Family tradition brings joy to children, especially during Christmas

Terri Penner steadies their white Percheron while waiting for additional carriage passengers during the Hillsboro Chamber Christmas event the first Saturday of December. Patty Decker / The Edge
Terri Penner steadies their white Percheron while waiting for additional carriage passengers during the Hillsboro Chamber Christmas event the first Saturday of December. Patty Decker / The Edge

For more than 20 years, the Penner family in Hillsboro has brought joy to area children by offering horse and carriage rides during the Christmas season.

Gary and Terri Penner said they can?t remember how the tradition of carriage rides started, but Gary?s father, Lynn, had Percherons in the early 1980s.

?We started giving rides in 1987,? Terri said, ?and (the family) all did it together up until a few years ago when dad and mom went into assisted living.?

Terri explained that her son, Cody, also helps with carriage rides during the holiday season, but that she enjoys seeing the faces on children.

?They look so happy and always as they are getting out of the carriage they say, ?thank you,?? she said.

Even though it takes a lot of time to get the horses ready, get their harnesses off and on, clean the carriage and load and unload them, Terri said, it?s the kids that make it worthwhile.

In addition to giving carriage rides to children and their families, the Penners also take some of their draft horses to a tree farm in Salina.

?It?s a place where people can pick a live tree and cut it themselves or have someone cut it for them,? she said. ?Gary takes people on a path around the trees (using two of the horses and wagon).?

Their daughter Tania, who now lives in Weskan, was also home recently so that she could drive with her dad in Salina.

?No matter what she is doing, she has to go,? Terri said. ?It?s still in her blood.?

Movie career

The Penner family, and their Percherons, have also been in three movies: ?Sarah, Plain and Tall,? ?Skylark? and ?Winter?s End.?

Each of the movies take place on a farm in Kansas.

All three movies starred Christopher Walken and Glenn Close, she said, explaining how their horses were chosen.

?We belong to the Kan?sas Draft Horse Association and word got out that (movie producers) were needing horses and extras,? she said.

?Through the president of the association at that time, he got us all together and we went.?

The first movie, Sarah, Plain and Tall came out in 1991, she said.

?Some of the first and second movies were shot around Topeka, and Winter?s End was in Topeka and at Cowtown in Wichita,? Terri said.

The family brought two horses, she said, and in the first movie, all that was visible were their heads.

In the second movie, ?Skylark,? she said Gary was in a birthday scene and his dad, Lynn, was also in it.

?There was a watering hole and it was drying up,? she said. ?Gary?s dad was down (at the watering hole) getting buckets of water, and Glenn Close and her daughter were down there with Lynn.?

In the last movie, ?Winter?s End,? Cody and Gary were driving a grain wagon and Terri said, she and Tania were going to town in a carriage with her onscreen husband.

Regarding her acting career, Terri said the food was excellent, but someone couldn?t pay her enough to be in the movies.

?Too much hurry up and wait, hurry up and wait,? she said.

Special honor

One of the biggest honors for the Penner family, she said, was when the president of the National Percheron Horse Association called them in 1995.

?We were asked to bring our horses to Kansas City to work the arena,? she said.

Being personally asked by the president was what Terri said made it so special.

?With these horses, our kids have met so many people (from around the world).?

At one time, she said, there were a lot of draft horses in Kansas, but now she believes there are no Percherons in Marion County and only some in Salina and Wichita.

?There?s just not as many as there once was,? she said.

by Patty Decker

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