Like anyone else with children, I love to see the wonder in their eyes at the magic of Christmas. I remember being young, believing in Santa, and enjoying waking up on Christmas with mysterious presents under the tree. I also remember staying up late to try to see Santa. But one year, something fun just fell into my lap.

Some friends of ours were moving, and they had a horse they couldn’t take with them. They tried to sell it, then tried to give it away. My friend came to me the day before they left and asked if we would take his horse.

I quickly rigged up a little pasture, and he rode the horse to our house. The horses’s name was Mike, but it wasn’t long before we changed it to Rusty. We had a neighbor named Mike, and he thought I was yelling at him whenever the horse got out.

Rusty was a good horse, for the most part. He was gentle, and the kids enjoyed riding him. But he tended to want to get out. He didn’t go too far. It just seemed that the fence was something he wanted to overcome. But once he was past it, and the challenge was over, he didn’t care to run off. In fact, sometimes, he worked to get back in.

I fixed the fence up tight, and he had a much harder time getting out. But as the winter wore on, the snow made the wires droop. We had just gotten the children in bed on Christmas eve when I heard a commotion in the yard. I went out, and it was Rusty. He had found a few apples left on the apple tree. They were old and mushy from the cold, but he was determined to reach what he could.

He had made tracks back and forth across the yard. It looked like he had eaten all that were within his reach and had headed back to his pasture, only to return for one last check. I went out and opened the gate to his pasture, and without too much effort, I got him back in and shut the gate.

I was about to go back in and continue the preparation for Christmas when the hoofprints in the yard gave me an idea. I could see my bootprints among them, and I thought this was the perfect opportunity.

I slid my boots along behind each other, making a long trail across the yard. I did the same thing about six feet from that trail, creating a parallel track. I hoped they would look like sleigh runner tracks amongst all the hoof marks. I then tromped some boot marks from there over to our house. I also made a set going back to hoof marks. I returned to the house once more, ensuring I carefully stepped in the same tracks.

I then invited my wife out to see it.

“What is it?” she asked.

“Isn’t it obvious?” I replied. “It is reindeer hoof tracks, along with sleigh marks and Santa’s boot prints. Of course, horse hooves are much bigger than the dainty reindeer ones, but the younger children won’t know that.”

She expressed her skepticism, but the next morning, when the children got up, I said, “You’ve got to see what is in our front yard!”

They rushed down the stairs behind me and threw coats over on their pajamas. I led them out and pointed at my creation. The younger children were excited. The older ones rolled their eyes.

Later that day, I saw one of my oldest daughters out analyzing my work.

“Isn’t it cool that Santa landed his sleigh right on our front lawn?” I asked.

She rolled her eyes. “I’m too old to believe that, Dad. But I do want to know how you made the hoof prints.”

“Rusty got out,” I replied, “so I made good use of it.”

She grinned. No more needed to be said.