Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Experiencing NH Maple via wagon ride

All aboard for wagon ride fun at The Rocks!
Horse-drawn wagon rides are a tradition at The Rocks Estate, during both Christmas tree season and Maple Tours. Here, writer and Rocks visitor Meghan McCarthy McPhaul describes the joy guests of all ages feel with a ramble through the farm.
A trip to The Rocks is always fun, but when the horses are there, the visit becomes downright enchanting. Like many kids, mine have a thing for horses. Even before they could talk, they would do their best to whinny from the back seat of the car any time we passed a horse in a field.
Our first visit to the New Hampshire Maple Experience was on a typical spring day – chilly, a little bit wet, but bright. We heard about the history of maple sugaring, learned from Nigel how to identify and tap a sugar maple tree, visited the sugar house, and even tried the sweet-and-sour combination of pickles and maple syrup, complemented by a fresh donut. But the highlight of our morning at The Rocks was the wagon ride.
The horses that pull the wagons at The Rocks are HUGE. Depending on the team, they are either Shires or Belgians, breeds of draft horses that can be as tall as 19 hands and weigh upwards of 2,000 pounds. The horses’ heads tower above even a tall adult, but they look down at curious visitors with gentle eyes, a characteristic that goes along with the breeds’ size.
The author and two of her horse lovers.
The men who drive these teams at The Rocks are always great about letting us approach the big horses and pet their noses. I’ll admit that it’s not just the kids who have a thing for horses, so does their mom. I welcome any opportunity to stroke a soft, hay-scented equine muzzle. It seems we are not alone in our love affair with these beasts of labor, as the horses tend to draw an enthusiastic crowd whenever they are at The Rocks.
After we said hello to the horses at the Maple Experience, we climbed on board the wagon and claimed a hay bale for a seat. The horses set to work, and off we went down the tree-lined lanes of The Rocks.
Each wagon has a guide along for the ride, to share little tidbits about the captivating human and natural history at The Rocks. The day we visited, we lucked out and had as our guide Barb Desroches – known to my children as “Ms. Barb,” because she visits their school to teach environmental education each month.
While the adults in our wagon peered into the branches high above to see if we could distinguish the sugar maples from the red maples along the way and peppered Barb and our driver with questions, the kids simply delighted in the gentle sway of the wagon and in the chilly air of the spring day.
My kids had a great time throughout the Maple Experience. They liked helping to tap a tree, seeing the steam billowing around the sugar house, and eating donuts dipped in sweet syrup. When asked about their favorite part, though, they all pick the wagon ride. “I liked petting the horses," says one. "I liked being up high in the wagon and looking out of the wagon and seeing the sap buckets on the trees and other things at the farm."
Once we returned to the main building, the kids gave a parting pat to the horses, we grabbed a bag of fresh-popped maple kettle corn, and we headed home happy and having learned a good deal about maple sugaring. I know that on our next trip to The Rocks we’ll all be looking forward to saying hello again to our great big equine friends.

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