Dashing Through History
January – February 2016
Lake Tahoe Famiy at the Reins of a Half-Century of Memories.
BY TERI VANCE
With a natural affinity for the outdoors and animals, Sam Borges had always dreamed of a life working with horses. And when a sense of dissatisfaction with the routine of his job in San Jose, Calif., came upon him, Sam packed up his family and moved to Lake Tahoe, where he and his wife, Rosie, received a chance to make his dream a reality.
That was the way Sam had always operated: all in. Now, nearly 50 years later, Borges Sleigh and Carriage Rides—a company built on a twist of fate—still graces the shores of Lake Tahoe.
A WINNING FUTURE
Sam was born in 1924, in Albany, New York, and he grew up on the road with a mother who traveled the country selling Bibles after reportedly being healed from blindness through the power of prayer.
“When he was 13, Sam told his mother, ‘This is your life, not mine’,” recounts his daughter-in-law, Dianna Borges. “He told her he wanted to live on a ranch. So she made a ‘Boy for Rent’ sign. A nice family who had just lost a son took him in to teach him to become a rancher.”
It was there in Lemoore, Calif., that he learned to care for horses, clean stalls, and clear fields. In 1948, he met Rosie Luis and the pair were married the following year; three sons quickly followed. The family moved to Lake Tahoe in the early 1960s.
In 1965, he and Rosie had an unexpected surprise. A fourth boy, Dwight, was born 12 years after his closest brother. Dwight wasn’t the only the surprise the family would receive.
In 1965, Sam entered his son, David, in the South Lake Tahoe Dodge dealership’s raffle for a Shetland pony.
“The whole family went down to the dealership that Saturdaymorningandwaitedfor them to draw a name,” Dianna says. “The first name they drew wasn’t there, and you had to be present to win. The next name was David Borges.”
The next step was to build a sleigh to hook up the newly acquired steed. An avid tinkerer, Sam saw a picture of a sleigh in a J.C. Penney catalog and used it as a model to build his own. He’d hook the sleigh up to Little Joe—a name he’d gotten from the popular television show “Bonanza”—and give rides to the neighborhood kids. The joy he saw on the kids’ faces as he’d take them to and from the bus gave him an idea.
“Dad worked construction in the summer and snow removal in the winter,” Dwight says. “The snow removal business wasn’t reliable, so he decided to start giving sleigh rides to tourists in the winter instead.”
On a late summer day in 1967, Sam put on his best suit and drove down to see Brooks Park of the Park’s Cattle Company. Sam offered Brooks a percentage of the profits if he would allow Sam to run his sleigh in the tree line above his snowy meadows overlooking the lake.
“It seemed a shame only the cows got to enjoy such a terrific sight,” Sam is quoted as saying. The two men shook hands, and the deal was made.
FROM DREAM TO LEGACY
This year, Dwight—who, like his father, quickly tired of city life after graduating with a degree in engineering, and came home to take over the business—and Dianna are kicking off what they’re deeming the 50th anniversary of the Borges Sleigh and Carriage Rides in Lake Tahoe.
“Papa Sam wasn’t very good with note taking,” Dianna says. “He was old world. We’re really close to 50 years, it just depends who you talk to.”
Although Sam died in 2010, his influence can still be felt in every aspect of the business, including the care of 15 Belgian draft horses, the dedication to the customer, and treatment of employees. Today, guests can embark on a number of special horse-drawn adventures offered by the Borges family. In the summer months, carriages operate in Lake Tahoe, offering views of the historical and scenic destinations. During the winter months, sleigh rides are available at various locations in Lake Tahoe, including South Lake and Sand Harbor State Park. The company also offers pony rides, which are available for parties and special events year-round. Guests—including such celebrities as Bob Hope, Ray Charles, and Muhammad Ali—come for a variety of reasons. Some are looking to check off a bucket list item; others return to mark such life events as proposals, weddings, anniversaries, and birthdays.
While each ride is unique, every driver continues the tradition Sam start- ed of leading guests in a sing-along to “Jingle Bells” and reciting “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening,” by Robert Frost.
“The area is so beautiful,” Dwight says. “We tell stories and entertain the crowd. It ends up really being a life-changing experience for people. It’s almost magical.”
“It’s definitely magical,” Dianna clarifies.
TAKE A RIDE
Borges Sleigh and Carriage Rides