Looking after reindeer has been a magical experience

KIERAN HOWARD: Thanks very much for the hand, foot and mouth disease Louie

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Once upon a time, seeing Santa’s reindeer involved jumping on a plane and going to Lapland – something I’ve always wanted to do but have been unable to because of a massive flying phobia.

But these days you don’t have to go far to see these beautiful creatures.

Seeing children’s faces light up and then answering all their questions and telling festive reindeer stories has been great fun

They appear at more and more pre-Christmas events across the country and for the past few weeks I’ve been at Garsons garden centre in Titchfield, doing a stint as a specially-trained stable elf.

I’ve been busy feeding the reindeer and keeping their quarters clean until they fly off with Santa on his biggest night of the year.

They’re an iconic part of Christmas and you can’t help but fall in love with them.

The reindeer I’ve been working with reside the rest of the year at Riverways Farm in Berkshire, where they are tended to by farmer Andrew Cardy and his family. He has 15 in all.

It’s a lovely place with lots of grassland for them to roam freely as a herd.

I’ve learnt a lot from looking after them. I thought that with all my years owning ponies, these animals would be quite similar.

But apart from both having hooves and eating grass, they are very different.

For a start they have antlers. If horses had them, then the number of times I’ve been headbutted by a moody mare or grumpy gelding could have caused me some serious damage!

Reindeer antlers are very impressive and can be up to 3ft long.

They’re made of solid bone and the prongs are extremely sharp.

Out of the two I’ve been caring for, Glacia is a bit older than his furry companion Lightning. But Lightning was the friendliest, frequently nuzzling me with his velvet nose in the hope that I had the odd carrot hidden in my pocket.

Looking after them has been the most exhausting but magical and wonderful experience.

Seeing children’s faces light up and then answering all their questions and telling festive reindeer stories has been great fun.

I just hope I get invited back next year.