MIDLOTHIAN, Texas — Dancer paced in her stall, as did Dasher.
Across the barn, Blitzen grunted.
Comet and Cupid were remarkably calm, considering this is the busy season for reindeer.
Such was the spirit one recent morning at the Double R Reindeer Ranch just outside of Midlothian, Santa’s Texas reindeer division, operated by Rick and Roberta Smith.
“We’re busy six days a week right now,” said Rick Smith, wearing an elf outfit that he designed. “We won’t get a break till January.”
It’s been that way for the last four years, since the Smiths started the reindeer ranch, a project that was encouraged by Don Shelton, a longtime Fort Worth-based Santa.
Lt. Col. Roberta Smith was getting ready to retire from the Air Force and Rick Smith was headed that way from the Texas Department of Public Safety.
“We wanted to raise something unique,” Roberta Smith said. “I knew Dr. Shelton and once he heard about what we wanted to do, he suggested the reindeer. We didn’t think of it much at first, but he kept after us.” And that’s how the Double R Reindeer Ranch was born.
The Smiths started with young reindeer — Comet and Cupid. They weighed about 125 pounds and will eventually top out at 450 to 500 pounds when fully grown. The couple already had horses and miniature donkeys on their 15-acre spread, so four-legged creatures were nothing new.
The couple got special feed for Santa’s helpers, registered them with the Reindeer Owners and Breeders Association and, of course, bought evaporation coolers for the sizzling Texas heat.
“Since we got them so young, they have been able to adapt to the heat,” Rick Smith said. “But we still try to keep them in cool conditions.”
The Double R now has six reindeer, and even though the last two months of the year are the busiest, the ranch is active most of the year.
Santas from across the country visit the Double R during the year to take photographs with the reindeer to update their portfolios.
The reindeer are also available for hourly events, seasonal leases, commercials, and television and movie work. Generally, fees are $350 an hour, a minimum of two hours, for local events within 50 miles of the ranch.
And the Double R reindeer go to all kinds of events.
On Friday, the reindeer were scheduled to appear in the “Ho-Ho-Holiday” show with the Waco Symphony Orchestra.
“We went there last year and they’ve asked us back,” Rick Smith said. “Right now, Prancer is at Santa’s Wonderland near College Station.”
Reindeer are also at the ranch to greet curious visitors.
One recent morning, preschool kids from the Creative Children’s Center in Corsicana were taking a tour.
“This is our first time here,” said pre-kindergarten teacher Theresa Cates. “A friend saw this on Facebook and told us about it. It’s been a perfect visit. The kids are having a blast.”
Along with the reindeer, the ranch has a sleigh, a bright red trailer to haul the reindeer and Santa even has an office in the barn, complete with a Christmas tree and holiday decorations.
And yes, visitors do ask about Rudolph, who, the Smiths explained, was absent because he was out on a training flight.