PEQUOT LAKES, Minn. -- As many Minnesotans find, long winters can bring out creativity. That's much the case for Abbie Schramm, Mary Rosenberg and their growing group of skijoring enthusiasts.
Skijoring is a Scandinavian pastime in which one participant straps on snow skis and is pulled around a course. Today, skijoring is done with everything from dogs to motorized vehicles. Traditionally, skiers are pulled by a horse that is either ridden by another participant or directed by special equipment the person on skis uses.
Rosenberg had long considered trying to skijor on her own. In recent years, she brought up the idea with Schramm, who boards Rosenberg's horse at North Gait Horse Company in rural Pequot Lakes, about 25 miles north of Brainerd.
"As soon as I got out of the car and met her I told her I'd like to skijor and she said she'd like to too," Rosenberg said. "She was all on board to help me through it. I had the harness. I had the horse and the desire and willingness to do it. But without Abbie, it probably wouldn't have come together."
"She said, 'I have a quarter horse shire cross and it's always been my dream to ski with her.' And she had already started the whole harness process," Schramm said. "She had pictures and the whole idea in her head but wasn't sure how to take the next step by putting it behind the horse."
For Rosenberg, the idea came from a comment a friend made.
"A friend of mine saw my horse and said, 'You have got to drive that horse. She's so pretty and she just looks like she wants that job.' And it had never occurred to me," Rosenberg said. "After a couple years of hearing it from him I said, 'I love to ski and I adore my horse, so let's put these together.'"
At first Schramm said she was mostly helping to train Rosenberg's horse, Zena, for skijoring. But since Schramm was using one of her horses to help train and learn the process, when Rosenberg suggested that Schramm take up the hobby she was definitely interested.
"I have two geldings I have always wanted to drive anyway, like pulling carts, and one of them I have taken that whole route where he drives a two-wheel cart," Schramm said. "So when Mary came and suggested it, it was like, 'Yeah, that sounds like a blast.'"
From there, they have started a sort of club consisting of as many as 10 members who gather together to ski behind horses.
There was a lot of research to bring the pastime home.
"I researched online," Rosenberg said. "I looked at the history from Norway to Switzerland. They do a lot of it in France."
Among other things, they had to research not only which equipment was used in skijoring, but how to make it, because it's not an item you can just get at a saddlery or just buy off the shelf.
"You have to go to different places," Schramm said. "You can't just go to one place and find all the stuff. Nobody makes skijoring pole assemblies, so we had to make some for ourselves. We had a few days where we just got together and made pole assemblies as a club. It was nice because we were able to throw ideas off of each other."
"We got a guy in Duluth to manufacture a pole assembly that we designed out of carbon fiber, and then we have three designs for skijoring behind the horse for the pole assembly," Rosenberg said.
Between the lack of equipment and the lack of personal experience, there was a lot to learn before they could make it happen.
"I had been thinking about skiing and driving my horse for going on four and a half years," said Rosenberg. "I was like, 'How am I going to do this?' because I wanted to drive the horse and not ride her."
The challenge comes from the lack of pressure that can be applied to give the horse direction. Rosenberg said they are pulled 6 or 7 feet behind the horse with 15 feet of reins.
"There's no leverage. You're light as a feather when you're on skis," Rosenberg said. "You have to be good with oral commands and your horse has to trust you and be happy."
The skijoring club isn't one size fits all either. Some, like Rosenberg, prefer to skijor solo while some work in pairs. Sometimes they don't even use skis.
"It's been fun to get together and have hot chocolate and play around on the track," Schramm said. "We've got some that are pulling themselves behind one horse and we've got a couple who will ride one of my horses with basically a tow rope attached to her saddle, so if you're not comfortable doing the driving and skiing at the same time then it works out well because someone else pulls the horse. And my son has been using his pony for it. All my nephews snowboard behind his pony."
The group held an event in late February where all the skijorers gathered and took turns around the track. Schramm is more than willing to help people try the hobby.
"It's something you don't have to be a skilled horse person to do as long as you come out and ski behind someone else's horse," Schramm said. "If someone wants to try it, it's going to be something we can help with."