There is blessed little to hang onto. That's the important information about one-horse open sleighs that is not conveyed in the Currier and Ives prints.
When a passenger is dashing through the snow behind a steed more than 16 hands high, ensconced in an "Albany cutter," the bulbous-sided sleigh that is the classic of the etching, the mind does not immediately dwell on the jingle of the bells or the feel of the wind.
It goes to the question of whether an arm can be draped behind the bench seat with the appearance of casualness, and then locked into a death grip.
Saturday, the day after the big snow, just west of the Rappahannock in the foothills of the Blue Ridge, was the perfect time and place for this sort of discovery.
The weather certainly seemed to come from Currier and Ives. Green conifers shimmered against the deep, fresh powder. The river ran black. The cold brought high color to cheeks.
The sleigh came from Harvey Lagasse. Lagasse and his wife Nancy run Journey's End Farm, off Rte. 211 near Amissville, Va. At any given time, they have 25 or 30 horse-drawn vehicles on hand.
It's not always easy in this era, they say, running a time machine back to the elegance of days gone by. But that is what the Lagasses believe they're doing. Their specialty is carriage rides of more than two hours through the bosomy hills between Warrenton and Little Washington.
Harvey drives; Nancy is the footperson. Both get completely decked out in livery. And the romantic ride, at $100 for the trip, comes complete with champagne, pate, French bread, cheese, fresh grapes and soft classical music piped into the back seats of an 1880s-vintage brougham.
For the sleigh ride last weekend, Harvey dressed in his gray top hat, and his antique driving gloves, made of bear. He laid out the lap robes of coyote and deer. The antique, charcoal-fired footwarmer was deemed unnecessary, but Nancy did cover her hands with a muff.
The sleigh itself is a classic. It weighs less than 100 pounds. The struts connecting the body to the runners are so fine and springy that they really shouldn't be stood on to get in or out, Harvey explained.
Amos, 7, was the horse. He appeared in the movie "Witness" -- he was the one in front of the cart, pulling the Amish people.
Amos was very large by the usual measure of a standardbred. Even the Lagasses, who like and feel comfortable around horses, volunteered that when he raises his head all the way up, he looks like a camel. Across his shoulders was a heavy leather strap, studded with jingle bells the size of walnuts.
(How do you convince a horse not to spook at the sound of several dozen bells right behind his ears? You get him used to the idea by attaching the bells to his stall door, Harvey explains.)
Amos made it clear he wanted to go by pawing eight inches of snow right down to the grass in a very few swipes of his cleated horseshoes. Harvey, driving, was on the left. For the passenger, it was a fairly cozy fit next to him in the curved bench seat. Harvey flicked the reins, and in an instant, the sleigh shot out at high speed.
Riding in a one-horse open sleigh is not unlike being on the North Atlantic in an open boat, with the engine wide open, in close, heavy swells, the hull echoing thump, thump, thump, as it bounces against the top of the waves.
Eventually, terror subsides. "O'er the fields we go," bumping over the terrain behind a very large animal kicking snow in all directions cannot only be exciting, but indeed, one can end up "laughing all the way."
An old, tin-roofed barn loomed on the hill. The horse's hooves were almost silent in the snow. The sun caught the powder as it flew into the air and made it glisten. Harvey tried to hand over the reins as the sleigh hove to port at around 20 knots. That was not necessary, he was assured by the passenger. He was doing an exemplary job of driving. Not necessary at all.
In addition to the rides, the Lagasses sell nearly 100 carriages a year, 80 percent of them assembled new. Of those they have had restored, perhaps their favorite is the black, tulip-seat surrey with patent leather fenders and a white fringe on top. That's the one that the Lagasses chose to ride to their wedding six months ago.
The Lagasses also sell harness, tack, carriage parts and supplies -- new and antique -- from carriage lights to blinders to holly whips to axle grease to "crowns" -- tall, dunce hat-like cones that decorate draft horse collars in the style of the Budweiser Clydesdales.
Christmas was a big time for the Lagasses. They sold half a dozen sleighs in two weeks.
The Lagasses reveal that they do a lot of charity work, including for Children's Hospital in the District, which treated Nancy's daughter Aubree Joy Silver, 8.
Harvey Lagasse has been in the carriage and antique business for more than 20 years, starting in Connecticut. But he also holds a full-time job as a meat cutter for Giant Food in Fredericksburg. He has a very active entrepreneurial dream for diversifying Journey's End and to make it his entire life.
Nancy Lagasse repeatedly describes herself as a nice Jewish girl from Chevy Chase who is constantly pinching herself at the idea that here she is, out in the mountains around which, on Aug. 22, 1862, J.E.B. Stuart, with his entire cavalry, rode around John Pope's army, to Catlett's Station, where he destroyed supplies and army materiel and captured Pope's headquarters wagons.
As Amos was unhitched and the gear put away, Nancy said, "You know? I never get tired of this. It's like I'm living a dream."