By: Brittany Bevis
Every year, photos roll in from around the country, and sometimes across the globe, for our EC Holiday Horse photo contest. Images often include Christmas card portraits featuring the equine members of your family, snapshots of your four-legged companions frolicking in the snow, and, our favorite, outrageous barn decorations.
We recently received a photo of what might possibly be the most incredible set of holiday barn decorations we’ve ever come across. Helping their clients get into the Christmas spirit this season with enthusiastic style are Shafer Training Stable and McAlexander Performance Horses of Cleveland, Missouri.
Let’s be clear, we’re not talking about just a few strands of Christmas lights and a handful of stockings hung round the stable. Fondly described by her barn mates as a “Christmas freak,” Anne Shafer is the harbinger of holiday magic with an elaborate spectacle that adorns not the outside but the interior of her training facility.
“We have been doing this for the past 13 years,” Shafer says. “Each year it grows a little more. This year, we had it all set up in under three hours. We set up on the day after Thanksgiving and had a pizza party beforehand. Everyone from the barn, the boarders, and training and lesson people come out to help with everything.”
In addition to white icicle lights that are draped from the rafters in the indoor riding arena, Shafer’s display includes more than 25 blow up inflatables that are nestled cozily atop her tack room and office area. Included in the group are a downhill skiing Santa, giant Frosty The Snowman, oversized rocking horse, igloo, Santa riding in a firetruck, polar bears and penguins wearing scarves and mittens, a carousel, and even a fully functioning snow globe.
When Stephanie McAlexander first moved her training operation into Shafer’s facility five years ago, she wasn’t sure what to think about this overwhelming display of holiday cheer.
“It is crazy,” McAlexander says. “I honestly thought she was nuts, but it’s fun. I don’t have the patience for the lights like she does, to do every strand and replace the bulbs, but she does and she loves it. The clients really get into it, and the kids love it. Each horse has a decorated stocking, and the front wall has stockings on it. If they want, they can put treats in the stockings. It’s just a fun way to get involved.”
“There is a social aspect to [showing horses]. We’re kind of big on promoting some camaraderie between our clients. Yes, in the pen, you are competing, but you need to be friends outside of the arena. It’s kind of helpful to do something that’s outside the realm of the show pen and the competition, and this is just one of the things that fall into that category.”
McAlexander explains that the unique design of the barn is perfectly set up for a Christmas display of this magnitude.
“The barn is set up so that the center has a 90 by 200 ft. indoor riding arena that’s surrounded by 40 stalls,” she says. “The end of the arena has a building that houses two tack-up areas, an office, a lounge, and a tack room. All of that has a typical eight foot ceiling. The top of the barn has a 16 foot space. Over the years, Anne has amassed something like 25 blow ups that get put up over that space.”
“We also line all the aisle ways with a row of colored lights along the top of the stalls. The rafters in the arena have icicle lights. We used to do every rafter, but nowadays we’re doing about half. We used to literally run every rafter with icicle lights.”
Besides filling the barn with the festive atmosphere of the holiday season, McAlexander quickly discovered another benefit from Shafer’s Christmas display.
“We ride with all of it up,” she says. “It kind of has an inadvertent benefit in that our horses are pretty much broke to anything they can throw at us in the show arena!”
One downside to this holiday extravaganza is that the electric bill is just a bit higher for December than throughout the rest of the year. However, McAlexander says it’s not as bad as one might think.
“It’s not terribly horrible on the electric bill, but it does add up,” she says. “We don’t run it all the time. We put it up on evenings that we have kids coming out. During the first weekend in December, we have a Christmas party and a potluck dinner where everyone brings a dish. We have [the decorations] in the barn, so it sets the atmosphere.”
Before some of you start getting a little Grinchy about the number of electrical cords needed to run a holiday display of this size within a barn housing horses, McAlexander is quick to confirm that extra precautions have been taken to ensure the safety of their horses and clients.
“Ann actually had everything wired by a fireman who is also an electrician,” she says. “He handled all of the wiring, and everything is set to no-surge power strips that will shut down if anything is not quite right. We try to take as many precautions as we can so everything is safe.”
Think you have a holiday barn display that might top this one? We’d love to see your pictures. Send images to firstname.lastname@example.org and you might see them featured on our website or Facebook page.