Overall, Olaf is doing very well. He is gaining weight steadily, although not as quickly as I’d like, and he has the most delightful personality of any horse I’ve ever owned. He is a sweet horse with a heart of gold.
He seems to be filling out from the bottom up. His belly is nice and round, and his chest is filling out, but his hind quarters and topline are still lacking in weight and muscle and his ribs still show. He’s only about 16.2 (I say “only” because Belgians are usually 17 hands), but he’s built THICK! He’s about the same height as my thoroughbred, but he is so much more horse. Everything about him is just BIG.
I’ve been a little concerned that he’s not gaining weight as quickly as I thought he would. I wouldn’t expect to see ribs after 3 months. My online research has made me feel a bit better by multiple people saying that a horse his size takes time to completely fill out. I’m reading that it will take about 6 months for him to get back to his ideal weight.
I had my first big scare with him as well. Olaf choked the other night. Choke in horses is different than in people. When humans choke, the food blocks our airway and we can’t breathe, which can be fatal. When horses choke, food gets lodged in their esophagus and prevents them from swallowing but does not block their airway. Choke in horses is usually cleared up with a shot of Banamine, a muscle relaxer, that relaxes the constriction around the esophagus and allows the food to pass. In severe cases, the horse ends up getting an NG tube up the nose and down the esophagus, through which water is pumped to clear the blockage. Choke is not usually life threatening, but it’s scary as hell. The horse coughs and dry heaves, and eventually saliva that he can’t pass ends up coming out of his nose.
Choke is common in older horses whose teeth are worn down and who are unable to chew their food completely. It can also be caused by a horse “bolting” his food, eating it so quickly that he doesn’t take the time to chew it up. In Olaf’s case, I think both of those scenarios apply. The dentist said his teeth were in bad shape when I got him, and he’s also a piggy about his food.
Olaf got a shot of banamine (it took 3 people to finally find a vein), and he was better almost immediately. We had to poke him with the needle about 15 times before we were able to find a vein in his neck, and he was a total champ about it. He rested his head on my shoulder while my friend worked on him and never flinched from his shots. Since the choke episode, I’ve been wetting his food and I switched him from alfalfa to timothy hay because it’s softer and hopefully easier on his esophagus.
I’ve read that light work is good for horses in his condition, because it helps them to begin building back muscle. With that in mind, I’m trying to ride him once a week for 10-15 minutes, mostly because I want him to understand that he still has to work for a living, but also to start building back that topline. We just walk around the yard so I can get a feel for him and get him a little exercise.
He is hysterical to ride. He starts off very alert and snorty, looking all over with head high and ears pricked. After a couple minutes he settles down, but he is a big chicken. He does not seem to have a brave bone in his body. Have you heard of Chicken Little? I call him Chicken Big. He very much fits the stereotype of the draft horse- way more interested in eating than working. Also, good luck getting him to trot! He just wants to walk around the yard and look at things, and he’s not in any hurry. Now, I have seen him move in the pasture and he is a GORGEOUS mover. He’s just not particularly motivated to move most of the time.
When he wants to be done, he stops and stands still over a nice patch of grass and hopes that I’ll get off him. Getting him moving again is hilarious. I ride him in a bareback pad, and he’s so big that I can’t wrap my legs around him very well. I come from a long line of short people, and I have short legs. I can’t use my leg as effectively on him as I can on my other horses, but I’ll figure it out as I keep riding him. Eventually I do get him moving again, and I always end the ride on my terms. He’s well behaved for sure and doesn’t mind being ridden, but I don’t think he’s trained to do anything other than trail ride. That’s totally fine, because that’s all I do.
Olaf is a bit of a high maintenance horse, due mostly to his size. He eats more, his tack has to be super-sized, his feet are enormous and he’s hard to trim, and he has some teeth issues related to his age. I’m glad that he ended up with me because I feel like I can take good care of him and give him a home where he can have an easy job and low stress life. I’ve really enjoyed having him and I’m thankful for him every time he meets me at the gate.