What does your horse want for Christmas? Before you think I’ve lost my marbles and defected to My Little Ponyland, it’s a serious question.

A look at social media and equestrian sites suggests that there will be a lot of new leather headcollars and bling browbands bought ‘for’ horses. Telling yourself you’re buying your horse something you actually want yourself is, of course, a great psychological ploy – on a par with ‘I found this fabulous dress/jacket/whatever with 60 per cent off, so I’ve saved more than I’ve spent.’ Been there, done that and been ridiculed by Him Indoors.

Then, of course, there are the daft ideas which one magazine claims will “get your horse in the Christmas spirit.” So far, I’ve seen fake antlers that can be attached to a horse’s browband, with or without a Rudolph the Reindeer red nose to fasten to his noseband and equine Santa hats.

Don't try and get your horse into the Christmas spirit.
Don’t try and get your horse into the Christmas spirit.

Oh, and don’t forget the selection box. You won’t need to worry about breaking the forbidden substances rules, though – it contains not chocolate, but treats for stable toys designed to relieve a confined horse’s boredom.

Given the choice between a browband studded with Swarovski crystals and a bag of carrots, every horse I know would go for the crunch rather than the sparkle. But if you want to indulge yourself and think you’re doing your horse a favour, go ahead!

Just don’t take that step too far. We all anthropomorphise our animals: I know for a fact that our Springer spaniel is a furry person and that one of our horses is George Clooney on four legs, but more lovable. However, I’m really worried when an advertiser advises me, in what I’m sure is a light-hearted way, that I should buy my horse a present this Christmas if he’s been well-behaved or achieved competition success.

When it comes to the crunch, he'd prefer a carrot.
When it comes to the crunch, he’d prefer a carrot.

Apart from the consideration that – I hope – you wouldn’t treat your children that way, what are you supposed to do if you’re trying to solve a problem, or haven’t reached your rosette target? Horses aren’t naughty; they don’t wake up and think, ‘I’ll wind her up by refusing to canter on the left leg today.’ Nor do they trot down the centre line of a dressage arena determined to get better marks than last time.

If a horse’s behaviour is challenging, it’s because he’s in pain, doesn’t understand what you’re asking, is stressed or a combination of all these factors. If you win a competition, it’s because you’ve put in the work, ridden well on the day and, perhaps, had a sprinkling of good fortune.

Most of us love our animals, which has to be a good thing. Riders who deal with too many horses to develop an affection for them still develop respect. That’s something we must all do, because love and respect aren’t necessarily the same thing.

If you want to make sure your horse has not just a happy Christmas but a happy life, remember the principles enshrined in the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which requires you to ensure that any horse, donkey, pony or mule for which you are responsible:

  • Has a suitable environment in which to live
  • Has a healthy diet
  • Is able to behave normally
  • Has appropriate company
  • Is protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease

Happy Christmas, with or without a sparkly browband!