Step back in time at Iron River sleigh and cutter rally

Jan. 25—SOLON SPRINGS — A colorful tradition with deep roots in the community will move to Iron River this year. The 35th annual Northwoods Harness Club Sleigh and Cutter Rally, a celebration of horse power, will be held Sunday, Feb. 4 at Northern Pines Event Center.

"It's a really fun event. People will be able to see many different kinds of horse-drawn vehicles, some of which are imported from Sweden, Russia and Germany," said Janet Martens of Brule, event coordinator. "And the drivers and passengers will be costumed in early 1900's clothing."

There are 17 different classes with narrated and judged divisions featuring everything from miniature horses and ponies to draft horses and donkeys, all pulling vintage vehicles.

"It's interesting because it reminds us of where we've come from, historically, and how important the horse is, but there's also a lot of unique things to look at," Martens said.

Activities will include food, vendors, crafts and a raffle for a 50/50 drawing.

"It's a free event for the whole family, and there's not too many colorful experiences like this," Martens said.

The day will kick off with free sleigh rides from 10-11:30 a.m. followed by a parade of vehicles at noon. In addition to bleachers outside, visitors can opt to watch the parade from inside the clubhouse. The Northwestern High School chamber choir will sing the national anthem as the parade begins.

Martens said the Northwoods Harness Club, which formed in 1980, has brought its colorful display of winter rigs to several venues over the years, from Lester Park and the Duluth waterfront to Billings Park in Superior. For the past 12 years, it's been held at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center in Ashland.

"It's our biggest public event that we do. In the past when it has been over in Ashland, we've had over 1,000 spectators come through the visitor center there," said Julie Dahlberg of Solon Springs.

This year's event marks the first time the rally has been held since 2020.

"We haven't had an event for a couple of years, so we're hoping this is a wonderful return for a bunch of spectators and for our participants as well," Dahlberg said.

She's looking forward to gathering with friends and family, especially after last week's frigid temperatures made caring for their horses feel like a "Survivor" competition.

"The best part of it is the camaraderie, getting together," said Dahlberg, a second-generation horse caretaker. "All of the competitors know each other. So it's getting back together after having a few months off and seeing our fellow driving friends,"

On Monday, Jan. 22, Dahlberg and her daughter, Beth, took two of their driving rigs out for a spin in the field near their home. Monkey, a Welsh cross, pulled a Portland cutter while sport pony Little Joe pulled a Russian or Canadian sleigh.

"We are working horses every day here," Dahlberg said.

Three generations of the family plan to drive in the rally — Dahlberg will be joined on the field by her father, daughter Beth and possibly her husband, Mark.

Depending on the weather, spectators can expect to see as many as 40 different horse-powered rigs. The club has approximately 50 family memberships, half of them from Douglas County.

With the ground frozen, there is enough snow cover to hold the rally, although a little more wouldn't hurt. The Northern Pines Golf Course is also home to the Northern Pines Dog Sled Race, slated to take place Feb. 17.

"I think it has potential to be a fabulous site for us," Dahlberg said of the new venue.

Bringing the sleigh and cutter rally back promises a boost for both horse enthusiasts and the community.

"I think that an event like this draws the public into smaller towns. It's good for business; it's good for kids to get outside and see horses and see what a sleigh ride looks like and go for a sleigh ride. And I think it brings people together at a time of the year that most of us want to hunker down in our houses," Martens said.

Visit the

Northwoods Harness Club Facebook page

for more information on the upcoming rally.