When I first signed up for a riding lesson at Foxfield in Westlake Village, California, on my 50th birthday, I didn’t realize it was a gift that would give me much more—a new family of friends, horses, donkeys and dogs with lots of opportunities for fun. Twin sisters JoAnn Postel and Nancy Turrill established Foxfield in 1967 not only as a riding school but as a place to learn, share and play on and off horses regardless of age.
One of those opportunities is at Christmas: Horses, tack, stalls and barns are festively decorated by kids, parents, grandparents and friends, spearheaded by Foxfield rider Brooke Mansker, who has generously shared ideas and organized tasks for decades. After caroling on horseback, the group gathers at a party where JoAnn and Nancy award the coveted first-place decoration award. The competition, however, often ends in a tie because the sisters love them all.
One recent Christmas, my group decided to turn our barn into “Santa’s Reindeer and Horse Stable” by replacing eight stall signs with ones that read, for example, “Dancer … Santa Claus” and then by attaching antler crowns to the heads of those eight stalled horses. However, we discovered a flaw: At Christmas, Santa’s reindeers wouldn’t be stabled because they would be busy delivering gifts around the world. Our solution—posting a sign on each reindeer’s stall, “Gone to North Pole … Return Dec. 26th.” Then, right before the judging, we moved the horses in the reindeer stalls to turnout so the stalls would be empty. For Rudolph, I created a little corral at the end of the barn, complete with food, water and toys plus the note of explanation for his absence. While we won that year, it was not without the gift of ideas shared by all competitors, truly demonstrating the spirit of Christmas.
Seeing how much Foxfield families enjoyed the decorating spurred me on during the following year to decorate for other holidays, especially when my out-of-state grandchildren were in town.
To make it easy, I picked one theme for the year: All decorations focused on treats because my horse Oliver lives for them. The decorations consisted of stapling a holiday-specific plastic tablecloth to the front of his stall and then topping it with a sign plus related cutouts and garlands. (If your barn is like ours, use staples judiciously because all must be removed.)
Valentine’s Day: “Show me the love! Give ME (Ollie) your candy.”
St. Patrick’s Day: “I’m not Irish but for a CARROT I’ll be anything you want.”
Easter: “It’s better to GIVE than to receive … so give ME your candy!”
July 4th: “O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of GRAIN, for CARROTS grown abundantly, across the APPLE’d plain. America! America! Please shed these treats on me (Ollie)!”
Halloween: “My best trick … making treats disappear!“ (Empty candy bags were stapled beneath.)
Thanksgiving: “Thank you, Lord, for sunny skies and treats; a warm stall and treats; less work and MORE treats; loving humans with treats; carrots, apples, ALL treats; and for the Goodmans, especially Hannah, who is a treat. Amen” (Ollie is leased from Hannah Goodman.)
And then it was Christmas again and my barn adopted the theme of “The 12 Days of Christmas” with each day’s gifts defined in terms of Foxfield including:
• On the fourth day, four foxes frolicking—the fox is our mascot.
• On the 12th day, 12 horses drilling—Foxfield’s Equestrian Team includes 12 horses schooled often by their riders.
I chose the sixth day of Christmas to honor our tireless maintenance crew. After covering the back of my stall with Christmas paper, I posted the following sign with photos of each man and tributes handwritten by Foxfield riders:
“On the sixth day of Christmas, Foxfield gave to us, six guys hard-working. Thank you all and Feliz Navidad!”
This was my favorite project of all as the tribute was so well deserved.
May you have a merry time decorating your barn with family and friends.
This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Practical Horseman.