Peter Hammerer on sleigh ride | © Kleinwalsertal Tourismus eGen | Photographer: Dominik Berchtold

03 Oct. 2018 · Winter Activities
Susa Schreiner

On skids through the fairytale landscape

A snow-covered landscape, under the runners crunching snow, a refreshing breath of wind on the face ... Join us on a sleigh ride, which remains unforgotten.

How it all began

I had called Peter Hammerer to book a sleigh ride, thus fulfilling a long-held girlish dream. Winter, sun, horses, a sleigh – here, a prince would just get in the way... During our telephone call, I also wanted to impress this horseman, or “Rosserer” as they say in Upper Bavarian, with my "knowledge" about Noriker horses. Peter understood, and told me: “Well, if you’re that interested, why don’t you come to the yard a little before two, and I can introduce you to the horses.” He was making an exception because I wanted to write about them; usually, no-one gets to enter the stables. Usually when you book a sleigh ride, you come to the yard at the time you are told to find the sleigh prepared, the horses harnessed, and Peter on hand, ready for an immediate start. 

Peter Hammerer and his Noriker | © Kleinwalsertal Tourismus eGen | Photographer: Dominik Berchtold

A scene from a fairytale

I arrive at the yard a good quarter of an hour early, and immediately I feel as if I have stumbled onto the set of “Three Nuts for Cinderella” or some other such winter fairytale, as the first thing I see is a tall man with curly hair wearing a thick fur hat, a fur jacket and heavy boots. I think of the nice coachman who brings hazelnuts for Cinderella – you remember, the famous fairytale film from the 1970s? Peter Hammerer looks exactly like the coachman, only taller.

Tour of the stables

Before I set out on my cosy sleigh ride with the two Norikers, I am led into the stable and introduced to some mountain-bred heavy horses: the two proud stallions Satan and Hoffeldhof, gelding Pezi, and next door, mares Lolita and Fiona. This is as far as we go: it's 2 o’ clock and Peter wants to start on time. Pezi stamps indignantly in his box, asking for more hay. Peter gives him a little more, and we head outside again. I take my seat on the coach box; finally, I’ll get to talk to Peter about horses.

Peter has around 25 Noriker horses. He doesn’t know the exact number; only yesterday he helped one of his mares to foal. Peter is not only a coachman, but also a foaling partner and farrier rolled into one. He also has four "Tyrol Grey” cattle – an ancient, robust breed of cattle. 

 Peter Hammerer on sleigh ride | © Kleinwalsertal Tourismus eGen | Photographer: Dominik Berchtold

“Before, we had Galloways, but I didn’t like them.” When his father retired, he sold the hairy cattle and replaced them with four “Tiroler”. He and his wife do the majority of the stablework, although his father still gives them a hand from time to time. His three children also sometimes help out, but he doesn’t force them – he wants them to do their own thing. When asked if one of the kids will take over the farm, he is slightly evasive. His son is interested, his daughter Joelle is also good with the cattle – we will see. This is his 31st season as a coachman, which means that he has been sitting on the “Bock” (driver’s box) since his 16th birthday. I ask him if there is anything else he would still like to try. The answer comes quickly: “Heliskiing!”. The magic word – we are back to skiing, and as luck would have it, right this moment we have a perfect view of the Kanzelwand, the Fellhorn and further down the valley, the Nebelhorn...

Peter shows me chutes he has skied, or wants to ski. At the mere mention of the word “Renna”, Lola and Ricardo stop automatically, so that I can take a good look at the couloir that their human herd leader has already tackled on skis. With every chute that Peter shows me, my eyes grow wider. Lola snorts. Ricardo is indifferent to everything apart from Lola’s presence. Peter grins broadly – snow-filled chutes and Noriker horses – what more does he need to be happy, I think to myself. I ask him if winter is his favourite season, and get a clear “no”, because he also loves the summer. Then he spends his days barefoot and clad only in a pair of leather shorts, unless he is on the carriage, in which case he has to put on a shirt.

 Peter Hammerer on sleigh ride | © Kleinwalsertal Tourismus eGen | Photographer: Dominik Berchtold

Peter lets Lola and Ricardo stop for a breather, and we take a coffee break. The mare will foal in just three months, he says, but the work does not bother her. I grasp the opportunity and quickly ask if he has always had Noriker horses: No, they had Haflinger before, but they were much harder to drive, too nervous, and too light to pull large coaches. It’s not a problem for the Noriker though.

We cover the horses with thick blankets, and sit down at Café Küren for a hot coffee. After our coffee break, we return leisurely to the yard. We pass through the Walser landscape, leaving the picturesque “Wäldele” behind. My gaze roams over the mountains (we are still relatively high up), I catch repeated glimpses of Riezlern below us and indulge in childhood memories - a new version of Pippi Longstocking!

Every fairytale comes to an end ...

Meanwhile, we have reached the yard. During our journey, neither have hazelnuts fallen into our laps, nor has a monkey played a trick on us, but Peter’s stories about horses, together with his happy-go-lucky, youthful attitude and mischievous grin, have reminded me a lot of the colourful, carefree children's TV series I used to love, and occasionally still like to watch... I thank Peter, crumple Ricardo's soft muzzle, and whisper in Lola’s ear that she will be a great mum. Suddenly, I am back in the present – the next group has arrived, laden with provisions and excitedly looking forward to their trip. I would love to know which films pop into their heads when they see Peter and Ricardo