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Five ways to find your festive spirit (even if you’re REALLY not feeling it this year)

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Christmas is coming at great speed, but if you’re struggling to channel those festive vibes H&R’s got just the remedy

We’re well and truly into the holiday season now, but even if you can ordinarily be found firing up your Christmas playlist the day after Bonfire Night, you might be struggling to get into the spirit of the thing in this tumultuous year. But never fear: H&R’s team of elves has finished crying over Love, Actually and is ready to help you find your inner ho-ho-ho with our top tips for tiered festivities.

1. Commit to the cards

Okay, okay, hear us out– we know that Christmas cards are one of those very put-offable sort of chores, and does anyone really manage to get them in the post before the cut-off date anyway…? But this year’s a bit different. You likely won’t get to spend as much time with all the people you ordinarily would, and it can be so easy to let that get you down. Instead, use it as a way to really embrace the moments and memories that’ve made you the happiest, and the future plans you have with the people you care about most.

Cozy up by the fire – or pop a simulated one on your smart TV – stick on a film and take your time to really think about each person on your list. What were your favourite moments together this year, or what were the things you missed most about them? What’s the first plan you’d love to make together once life goes back to something like normal? What are you grateful for? Writing mindfully in this way doesn’t just mean your recipients will enjoy the very best kind of card – it also helps you to remember all the best bits of your year and all the joyous moments you have to look forward to. Don’t forget to write one to your horse, too – you might feel silly at first, but soon you’ll realise just how much fun you’ve had together this year, even if your plans were put on hold.

Top tip

Spread festive cheer while helping equines in need by buying a pack or two of Christmas cards from your favourite horsey charity.

2. Head to your favourite competition venue for a wintry walk

Most of us have at least one major competition that we count down to every year – which means that 2020, with its blank-canvas calendar, was a write-off for enjoying the buzz of bustling grandstands and the thrill of the fight for first place. What you might not realise, though, is that the sites of many of the UK’s best-loved competitions are open year-round for the public’s enjoyment. Even better? Going out to explore them is a great way to schedule in a safe and socially-distanced catch-up. Round up your usual Pimms stand partners-in-crime, wrap up warm and plan a long walk around your favourite spot.

Our recommendations? Both Badminton and Burghley’s expansive estates, where you can spot iconic fences in hibernation, the beautiful grounds of Cowdray Polo Club, which has one of the very best cafes to help you warm up again, and the Hickstead circular route, which will give you a glimpse of the International Arena and Derby bank, lying in wait for a busy summer of action

3. Create your own winter warmer

Inspired by the hunting community’s genius invention, the stirrup cup (for those not in the know, a little tipple designed to warm you up at the meet and offer just a hint of Dutch courage, though you don’t have to be a seasoned hedgehopper to take advantage of their ingenuity)? It’s easy and cheap to make your own infusions at home, with the added benefit that they’ll make your whole house smell like Christmas.

H&R Acting Content Editor, Tilly Berendt, swears by a mulled pomegranate gin, which doubles up as a super homemade Christmas present…

  • Heat 100ml of water in a saucepan with 40g of caster sugar, two cinnamon sticks, four whole cloves, half a teaspoon of allspice, and a three-centimetre piece of root ginger, peeled and chopped.
  • Keep the heat low and gently stir – the goal is to allow the sugar to dissolve and create a simple syrup, not to boil it.
  • Scoop the seeds and juice from two pomegranates into a jug or jar that you can seal – a 1l Kilner jar works brilliantly.
  • Once the sugar has dissolved and created a simple syrup, pour the contents of the pan into the jar and top up with 700ml of dry gin – the best kind to use is a cheap and cheerful supermarket brand, as they don’t tend to have their own overpowering flavour profiles.
  • Seal your jar, give the contents a gentle swirl and a shake, and pop in the fridge for two weeks. When it’s ready, strain through a muslin or a fine sieve, decant into glass bottles, and drink or gift. It’s delicious on its own, but extra-festive when mixed with Prosecco for the yard’s Zoom Christmas party.

4. Deck the halls – and the stables, too

Putting up the tree and unravelling millions of metres of tangled fairy lights always sounds like a special kind of torture if you’re not really feeling the festive spirit, but once you’ve started, it’s impossible not to succumb to a bit of merriness.

Keen to bring an equestrian touch to your home décor? That dusty collection of old snaffle bits at the bottom of your tack trunk can be repurposed as accent pieces on a wreath or garland using wired red ribbon to secure them, while a Newmarket fleece rug makes a unique and cosy tree skirt to nestle the pressies into. Heading out to any competitions through December, or want to commemorate your achievements this year? Rosettes make perfect additions to the Christmas tree, and can easily be repurposed to hang from its boughs by sliding a wire ornament hanger through the cardboard backing.

If you fancy joining forces with your yard pals to transform the stables, keep a few things in mind. Horses will reliably try to eat anything within reach, so keep decorations away from stable doors. Holly and other conifer varieties are mildly toxic, so minimise risk by keeping them to the tack or tea room and opt for horse-friendly options like paper chains, fake greenery or crafty garlands instead. If you have access to some old horseshoes with studholes, thread a thick, wired ribbon through each hole and tie a bow to create a perfect door decoration in a handful of seconds. If using fairy lights, consider battery-operated varieties or LED lights with a timer function to minimise the risk of electrical malfunction.

Oh, and the non-negotiable aspect of decorating? Christmas music on full-blast, a thermos of mulled wine on the go and a totally guilt-free tin of choccies to keep you well-fuelled.

5. Get involved with an equine charity

It can be so frustrating to feel that the magic of the holidays has waned as you’ve gotten older – after all, when you’re a kid it doesn’t take much more than writing a list to Santa to get the inner festivities fired up. As an adult, though, the secret to an unshakeable holiday spirit is simple – it’s all about giving.

Doing something kind for others is scientifically proven to make you feel great. The phenomenon, which has been nicknamed ‘helper’s high’, gives you a rush of endorphins and dopamine, contributing to that calm and cosy feeling of total wellbeing. That’s why finding the perfect present for a friend feels so great – you know how happy it’ll make them, and that, in turn, puts you on cloud nine.

Though Covid-19 restrictions limit some of our opportunities to help out at horsey charities, there’s still lots of ways to give back this winter – and not only will you make a huge difference to your lucky beneficiary, you’ll also feel that familiar glow of merriness come rushing back.

Even if you can’t head to your local horse sanctuary to muck in and muck out, your ability to get involved is limited only by your own creativity. Consider…

  • arranging a charity sponsored hack with your yard friends, with silly challenges for each monetary threshold you reach – if your mates know that reaching £200 will mean you’ll have to complete the ride in a Santa costume, they’re sure to chip in for the laughs
  • preparing a festive treat basket for a distanced delivery – keep costs down by making it a team effort, with everyone contributing to an array of healthy horsey snacks (bow on top mandatory, of course)
  • collecting a selection of all the pony novels you loved best to send to a riding charity, such as your local Riding for the Disabled branch or an inner-city riding centre
  • joining in with – or even organising – an online quiz night to raise funds and have a truly jolly time
  • adopting a horse or pony as a present for a loved one – or even a little treat for yourself

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