Do you celebrate Epona's Day - or Eponalia, as some people call it? Are you thinking about celebrating it for the first time this year? Here are some ideas for December the 18th, or for any day that you would like to honour Epona, whether you're new to this, or a regular devotee.
There is a single reference to December 18th as the Feast of Epona on an early calendar in Guidizollo, in Northern Italy. We don't know whether this day was observed widely in the Roman (or Celtic) world as a day for Epona, or whether it was a local custom. However, many modern Pagans have adopted this as Epona's special day, so it is a new tradition now.
If you have an altar or shrine to Epona, today is the day to show respect. Clean and tidy it, and the room it is in. Perhaps choose live roses to decorate it, or offer a rose scented candle or rose incense. My ponies used to love to eat wild rose hips at this time of year, and so sometimes I use those on my Epona altar, too.
Spend time honouring Epona.
If you have your horses at home, perhaps it's time to think about a small Epona shrine in your barn or storage area. I used to have mine on a wall in my feed room. I didn't keep my horses in the barn, but the feed prep. area was a place I went daily, and the shrine reminded me to think of my time there as sacred. As a bonus, I think it really encouraged me to keep my feed room clean and tidy. I sensed disapproval when it wasn't!
If you already have an altar or shrine to Epona, wherever it is, today is the day to show respect. Clean and tidy it, and the room it is in. Perhaps choose live roses to decorate it, or offer a rose scented candle or rose incense. Rose hips are nice, too. My ponies used to love to eat the wild ones at this time of year.
A photo of a horse, or a toy horse, can serve as a focus on your altar. As long as it represents Epona to you, it's enough. Many of us find that Epona inspires us to make music. I often make up spontaneous chants or songs when I am at Her shrine, especially if I am drumming. You might also want to create a piece of devotional art, either something for yourself or something that will inspire others to love and protect horses. Last year, I made this video.
There are many devotional prayers to Epona on the internet that you can use, or you can write one yourself. You might also like this prayer, which I adapted from an old Gaelic charm to protect cattle. I used to say it every evening at sunset when I turned my horses out onto their night-time grazing. Sometimes I still say it, for all the horses everywhere.
Pastures smooth, long and spreading,
Grassy meads beneath your feet.
Epona's friendship to bring you home
To the field of the fountains,
Field of the fountains.
Closed be every pit to you,
Smooth be every knoll to you,
Cosy every height to you.
Oh, the care of all the band,
To protect you and to strengthen you.
Think more about horse welfare. Give to a horse charity.
Please excuse this digression on horse charities and horse welfare, but Epona is a protector of horses, and I believe that this is highly relevant. There are many charities that help horses. You may already have your favourite. Make sure you do research about the charity you choose. How much of your money actually goes where you want it to go? The bigger the charity, the more likely it is that a lot of money is going to pay someone a big salary, so check! I am drawn to charities that help wild and feral horse populations stay in nature where they belong, but other charities need help, too.
I would like to talk about the pitfalls I see with horse charities. This is only my opinion. You can take it or leave it! Most horse rescue organisations are overstretched. Only a few are in the business of keeping horses under great conditions on their own land for the rest of the horses' lives. The rest depend on re-homing the horses, either by giving them to adopters for a fee, or by fostering them out. The quality of the homes they choose for this varies, so satisfy yourself that their homing requirements include humane treatment of the horse both in how it is kept and how it is used for riding, etc. Many horses find themselves in a downward spiral of re-homing, abuse or neglect. Don't support charities which contribute to that.
Horses need more than food, water, shelter and medical attention. They need to be able to carry out their natural behaviours of free movement (like in a pasture) and natural grazing (health permitting). They need to be with other horses. Ideally, they need access to these things all day, every day. If they are used for something like riding or human therapy, they need for this to happen in a way which causes them the absolute minimum of mental and physical stress possible.
Sadly, not all "rescued" horses go to good facilities to begin with. Some rescues keep horses in small pens or stables most or all of the time. In my opinion, that's no life for any horse, but it is particularly stressful for horses who have been "wild" or had regular turnout in a pasture previously.
Saving horses from "meat men" and "kill buyers" also seems like a generous act, but please read this article and think about the implications before you make up your mind.
If you do have horses, how can you make their day better? If you ride a lot, the answer might be to give them a day off. But whatever you do, let it be their day. Don't "pamper" them by grooming their tangled manes if they don't really enjoy that, or take them on a long "pleasure" ride if they aren't fit enough. Far better to give them a scratch in that one place that's always itchy, or chop an apple into their feed. I used to take my horses out in hand to browse on plants they didn't have access to in their pastures. In Britain at this time of year they might have eaten gorse, rose hips, or things like nettles and thistles which had been tenderized by the frost.
Another thing you can do is give your horse a nice massage. Just like with people, start gently and see what they enjoy. Maybe you know how to do some stretching techniques, or other body work that your horse likes. Horses are also very receptive to all kinds of energy healing, such as Reiki. But even energy work is an agenda. Just standing or sitting calmly near your horse and relaxing your own body and mind can bring them immense peace. They are sometimes so glad to when a human simply comes to them with no expectations!
We all try, I know! But is there something you could change, large or small, that would make your horse's life better? More turnout? More appropriate feed? What about the right to have a choice about the activities you ask them to be a part of? The right to say "no".
Or maybe your horse needs you to change in some way. If you ride do you need to be fitter? Lighter? More balanced? Or maybe you need to learn some relaxation techniques, so that when you're around your horses they don't have to suffer your bad moods. Maybe you need to learn to control your temper better. (I'm not judging. That one was huge for me, back in the day.) Whatever you come up with, this is a great way to honour Epona, and your horses.
Be a willing servant.
Caring for horses is hard work. Most of us do that work in a hurry, or in anger or frustration some of the time. Let this day be different. Think about how each task on your list of chores helps your horse. Owning horses is such a privilege. Deep down we know that, but it's easy to forget - especially in the winter. Give yourself enough time to get your work done right today, and do a great job. Then give yourself a pat on the back. Follow that with a nice hot (or alcoholic, if you prefer) drink to celebrate your relationship with your horse. Maybe pour a bit of it out as a libation to Epona.
Do not offer any food or treats to horses that are not in your care. Although they are strong and sturdy, some horses suffer from invisible illnesses and allergies, just like people do. Some are on special diets for special reasons. If you have a bunch of extra apples or carrots, or something else you'd like to give to horses in your neighbourhood, find the owner and ask. Or leave them somewhere the owner will find them, with a note. I used to love finding bags of windfall apples left by my gate, and I appreciated being able to decide how many to feed at a time!
Also, do not mess with anyone's horses, in any way, without their full permission. Depending on where you are, you may be breaking the law, but more importantly, you could frighten the horse, cause it to injure itself, or be injured yourself. It's just good manners. There is nothing worse than coming home from work and having your neighbour phone you to say, "I saw someone in your field today, messing with your horses." Believe me, it's right up there with someone coming into your garden and messing with your kids. People love their horses, and these things worry them. If they see you approaching their horses, they may get angry with you. That's mostly because they are worried. You do not have the right to approach a random horse because you want to feel some equine energy! If you want to spend time with horses, you can volunteer somewhere, and they will give you a shovel. (Which is another way you can honour Epona, if you don't have horses of your own!).
Have a lovely day!