Lincoln Park.
The wagon rides were part of the Grand Forks Park District holiday event on Dec. 10, 2023, that also featured a magic show, crafts and visit with Santa at Santa’s Village in the Lincoln Park Golf Course Clubhouse.
The horse-drawn wagon rides were the highlight of the afternoon for many of the families who attended the event.
Darcy Osowski and her daughters, Kinley, 9, and Kylie, 4, were on the first wagon ride of the day on Dec. 10.
What was the best part of the sisters’ afternoon at the park?
“The horses,” they said.
Although the rides Cooper and Henry gave that day were the 4-year-old’s debut performance at a public event, the pair took it in stride like veterans.
The Shires, which stand more than 18 hands — 6 feet high — at the top of their rumps and weigh 2,000 pounds each, are as gentle as they are large.
Their calm, quiet temperament, combined with their obedience to their owners’ commands, make them ideal horses for giving wagon rides.
Vetter and his wife, Kristen, owners of Point Paradise Stables, south of East Grand Forks, Minnesota, began offering wagon rides to the public in 2009. Besides Cooper and Henry, the Vetters own a gray Shire team and a gray Percheron.
give wagon rides for weddings, private company picnics and summer public events in North Dakota and Minnesota towns and cities that are within about 150-mile radius of Grand Forks.
The Vetters, who also operate
during the fall, enjoy giving community members an opportunity to spend time with equines. Patch on the Point features horse-drawn wagon rides and rides on the backs of ponies.
Their businesses are family run and their two daughters, Karen, 13, and Vienna, 11, help with the feeding and care of the horses and ponies. The girls also are responsible for the care of the family’s riding horses.
Though the sisters don’t yet drive the the horse teams, they are an integral part of the family team.
“They do all of the work behind the scenes,” Kristen said.
Through working with the horses Karen and Vienna have learned responsibility and developed compassion for animals, she said.
Like Karen and Vienna, their parents are “horse people” who enjoy being around the animals whether they’re riding and driving them or simply in their presence.
They especially are fond of their Shires, the largest horse breed in the world and one that is declining in numbers. The Shires are considered a rare and endangered breed and there are fewer than 2,000 of the horses worldwide.
“The horses are just absolutely incredible. I grew up showing quarter horses, but there is nothing like a Shire,” Kristen said.““They live in my front yard and they still take my breath away.”
During the holiday season, Clayton enjoys giving people a nostalgic winter experience, he said.
“It’s fun, especially the younger kids and the older people who grew up with horses. I like to see them light up,” he said.
by nature, like all horses, a lot of time is required to train them to follow commands. The Vetters began working with Cooper and Henry three years ago to get them ready for wagon ride duty.
“Just a lot of repetition — starting with putting their equipment on and taking direction,” Clayton said.
The horses learned their lessons well, obeying their owners’ voice commands as he held their collars up to harness them for the Dec. 10 wagon rides at Lincoln Park.
“Put your head down. Put it on. Good boy,” Clayton said.
Once Clayton and Paige Stallard, who was helping him at the event, harnessed Cooper and Henry, the team followed his commands as they hitched them to the wagon, The pair of horses then waited patiently for riders to climb aboard the wagon, which can seat 16 riders.
The Shook family’s outing at Santa Village in Lincoln Park was capped by the wagon ride.
“We loved it,” said Patricia Shook, who was at the event with her twin daughters, Esther and Evie, their brother, Emerson, and her mother in-law Patricia Shook and father-in-law Steve Shook.
“The horse-drawn ride, it’s magical,” Patricia Shook said.
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