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Horses And Holidays: Ideas for Celebrating With Your Barn Family

The nights are getting longer, the temperatures are dropping and the horses are getting fuzzy. The holidays are upon us and it is time to celebrate with our barn family and friends. Since show season is done (for most regions), it means that the horses have probably had their show shoes pulled and are enjoying some playtime. It’s time to throw a wreath on the barn doors and let your students go to town on the lesson horses’ stall doors. But what else could you do to bring some holiday cheer into your barn family? No matter what winter holiday you’re celebrating, there are many ways to enjoy an evening of fun, food and friends.

Barn aisle parties are the most commonly held type of holiday party. Making it a potluck will help to spread out the food preparation and allow the trainers to focus on the fun games and events. Bring in some folding tables, fire up the crock-pots and get ready to overdose on all types of sugary concoctions. Lucky for those in attendance, barns are a great place to find wheelbarrows to help you get to your car. If a sit down meal is more your speed, local catering companies usually book up fast for the holiday season, so scheduling with them early in the year is a must.

Getting the date out to the barn members earlier rather than later will significantly help with attendance. And don’t think that you have to have the party in the middle of December. That time of year most families have work parties, school parties, parties with extended families, churches, and other social groups. Scheduling around these can be much easier if you plan your barn party for the second or third weekend in January. This can help to keep the cost down, too, as most vendors increase their prices for the holiday season.

Monnington Farm's 2015 Christmas party included live music by the Allen Lane Band. Winter weather can sometimes be a factor, but most of the people in the northern states will have already put on their snow tires and broken out their winter hats, gloves, insulated underwear, and hand warmers. And if it does snow, let’s just hope that you have a sleigh somewhere in your barn for some winter wonderland fun. One key advantage to having your Christmas/Holiday party in the snowy parts of the USA is you can forego purchasing any ice and keep all of your beverages perfectly chilled in the piles of snow.

These barn aisle parties are not only a great way to celebrate the holiday season, but are an excellent time and place for the presentation of a new horse decked out with a big red bow. The hardest part about this is keeping it a surprise from the receiving child or adult. Usually in November and December, those who may be in the market for a horse become increasingly suspicious of any new horse in the barn, even if you keep it in a stall as far away from the door as possible. Most trainers and instructors can brush off the inquisition with their rehearsed statements (“he’s here on trial” is usually the best), but the excitement for the spouse or parents will hopefully not become too much to bear.

Aside from the food and horse presentations, there are numerous other activities that you can do to keep your clients occupied and moving to keep warm.

Stall decorating contests are probably the most common activity at the barn aisle parties. The kids (and sometimes adults) bring ribbon, wrapping paper and endless amounts of tinsel ready to adorn their favorite lesson horse or pony’s stall front. From cutesy themed decorations to the wildly eclectic, watching the kids work together to create their masterpiece is fun for all involved. And the huge stocking, hung up with a single thumbtack, and filled with candy canes, apples and carrots will keep the lesson horses begging for treats for weeks.

In 2013, Knollwood Farms youth club, the Knollwood Knockouts, had its own Christmas party, and even took two of the school horses caroling. Photo by Josh Hanna.

A scavenger hunt is one more activity that can keep the children and adults alike entertained for quite a while. Use your horses’ barn or show names for word association clues. For example, if you have a horse named Cash Flow, you could use the clue “Show me the money!” and pin monopoly money on his stall front. Or use a riddle like, “You wouldn’t want to use me to eat your dinner, but I can PICK up a lot of food” to direct them to the pitchforks where you have taped plastic forks to the handle. Have fun little gifts to give the winning team, or you could make the prize one free lesson in January or February.

Winter themed racing games would be a great way to help burn of some of those chocolaty goodies and cheese balls. Pin the Tail on Frosty the Snowman, Tinsel-tied 3-Legged Race, and Christmas Musical Chairs are just a few ideas. Though it may sound like these are just for the kids, just remember how competitive and fun to watch the trainer’s equitation classes were. A quick Google or Pinterest search and you’ll have enough game ideas to last the entire weekend.

Doing a Yankee Swap or White Elephant is another idea for holiday parties. Each guest brings a wrapped gift (new items for the Yankee Swap and used items for the White Elephant) then you draw numbers to see who goes first. As each guest opens a gift, the next person in line can choose to steal that gift or open another package and so on until all the gifts are opened. It is important to set a price range on the gifts so that way no one goes too overboard with the presents.

One way to spread the cheer, and warm everyone’s hearts at the same time, is to raise money for a local charity or Saddlebred rescue organization. You could organize a 50/50 raffle or place a card basket near the food table for clients, family and friends to put their donation. For barns that usually purchase small gifts for all of their clients, present the group with a big check in the amount you would have spent, made out to your favorite charity. Another option would be to get the barn to adopt a family in need for the holidays. Working with a local charity, it would be easy to put sign-up sheet in the barn a few weeks in advance, with a list of items needed, and ask everyone to bring those with them to the holiday party.

Horse presentations are a common part of barn holiday parties. In 2014, Sara Evans received CH Keeper Of The Stars at the High Caliber party. If your building cannot accommodate a large crowd, renting a tent is a great option. It technically gets the clients out of the barn, while providing shelter from inclement weather and creating a party atmosphere. You can easily decorate it with lights, pine boughs and red and green (think of all of those pretty ribbons that were collected through out the show season). This is obviously a better option for barns in warmer climates, but who doesn’t love Christmas lights on palm trees? Having the tent in a flat area near the barn, like High Caliber Stables is Greensboro, North Carolina does each year, allows for the new horse presentations to take place without having to trailer the horses across town.

Sometimes you just want to get all dressed up and have somewhere to go. For those who found the perfect Louisville Stake night dress but ended up not being able to go, dinner at a nice restaurant with a function room big enough for all of your barn family is a great option. Again, making the necessary arrangements early in the year is a must, but this can be a great way for everyone to mingle without the smell of sawdust and the naughty lesson pony kicking the wall. You could make it into your barn’s “Year End Awards” celebration, complete with prizes for things like “most miles traveled,” “best trainer impersonation,” and “No-Stirrup-November” winner.

This type of party does pose a slight problem with new horse reveals. A video presentation of the new horse is probably the most common solution, but that doesn’t seem very exciting. One inventive way would be to wrap up a Breyer horse with a red bow around its neck and the horse’s registered name written on the box. When the receiving rider opens their present, everyone will get to witness the light bulb coming on as they realize what that statue means.

One common denominator for all of these types of parties is the presence of alcoholic beverages. Not only is it important to make sure that underage people are not consuming these drinks, but it is imperative that everyone gets home safely. Whether you are in the barn or out on the town, if you feel that someone has had a little (or a lot) too much eggnog, do not hesitate to call a cab or offer them a ride home. The last thing that a barn family wants to do is to mourn the loss of a cherished member.

Whether you have a low-key potluck luncheon or a dress-to-the-nines night out, the most important part is to make sure that you are having fun with your barn family. Show season may be over, but there is still a lot to celebrate and be thankful for. And don’t forget to share a few candy canes with the amazing four-legged animals that have literally carried you all year. (Just make sure your trainer is looking the other way!)

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