What would happen if Santa opted for real horsepower? Carolyn Henderson has some suggestions.
On Christmas Eve, parents all over the UK will solemnly help their small children leave out mince pies for Santa and carrots for the reindeer. Those who prize themselves on authenticity leave out nine carrots – one each for Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen and Rudolph.
But have you ever wondered why the fat gentleman in a red suit chooses reindeer? You’d think that once his sat-nav had navigated him here, he’d give the reindeer a rest and bring on a team of equines. After all, there’s one for every role.
Here’s how they’d match up according to their traditional characteristics:
Dasher is, as his name suggests, always ready to go. He takes off at a moment’s notice and is prone to snorting. He’s the one who’ll keep going when the others start to flag, but he’s also the first to get fed up when he’s having to wait for Santa to climb back up a chimney.
The role of Dasher would, of course, be perfect for a Welsh Section D stallion. You know the sort – lots of head-tossing and posturing…and that’s just the teenage owners who have found their soulmates.
And yes, I know that researchers from the University of Edinburgh reckoned that Santa’s reindeer must actually be female, because males shed their antlers during the winter. But Welsh Cobs have always been able to set their own rules.
Dancer has slightly longer legs than the other reindeer and is graceful and elegant. The equivalent would be a show pony; she’d insist on glittery hoof polish and a browband with as much bling as possible, and if you installed a TV in her stable she’d watch back to back episodes of Strictly Come Dancing, to inspire her for her dressage to music performances. Again, maybe that’s her owner.
Prancer is the fun-loving reindeer with a wicked sense of humour. She’s up for anything, including things she really shouldn’t be involved in. She always makes her owner smile, even if the smile occasionally verges on desperation.
Santa always makes sure Prancer is stabled on Christmas Eve, because otherwise she’ll limbo under the fencing and end up in the wrong field. Her equine counterpart is – you’ve guessed it – a Fell pony, with a New Forest on standby.
Vixen is clever and strong-willed. What she lacks in stature, she makes up for in sheer cunning. Santa usually forgives her, because her strength far outstrips her size and she can more than pull her own weight. Her pony understudy? A Shetland.
Comet is often underestimated, except by those who know him well. He’s sturdy and always gets on with the job, and is so versatile he can swap places with any other member of the team at a moment’s notice. If you have a cob in your family, you’ll recognise the qualities.
Cupid is always at the front of the team, because he has the courage to go anywhere coupled with a dislike of anyone else being in the lead. He has endless stamina and unswerving loyalty to his owner – and is also often underestimated. Cupid’s equine equivalent is, of course, the purebred Arab.
Donner, whose name means “thunder” in German, is the most powerful reindeer. He’s harnessed alongside Blitzen directly in front of the sleigh, where his pulling power is most valuable. Santa doesn’t like to embarrass him by telling him that he’s named because of the sound his huge feet make as he gallops through the sky. However, if you’ve ever seen the racing Clydesdales in action – and a glorious sight it is, too – you’ll know exactly what thundering hooves sound like.
Blitzen,whose name translates as “lightning”, is hitched next to Donner and has similar qualities. The perfect contender for Blitzen’s role is the Shire, and he and the Clydesdale can argue about who is the strongest and more athletic. Just don’t let their owners join in, or they’ll drive everyone else mad.
Then there’s Rudolph. Although he’s the reindeer everyone thinks of, he was only created in 1939, when an American advertising copywriter called Robert L May invented him to publicise a department store. He’s the one we all love - mocked by the other reindeer because of his glowing nose, he prevented disaster one foggy Christmas Eve by lighting Santa’s way.
We all know a Rudolph – the horse or pony who isn’t necessarily the best looking or most naturally talented, but has a special quality that his owner recognises. Maybe you’ve got a Rudolph – or one of his team mates – in your yard.
If so, we’d love to hear about them. Happy Christmas!