Olaf the Gentle Giant

Update on Olaf the Draft Horse

After puzzling over it for months, I think I have finally figured out what Olaf’s breed is. I knew he was definitely at least half Belgian, but he’s only about 16.1, which is little for a full draft horse. I didn’t think he looked like a cross with a thoroughbred or quarter horse because he is so very drafty! He just doesn’t have many of the characteristics of the light breeds. When I first heard about him on Facebook, I was told he was a Haflinger. When I saw his picture, I said, “That’s not a Haflinger. That’s a Belgian.” I figured the people who had him confused him with a Haflinger because of his color.

I’ve been watching some videos of Haffies on YouTube, and I’ve come to the conclusion that he is a Belgian/Haflinger cross. Haffies seem to be very cute, very floaty movers, much more light on their feet than a typical full draft. Olaf is a very beautiful mover. When he prances around the pasture, it’s a sight to behold. Plus, the people who I got him from weren’t super experienced horse people and Haflingers are a bit of an obscure breed. They wouldn’t have pulled that term out of nowhere. So from now on, I will be introducing Olaf as a Belgian/Haffie cross.

He has finally gained enough weight that I feel I can do some things with him, like trailer him off for short rides and ride him a few times a week around the barn.

I can’t tell you strongly enough what a joy it is to have Olaf. I’ve had a thoroughbred with major physical problems, a paint mare with major behavioral problems, and then a mule that generally dislikes humanity and is extremely sensitive and still suspicious of me. Olaf is a wonderful contrast to these horses (all of which I love dearly despite their quirks) because he is SO EASY. Olaf meets me at the gate, he likes to put his halter on, he likes to go for a ride, he walks right on the trailer, and he has never met a food he didn’t like. Olaf isn’t barn sour or buddy sour. He rides out alone or with other horses. He is slow and steady. He likes to plod along pleasantly just like I do.

He is completely perfect for me at this stage in my life, because for once, I just needed things to be easy. I just want to ride my horse without a lot of drama, without wondering whether he will get back in the trailer after the ride, or whether he will dump me and run away, or whether he will lose weight inexplicably. I’m so thankful that, for the first time, I seem to have stumbled on an uncomplicated equine. Knock on all the wood everywhere!

Most of the time he walks along at the snail’s pace of about 2.5 mph, but he likes to try and keep up with the other horses when we ride in a group. Some horses are happy to let him set the pace, and they go slow too, but my friend’s Anglo-Arab leaves him in the dust. Eventually Olaf gives up on catching her and settles into his own pace. That bodes well for the future, if we do some competitive trail rides. I have ridden horses with race brain and it’s no fun!

He loves mares and he nickers and makes googly eyes at all of them while they pin their ears and swish their tails. He never does anything naughty; he just likes to say “hi.” Altogether, he is a charming character.

Thus far I have been riding him bareback most of the time. I ride in a bareback pad with two saddle pads under it, to make sure his back is well cushioned. My treeless saddle fits him very well, but it’s just easier to go bareback. I can ride in leggings and tennis shoes, which I prefer to boots and breeches.

I have to ride him in a bit, even though I prefer not to, because he eats constantly on the trail, and if I don’t have a bit in his mouth, I can’t pull his giant head up out of the grass. Maybe someday he’ll get better about his snack attacks, but for now we ride in a bit.

He is probably the sweetest horse I’ve ever known, extremely affectionate and very demonstrative. He’s the first one to come cantering up the hill at dinner time, and he always comes over to me and touches me with his muzzle to say hello. When I leave, he walks me to the gate to say goodbye. He more than makes up for my aloof mule.

If you know me well, you know that all my life I’ve wanted to compete with my horse. I didn’t ride as a kid, but I was obsessed with horse shows and couldn’t wait to grow up and get a horse. I got my first horse at age 29, only 3 months after having my first baby. I tried to show hunters, but didn’t have the time or money it takes to be any good. Since then, I’ve tried everything under the sun- dressage, western dressage, endurance, competitive trail and obstacle challenges. Competitive trail and obstacle challenges are the two things I really enjoy, but there’s always been some issue holding me back from competing. Baron the Thoroughbred wasn’t sound enough for high mileage distance riding and really hates being dragged to obstacle challenges and shown scary things over and over. Miss Mule is so talented that she scared the crap out of me at the one endurance ride I took her to. If I had been up to the challenge, we could have won the ride. She was FAST and knew her job. I was exhausted after going fast for so long and had to slow her down. I found the endurance ride to be really stressful with horses whizzing past us and Miss Mule rarin’ to go. Then her eye issues happened and I can’t compete her until we get that figured out.

Then along comes Olaf- sweet, slow, sound Olaf. After riding him now for a couple months, I’m starting to get the itch to compete. I love having a goal in mind, I love the prep work that goes into competing, I love building that partnership with the horse, and I love it when all of that effort results in a pretty ribbon. I love ribbons; I’m not gonna lie. What I really get excited about is the partnership, and Olaf seems like a great partner for me.

This year NATRC (North American Trail Ride Conference), the competitive trail organization started a leisure division. The rides in this division are 8-10 miles, but they run just like the longer rides with a vet check and obstacles to complete. They are designed for people new to the sport or for people who can’t do higher mileage because of some issue like a senior horse or lack of time to condition for longer rides. They are less expensive than the high mileage rides as well. They weren’t sure how the rides would do, but 25% of all entries last year were for the leisure division. That’s HUGE. That means there’s a market for less expensive, less time consuming competition.

There are several NATRC rides located within a couple hours of me, including one with a leisure ride coming up in November. I’m planning on entering Olaf. It’s only 8 miles and I have 2 months to condition him to do that short distance. I’m thrilled to be able to have a competition goal again. Fingers crossed that he stays happy and sound. Nothing would make me happier than to be able to do a sport with my horse and get really into it. That has never worked out in the past, but it’s what I’ve always wanted!



4 thoughts on “Update on Olaf the Draft Horse

  1. I’m so excited for you that you found the one. I’m currently in the same search…my mare is fiesty, barn sour, and downright dangerous when she’s in heat. Still love her and she’s here to stay….but I’m looking for my slow and sweet gelding to compliment her.

    I came across this article, because I’m picking up a Haflingers/Belgian cross today. We’re taking a total gamble and buying him purely out of pity…he is so extremely thin I doubt he will make it through our harsh winter without someone to give him a leg up. Every inch of me is hoping he will become a wonderful partner for me, and confidence builder for the kids!! He is broke to ride and drive, they say he’s great but I think he’s too sickly to do much wrong.

    Please, feel free to send me any refeeding tips etc you have. Your gelding made such a wonderful recovery!!!!! Great job.

    1. That’s awesome!! I hope he works out perfectly for you! Olaf was a complete gamble too and ended up having a fantastic temperament. Most Belgians do, from what I’ve heard. As for feeding, I’ve fed Triple Crown Senior for years and have great results with it. Mine always look shiny and it doesn’t make them hot. Other than that, I stuffed Olaf full of as much hay as he could eat. The hay really makes the difference. It wasn’t anything special, just round bales in the field. I have a hard keeper ottb too, and he gets the same- Triple Crown Senior and tons of hay. I never buy supplements because I feel like I’m better off spending that money on hay. Keeping it simple has worked well for me. Good luck with your new guy! If you have a blog or Instagram, I would follow!

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