I’ve had Olaf for two months now. In that two months he’s seen the dentist, vet and farrier, and I’ve stuffed him full of food. I would estimate he’s gained 100 lbs, and he’s got another 200 to go. He was a nightmare for the farrier, but I’ve worked with Olaf just about every single day since then. I am now able to trim all of his feet with only minor protest. You should see me trying to hold up his feet though. They’re the size of pancakes and HEAVY. Doing a simple trim on all four feet wears me out. Shout out to all the farriers out there! I don’t know how you do it!
Olaf has turned out to be an absolutely delightful equine. He loves people, loves to be petted, and especially loves to be fed. I belly laugh at his antics at least once a day. He gets excited at feeding time and prances around until it’s time to go into his stall. Amazingly, considering his size, he’s very polite about his dinner. He will back away from his stall door so I can come in and dump his grain. He’s a wonderful, kind animal who doesn’t want anything other than to eat and be loved.
He still has zero topline and his back is bony. I’ve been letting The Tweens sit on him and walk around the yard, but only with a thick pad under a bareback pad. I won’t put a saddle on him yet because his back is still so bony. I have only sat on him a couple times, and haven’t ridden him at all, because I’m heavier than The Tweens. We haven’t done any real riding on him yet, just leading him around the yard with a kid on his back, but so far he’s been perfect.
I can’t wait to ride him once he gains more weight, so I can see what he knows under saddle. All I want to do is trail ride, but I’ll find out if he rides out alone, how spooky he is, and whether he seems to enjoy trail riding. Since I don’t know his history, I don’t know what he’s done in the past.
I’ve also started taking him on short walks. He needs to gain muscle, and the way to do that is exercise; but I don’t want him to burn too many calories, so I keep our walks short. Building topline on a horse is a process that takes about a year if you do it correctly. Even after he gains weight, it will be a year before Olaf has the kind of muscling along his topline that I like my horses to have. That kind of muscle only comes from work, and really only from correct work. The two methods I have found are the best at building topline are time on the lunge line and trail riding. Both of those things encourage the horse to relax, go long and low (or forward, down and out), and engage their core and back muscles.
The great thing about having my daughter around is that she only weighs about a hundred pounds, so I can put her on Olaf and walk with them on the trails. I get a workout, Olaf gets a workout, and my daughter gets riding experience.
I’ve taken on several project/ rescue horses. Believe me, they aren’t all as delightful as Olaf. I really hit the jackpot with him. I don’t want anyone thinking that taking on a skinny horse with overgrown feet and unknown history was some kind of fairy tale. I’ve taken on other horses in similar condition that ended up with major food aggression issues or problems under saddle. It doesn’t always go this swimmingly.
Take Olaf’s feet for example. I had been trimming my own horses for over a year when I got Olaf. I knew I wasn’t skilled enough to do his first trim because he was so overgrown. I hired a farrier, and Olaf was horrible, almost dangerous. Luckily the farrier handled him like a champ and did an excellent trim on him. Since then I’ve been lifting, picking and rasping Olaf’s feet every day. Every. Single. Day. At first, he was very touchy about his back feet. He never kicked at me, but he would pull his feet away and slam them down. Sometimes he would kick backward while I was holding a foot and I would have to hold on until he calmed down. That’s not an ideal situation for a beginner horse owner.
I stuck with it, and he’s improved by leaps and bounds, but I still won’t let the Tweens handle his feet. If I hadn’t been able to work with him on my own, his feet would have suffered. I would have had a hard time finding a farrier willing to work on him because he was such a handful. No one wants to get hurt and some farriers flat out refuse to work on drafts because of that. A bigger horse has a bigger kick. It was only because I had enough experience that I was able to get him more manageable about his feet. Honestly, I was probably just lucky and I could have been hurt as easily as a beginner.
All of that to say I don’t want anyone looking at these beautiful pictures and rushing out to rescue a horse, especially a draft horse, because it doesn’t always work out so well. I really got lucky with Olaf. He is absolutely delightful, but he has some challenges related to his size. I’m becoming a big fan of draft horses in general, both for looks and temperament, but there’s a reason they say they’re not for beginners.
If you want to follow Olaf’s progress, just click on “Olaf the Gentle Giant” under Categories on the right and you’ll see all the posts about him.