It’s nice to find something novel to do with the kids at holiday time. Even better if it’s something fun and festive that gives them an activity to participate in while honoring the true meaning of the season; something like the event held on Sunday, December 14, at Lucky C Stables in New Paltz. The tenth annual Ponies and Toys Toy Drive generated 225 toys this year, collected for Family of New Paltz to distribute to local families in need of a brighter holiday than they’d have otherwise. Kids and their parents were invited to bring a new, unwrapped toy to donate, and in return for their generosity, Lucky C Stables offered free horse or pony rides around the inside ring. Hot chocolate, cookies and coffee were provided.
The relatively mild winter weather on Sunday brought out dozens of families. “We have a beautiful day for this today,” said Susan Clark, co-owner of the business along with her husband, Gary, whom she credits with being the driving force behind the annual toy collection. But the event would have gone on in any weather, because all of the activity takes place inside the sand-footed indoor arena.
Most of those who came to ride were between the ages of three and 16 or so, estimated the Clarks. Santa-hatted volunteer “elves” — some regular riders at the stable and others members of Lucky C’s Equestrians Unlimited 4-H Club — assisted the little ones in mounting one of three horses. They had their choice of riding Oliver, a full-size horse; Girlie, a smaller quarter horse; or Pepper, a pony that Susan said is normally “head-shy” but on this occasion got into the spirit by allowing a pair of antlers to be placed on her head. Most of the children ended up taking a couple of laps around the ring, volunteer elves at the ready to help.
At the center of the arena, surrounding a cheerfully decorated Christmas tree, were bales of hay topped by the pile of toys brought by the families. “There’s such a need for donations,” Susan said, noting that when the 4-H Club did a food drive for Thanksgiving and brought the collected items to Family of New Paltz on the Monday before the holiday, the shelves at the pantry were almost bare. The goal for the toy drive was to collect 200 toys, she said, but more would be even better. “We’re just trying to get as many toys as we can to bring to them.” And in addition to what the attendees at Sunday’s event brought, the 4-H Club also purchased toys to donate using money they earned through their various fundraising efforts.
Most of the people there knew about the event through word-of-mouth. The Thibodeau family, David and Jennifer with daughters Viola, 6, and Juliette, 3, have a horse and pony at home — Snapple and Ollie — and both girls are interested in learning to ride, although only Viola is old enough at this time to have attended the summer riding camp this year at the stables. (Juliette held up four mittened fingers to explain when she’ll be able to join in.) David, a chemistry teacher at New Paltz High School, and Jennifer, an English teacher at Minisink, were enjoying the festive atmosphere. “It’s really generous of the Clarks to do this,” said David, “and it’s a lot of fun.”
Six-year-old Ennis Adler and her mom, Andrea, live close by. “It’s a beautiful initiative they’re doing, collecting the toys and giving us access to the horses,” Andrea said. When Ennis was asked if she had ridden horses before, she nestled shyly into her mom’s shoulder. “I have toy horses,” she said.
By the end of the day, that goal of 200 toys collected was exceeded by 25, filling two car-loads to bring to Family of New Paltz with hopes of making the holiday season happier for some local families in need. The Clarks expressed thanks for their staff members who helped out with the event — Susan, Maureen, Amanda, Lindsay, Rony and Jess — and volunteers Abby, Anna M., Athena, Carly, Jenna, Jess A., Katie, Kaylie, Lia, Lily, Maddy, Ruby and Tomiko.