I have a true story to tell about midnight on Christmas.
It happened in 1991 or ’92. My marriage had ended, and I was leasing a farm as a boarding stable. I had around 20 horses at Christmas that year.
My son was then 5 or 6 years old and knew the Thomas Hardy poem about all the animals kneeling down at midnight on Christmas Eve. He begged and begged to go to the stable at midnight, but I put him off, not wanting to disappoint him in this year of so many disappointments.
You see, I had a lot of horses that did not like to lie down even in the wee hours of the night, including two mares whose owners told me they’d had those two for years and had yet to even see them off their feet. A number of the others would lie down, but would immediately get up when someone entered the barn or came near them.
Well, that Christmas Eve, Conor woke up at 11:30 and begged to go to the stable to see if it was true. My heart was a little heavy as we went down.
It was 11:59. We entered the barn at midnight, flashlight in hand.
EVERY horse was kneeling. We walked down one side and back up the other. Every horse was kneeling; none got up.
None were flat on their sides, not even the yearling. And the two mystery mares were also kneeling; so were the track lay-ups who always jumped to their feet when people approached: every single one of them.
It was so hushed and quiet and beautiful.
The faith of a child….
Conor is 13 now and stands 5’10”. He still says to me, “Remember that Christmas Eve when we went down to the barn to see if the horses were kneeling?”
It’s one of my most special lifetime memories.
Thomas Hardy’s “The Oxen” (1915)
Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock,
“Now they are all on their knees,”
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.
We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.
So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
“Come; see the oxen kneel
“In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.
By Thomas Hardy
(This story was edited by Dianna Robin Dennis)
© 2002 by Anne Flyzik
This Christmas story has long been a favorite on the Chronicle of the Horse Forums, and the author, Anne Flyzik, graciously gave permission to reprint it on www.chronofhorse.com.