Mary Jane Swedberg drives the Percheron horses pulling
the four-seat bobsled,
which seats up to 12 people.
MAPLETON — Although she owns Waukesha County’s only
horse-drawn winter sleigh ride service, Mary Jane
Swedberg does not fret over whether there will be a
Regardless of the weather, Thanksgiving to New Year’s
can be a busy time for the eight Percheron draft horses
at Hoof Beats Express.
“Horses and carriages are unique in the Midwest,”
Swedberg said in a recent interview with the Enterprise.
“Community groups have recognized that horses and
carriages can help attract people to their events,” she
horses and their uniquely designed sleighs, carriages
and wagons are also used in parades, community events,
weddings, birthday parties, hay rides and on other
special occasions throughout the year.
Hoof Beats Express offers
a romantic ride for two in an antique Minnesota country
when the winter weather is right, they carry kids and
adults, bundled in blankets, across a rustic trail of
evergreens, woodlands and grasses on the 115-acre
Swedberg farm in Mapleton, a few hundred yards north of
the intersection of highways P and CW.
“During Christmas, families are looking for something
nostalgic; a horse and carriage driving through the snow
like in the move ‘White Christmas,’” Swedberg concluded.
The sleigh riders share the winter wonderland with
hawks, ducks, geese, turkey and deer that Swedberg said
are often spotted along the trail.
Swedberg’s husband, Bob, described each of the three
slides used on the sleigh rides.
There is a large four-seat bobsled for groups of up to
There is an antique Minnesota country sled for smaller
groups that has been in the Swedberg family for
There is an antique Canadian sled that provides a
private ride for two.
“Because of the way the runners are articulated, it
feels like you are gliding over the snow,” Bob Swedberg
said about the smallest sled.
Jane Swedberg advises her customers to dress very warmly
for the 35-minute ride.
the temperatures dip below 15 degrees or the wind is
stiffer than 9 miles an hour, the rides are called off
because the conditions can become uncomfortably cold,
family enjoys a ride in one of the sleighs used by Hoof
Beats Express in Mapleton.
of driving horses
Jane Swedberg started the business in 1989 with four
Percherons and a small carriage for weddings.
has gradually expanded the business.
have learned to diversify. We even have a (horse-drawn)
funeral hearse,” she added.
Swedberg said one of her most unique experiences was
driving the hearse at the funeral in Milwaukee of a
Hmong military general who had served as an advisor to
American troops in southeast Asia. She explained that
the survivors and grieving friends walked behind the
hearse in a short procession from the church to the
husband drove a horse and carriage down a Milwaukee
street for the filming of a television commercial that
was later displayed on the giant screen at Lambeau
“Occasionally we would go to a Packers game and
sometimes we have looked up and saw Bob and the horse on
the giant screen,” Mary Jane Swedberg quipped.
and Mary Jane met about 47 years ago in Randhurst, a
small Chicago area community about half way from his
suburban home in Rolling Meadow and the farm she grew up
on in Antioch.
Although she spent much of her life riding horses, her
passion for driving teams came after she and Bob
participated in wagon train trips in Montana.
was a whole different experience than I had as a rider.
It is hard to explain how it feels to have those two
little lines in your hand trying to control all of that
power in front of you,” she said.
has received professional training in driving teams, has
appeared with her teams in the Milwaukee Circus Parade,
and frequently competes in driving events.
According to her husband, she had to go through an
intense fitness program to build muscles in her arms,
hands and fingers to control the horses.
horse of choice is the Percheron, a breed of draft horse
whose origin dates back to the 17th century in what is
now western France.
These huge horses are known for their intelligence and
willingness to work.
Swedberg’s Percherons weigh between 1,700 and 2,100
pounds and range in height from about 5-foot, 8inches to
6 feet, or between 17 and 18 hands high which is how
horses’ height is usually measured.
prefers Percherons over other draft horses such as
Belgians and Clydesdales because the Percherons have a
quicker and more spirited gait.
two favorites are Buddy and Bob. They are semi-retired
and have been with her almost since the beginning of the
business that has given her the joy of being with her
horses and sharing them with others.