Most riders have some special Christmas traditions or seasonal celebrations that they follow every year. Some head out for a Christmas morning ride or join a Boxing Day hunt, while for others the festive season is a time for friends and family and so the horse is left to spend a few content days grazing in his paddock. For yet others, Christmas is a time to spread cheer and connect with the local community — and what better way than on horseback?

Three riders share their Christmas traditions which see them celebrate with their horses, friends, family and their community. From delivering cards to visiting care homes, these #Hack1000Miles riders spread joy and festivity around this special time of year…

‘Mum didn’t want to pay for stamps – and 20 years later I’m still delivering Christmas cards on horseback!’

During the festive period Kirsty Davies takes on the role of Christmas ‘postwoman’ and hand delivers her cards.

“I started delivering Christmas cards when I was 10 years old and got my first pony, Jake. My mum didn’t want to pay for stamps for local friends — and who can blame her — and so she gave me some tinsel and a bag of cards and sent me on my way,” explains Kirsty, 30. “I could cover the ground faster
than she could on foot and the tradition has continued ever since.”

Kirsty Davies’ Christmas card delivery tradition began with Jake in 2003…

Every year Kirsty sets a date to hand out her cards and then, when the day dawns, she climbs aboard her own nine-year-old Connemara mare, Jinty, and heads out.

“I pick a bright day and go straight to the field to get Jinty in and then dressed up. The aim is always to try to return before sunset, which isn’t easy at that time of year as we have a chat at each house and often end up doing pony rides for the kids we see,” she says. “Jinty is a superstar. She patiently waits at each house, gives everyone kisses and will stand on driveways while I pop to front doors to knock.”

…and has continued over the years, and now Kirsty takes out her nine-year-old Connemara, Jinty

Kirsty produces Connemara ponies, and even when she hasn’t had a horse to ride, she hasn’t let that stop her festive postal round.

“Even when all I had was unbacked ponies, I would still go, taking someone in-hand,” says Kirsty, who works as the head of equestrian for a boarding school. “The locals tell me that it isn’t Christmas until they see me out in my fancy dress.”

Last year Kirsty and Jinty were joined by a pint-sized companion in the form of Shetland pony Pickle.

“He’s a rescue from Essex Horse & Pony Protection Society. He was taken into the sanctuary at a week old and came to live with me after he was weaned,” says Kirsty, who volunteers at the charity, helping to rehabilitate the equines. “He’s often dragged out for ride and leads to help with his waistline.”

Last year Kirsty and Jinty were joined by rescue Pickle

‘It’s the only time of year I don’t wear high vis – but I don’t think anyone would miss me!’

Hannah Leslie hails from a family which loves the festive season, and she goes all out every year to celebrate.

“We all go over the top for Christmas. My nan was a Christmas nut, and we have carried on the tradition,” explains Hannah. “I commissioned a hand-made rug for my horse, Kobi, and I always dress him up in it with bells and ribbons. I used to work in a care home, and we would visit the residents in the run up to Christmas.”

Hannah Leslie’s Kobi is dressed up for a Christmas outing

Northamptonshire-based Hannah has planned a variety of seasonal celebrations for the care home over the years.

“A few years ago I organised a yard hack and we all sung Christmas carols in the garden,” says Hannah. “We weren’t the best singers, but everyone enjoyed it.

“Another year we delivered gifts. We put out a plea to the local community for some knick-knacks and wrapped them all up. My boyfriend, Ricky, dressed up as Father Christmas and I was Mrs Claus.

“I get my ideas from films or they just pop into my head and I give them a go.”

On Christmas Day morning Hannah and her 15-year-old Knabstrupper cob cross, Kobi, also head out for a hack.

“We go for a ride before lunch on Christmas Day. It was once something that was on my bucket list that I so wanted to do, and now I manage it every year,” says Hannah, 31. “I dress up and then get Kobi ready. If it’s raining I just put on lots of tinsel because I don’t want the fluff on my Christmas outfit to get wet. It’s the only time I venture out without hi vis, but only because I’m wearing bright red. I don’t think anyone would miss us.”

Spreading joy in her local community inspires Hannah to continue her festive outings year after year.

“Everyone looks out of their windows and the kids get so excited,” she says. “Everyone loves it.”

‘I just want to make people smile’

Although she didn’t realise it at the time, 35 years ago Liz Roskell began what would turn into an annual Christmas tradition. She dressed up her first pony, Paddy, and rode around her village. This continued with her next horse, Bracken, who she owned for 21 years and with whom she became British Endurance Champion twice. Now she now heads out with her 21-year-old Connemara cross, Barney, who she took on in 2018.

Liz has been spreading horsey Christmas cheer for many years, and is pictured here with her previous horse, Bracken

“My festive outings started off with me riding around the village in fancy dress, and then I began to give out sweets and goodies,” recalls Liz, who lives in Lancashire. “One year I went to visit the nursing home where my mother-in-law lived, and all the residents came out. Many of them had had horses or ponies at one time or another in their lives and so they loved it.”

Such visits have grown into quite an undertaking over the decades, with Liz now boxing up the 14.3hh Barney and taking him to visit care homes that aren’t within hacking distance.

Barney gently greets residents at one of the nursing homes he and Liz visit

“It’s lovely to brighten up the residents’ day. We don’t charge or make any money. I just want to make people smile,” says Liz, 60. “Barney is such a chilled dude, too. He stands there, lets everyone stroke him and will reach down to nuzzle people in their wheelchairs. He likes the attention.”

Previously Liz would only be able to head out at weekends, but now she is retired she spends the two weeks in the run up to Christmas on her special outings.

“After the pandemic, the village had a street party for the kids and so Barney and I dressed up and went to that. There were elves and a snow machine, but Barney didn’t bat an eyelid,” adds Liz.

This year the pair’s festival schedule includes parties, nursing home visits and even a restaurant they pop into while riding past.

Liz Roskell and Barney at a post-covid street party. The 21-year-old Connemara cross wasn’t fazed when meeting his fans near a snow machine

You may also enjoy reading…