Usually on Thursday mornings, I don not my old blue jeans but my old black jodhs and boots and head up to the high ridge above Lake Constance to the stables where my Haflinger, Sturuss, lives. Together with a small herd of Icelandic mares and a couple of cheeky yearlings, he leads a life of equine luxury, munching on lush green grass (and just now, apples galore), wandering leisurely – nothing hurries Sturuss! – through a couple of fields with shady trees provided where necessary and then retiring to a great little yard for the night, where he can be indoors or out as he pleases all night – oh, and water is on tap and there is staff (!) who not only provide gourmet luxuries but also room service and who occasionally act as personal shoppers – anything not to like?!

At the fairly advanced age of 27, the only duties Sturuss has are to stay healthy and to behave himself on a ride out once a week – despite his years, he does very much enjoy our little outings in the surrounding countryside and seeing something different, and it’s a good opportunity to show that age is no barrier and woodpiles or hay bales do still have monster potential… though I’m certain he’s laughing at me, really, when he threatens to turn on a sixpence and dash home in true Thelwellian style! Because to be honest, what hasn’t a 27 year old pony seen in his lifetime?! Has to keep the rider on her toes, no doubt.

Sturuss has been my pal for 24 years this month, right about now. I took him on as a 3 year old, freshly gelded and having spent a summer being driven, taking kindergarten children for outings in a covered waggon. Although he belonged to the regional stud cooperative, he’d been loaned out to a sawmill owner who only took on jobs where he could deliver the wood by horse and cart, and who kept a stable of 4 or 5 Haflingers just for this purpose. One of his mares was getting on a bit and he was glad of some young blood for a season, and this young gelding seemed like a good bet, the exercise would keep him out of trouble. The man’s son was a keen horseman and liked to enter the gymkhana games held annually in a nearby village at a big festival just for Haflingers, a breed of pony popular with farmers because the army paid them a premium for keeping them as reserves (really!), well into the 1990s. So although Sturuss hadn’t been ridden or properly “broken”, he had actually been trained to do the Hungarian Post, which involves three or five (or more) horses galloping along with the “rider” standing on their backs, quite a daredevil pursuit but one in which Otto literally rei(g)ned supreme and with which he regularly wowed the show. Sadly, in this particular year, it rained, so Sturuss never did get to show off!

Delivery of my new pony was also by waggon – he and another horse were driven over to the farm where Sturuss was going to live, with a third horse tied on the back of the cart for the drive home. It was a beautiful autumn afternoon, and they made good time for the 10 km between the two villages, over hills and along back roads, leaving after work and arriving in time for a glass of cider and maybe a piece of plum tart before heading back off home for evening stables. Sturuss had arrived. And really, he conquered the world – “stur” is the German for “stubborn”, so perhaps he showed a little of that spirit from the day he was born on a Toggenburg alp, but in fact, he is much more of a character than actually stubborn, so that wherever I have kept him over the years, everyone nods and smiles knowingly and fondly when his name is mentioned, yet sometimes they don’t even know me at all! I think many endearing traits make him popular – he is never mean or nasty, is very easily persuaded to do almost anything for a tasty tidbit and shows a sense of humour (much more common in ponies than horses!). He adores bananas, would never kick – though he will quite happily place the whole weight of his 400+ kg on the foot that is leaning on yours, and loves nothing more than having his face and forelock brushed. Vets and horse dentists say he can’t be more than 20, he’s in such good condition – but we know the truth, it’s attitude! He has pushed his way gently over fences that happened to be weak when he wanted the greener grass on the other side, and excitedly kicked his way out of a brand new yard (NINE 3-metre slim logs, used as slats…halved) but also got his front end stuck when trying to crawl through a stable door with a missing panel – a space of about 70 cm square, when the farmer who found him could do nothing but sit and cry with laughter at the sight of Sturuss on his knees with his rear end still in the loose-box…

So, normally on Thursdays, we two go out for a little jaunt, communing with nature. But today, it was so foggy we would have needed neon lights to see and be seen, so we didn’t go. He got a snack and a cuddle and then I came home to write and smile about him – we’ll have a ride another day!

Photo courtesy of Denise Itel

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