Decking out your stable in cheerful holiday lights and decorations is a fun and festive way to brighten up the darkest days of the year. Of course, decorating your horse’s home requires some special safety considerations.
First and foremost, you don’t want your holiday glow to become a barn fire, so pay attention to the many fire hazards posed by Christmas decorations. Eliminating lights from your décor entirely is the surest way to reduce the risk, but if you plan carefully, you can enjoy a light display on the outside of your barn safely.
Use lights and extension cords designed for outdoor use. Consider using LED lights instead of the older types as the LEDs stay cool when in use. They also last considerably longer, consume less energy and are more durable than their traditional counterparts. The initial purchase price is a bit more than traditional lights, but they are worth it in the long run.
Don’t run your extension cord under a rug, as it will heat up and could cause a fire. If the cord gets excessively hot, you have probably overloaded it. You can avoid this by not stringing too many strands of lights together on one cord. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines.
An alternative is battery-operated lights, which avoid the problems of extension cords entirely, although it is still essential to keep them out of reach of animals.
Christmas light wires should not get warm, so check them every so often to make sure they’re still running cool.
Inspect your light strings and extension cords carefully for frayed wires, cracks in the casing and other signs of wear before using them. Make sure the last person at the barn turns off all the lights when he or she leaves for the night.
Every year, Christmas trees are implicated in house fires. Keeping the tree watered and being careful with lights and candles reduces the hazard, but keeping a decorated tree in the barn isn’t worth the risk. Artificial trees are generally safer—look for one labeled as nonflammable or flame-retardant—or just decorate your favorite live tree on the property (out of reach of the pasture.)
When you put something new in the barn, like a wreath or a string of garland, your horse will probably want to find out more about it, and horses often explore the world with their mouths. Don’t underestimate how far a curious horse can stretch to reach the object of his desire. Keep all decorations well away from stalls, crossties, pasture perimeters and anywhere else a horse might be.
Holly and mistletoe are both toxic if ingested by your horses or barn dogs and cats. Avoid these, or use fake ones from the craft store.
Cats are notorious for getting into—and sometimes eating—tinsel and other sparkly decorations. Your barn cat can climb to heights your horse never dreamed of, so if you have cats at the barn, make sure you don’t hang anything near the rafters, hay loft or anywhere else a curious cat could get to it.
Holiday treats can be a fun addition to the barn this time of year, especially for busy boarding and lesson stables. Decorate stockings for each horse, then riders can leave a tasty gift for their favorite horse to be fed at mealtime. If you have Dutch doors or use stall guards so that your horse can hang his head out when he’s inside, your best bet is to hang the stockings in a central location, like the tack room or office, instead of on the stall doors. Your horse—or his stall neighbor—could be motivated to reach that stocking and its tasty contents no matter where you hang it.
A fun project is to create a wreath from carrots or peppermints. These are unique and festive horsey holiday decorations that are horse-safe, provided your horse does not get a hold of and devour them. These tempting treats will need to be kept far away from equine areas. The carrot wreath won’t last long, but the peppermints can be fed out throughout the holiday season.
Even with all of these safety hazards in mind, there is plenty you can do to show off your holiday spirit at the barn.
You can’t go wrong by hanging a few wreaths on your barn doors or the backside of your run-in shed. A green garland and some bows on your farm sign or lamppost are easy, safe and beautiful. Sleigh bells hung on the doors produce an unmistakably festive sound without posing a risk to barn residents. For an especially unique expression of holiday cheer, set up a holiday photo shoot with your horse and order large prints to hang in the barn.
With a little creativity and an eye toward safety, you can enjoy a very merry stable this season.
Make a Horsey Holiday Garland