For the holidays I’d like to share a special memory of my dear old childhood pony, Wimpy. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, Wimpy, a 25-year-old gray Connemara gelding, was my first pony. I had him in high school. At this time, my family and I were living in England over a period of three years. Culture shock that it was, we soon fell in love with the country and tried to assimilate by adopting English traditions like tea (loved it), pubs (even better), and fish and chips (heaven).
Getting the British vernacular down took a while (they call halters for horses head-collars!), and during our first Christmas overseas, I quickly learned that Santa Claus doesn’t deliver presents in the U.K., but a chap called Father Christmas does.
In my family, even the pets received Christmas gifts, so as the 25th of December quickly approached, I was racking my brains over what to get not only for Wimpy, but also all the other horses in the stable. Two nights before Christmas, I finally had an idea: I was going to play Father Christmas.
On Christmas Eve, I asked my parents to drive me to the local tack store, which sold carrots by the bag. Now, I don’t mean just any bag — I’m talking a horse-sized bag of carrots. Filling the trunk with three large bags of carrots, I came home and used my mom’s entire supply of aluminum foil to wrap a package of carrots for each horse at the barn. With a little flourish of red shiny ribbon and a peppermint to boot, I was finished. Next stop, the delivery.
The stable was down a gravel road within easy walking distance from our house. Retrieving a wheelbarrow from the barn at about 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve, I wheeled up to the house, loaded up with shiny wrapped carrots, put on my Santa hat, and wheeled back to the barn by the light of the moon.
Outside of each stall at the barn was a hook on the ceiling where the horse’s halters hung for easy access. This hook was also a perfect perch for some Christmas carrots. Wheeling into the stable, I turned on the lights. A few curious heads poked out, munching hay and blinking sleepily in the unexpected light. Walking down the aisle, I matched each gift to each horse, since their names were on the packages. There was Bertie and Lady and Rooney and Twinkle, and of course Wimpy. All presents read: “From: Father Christmas”
Christmas morning, I walked to the barn, as usual, to feed Wimpy breakfast and turn him out on pasture for the day. Other horse owners were cleaning stalls and filling water buckets and examining the mysterious packages that arrived overnight. I could barely contain my giggles as I walked down to Wimpy’s stall, feigning surprise as I opened his package and gave him a huge carrot, which he devoured in just a few loud, satisfying crunches.
Once my morning horse chores were done, I slipped quietly out of the barn for a day of presents and food and our first English Christmas. Naturally, it didn’t take long for the rest of the folks at the stable to deduce that it was the American girl who had done this. The Santa hat left hanging over Wimpy’s stall may have given it away.
Dr. Anna O’Brien