A horse, a horse…

…my kingdom for a horse…

Attributed to Richard III on the battlefield at Bosworth in 1485 (though now they say his last words were “Treason, treason, treason”, which I think is a little unfair – most horses are really faithful souls!)…

Anyway. The classic British “horsy” look of interiors is attractive enough – especially if you happen to own a stately home or the perfect cottage with a double loose box, when tweeds, Stubbs’ reproductions of famous sires and hunting scenes and a lot of old leather are going to dominate, along with a grubby blanket or two attractively arranged for the lurchers and Jack Russell dogs to squabble over on the decrepit sofa.

Not so in my home. And yet there are a few clues to my horse-loving nature for those paying attention…

Firstly, my bookcases, which cover every phase from girlish pony stories and pretty pictures to serious tomes on veterinary conundrums and alternative training methods with brain-ticklingly complicated geometric diagrams and assumptions that you have the “eye” for collection and practically each individual muscle. I think these are a pretty big giveaway, actually!IMG_2134

Since we don’t have fireplaces in Switzerland, I don’t have a mantelpiece – but pride of place on the shelf in my living room does go to an antique creamware sculpture of two horses playing. I inherited this from my husband’s family – I don’t think it’s particularly valuable, but it’s been in the family for a long time, probably 100 years-ish, and since I’m the horsey one, it came to me! I do know that my husband’s great-grandfather was in the German cavalry around Berlin, so perhaps that’s the connection. Still, an heirloom.IMG_2133

I do like things to have a story, so this glass pony in slightly Scandinavian style fits the bill, as it was passed on to me by a dear friend who has had a difficult life one way or another and continues to do so, so that we have little contact these days. But it’s a nice souvenir of some good times we had – we both had Haflingers back in the day and her Negus was just as much of a character as my Sturuss, so we had some entertaining rides out as they imagined ghosts in the woods and similar frolics… such fun! Negus was an escape artist and only rideable in full Western outfit; although this glass horse is not a Haflinger, it still makes me smile thinking of those days.IMG_2131

Let’s stay with the Scandinavian theme. It’s always been an ambition of mine to visit those northern countries, and I will do one day, I’m sure. (I wouldn’t mind trying out a Norwegian Fjord pony…!) The colourful artistic folk culture really appeals to me, and I love the Dala horses which have come to represent not only the Dalarna region but the whole of Sweden. An acquaintance knew of my ambition and gave me this one as a gift; I didn’t know him all that well and was touched.IMG_2136

When I saw these shiny steel beauties, I squealed with delight and half a dozen have been hanging in my windows ever since – a bit of less conspicuous bling. Not only are they sleek, minimalist and modern Dala horses, but they were for sale in Lucerne, just before we began spending so much time there, plus it was my grandson’s first visit to that pretty city – so a great souvenir, especially now we’re not spending so much time there any more! IMG_2132

Mention Swedish and I suppose most people will immediately think of THAT store, and yes, you may well get your tea served on a colourful little tray of Dala horses! And I think there’s a scholarly-looking one somewhere about, too 🙂Ikea Dala horse 2

You’d perhaps have to be a little more eagle-eyed to spot that I will sometimes wear horses… IMG_2137

And I hate to admit it, but the saddle and bridle presently sitting in my hallway are probably a pretty big give-away LOL. But they have their stories, too. I picked my saddle up secondhand when I first had Sturuss, 27 years ago, and it was not only a perfect fit but turned out to have been made by a distant relative near the small town I was born in Germany, and whose saddles I have never seen for sale otherwise in Switzerland! So it’s probably more like 50 years old and looking all the better for the 25 years of use I gave it. My bridle replaced a cheap one that was stolen from our tack room about 20 years ago, was made-to-measure and just got “seasoned” over the years – leather seems to do that, and with care, lasts almost forever. As does memory, which is why I simply can’t part with these, although I’ll probably never use them again! But where to store them?!

I wonder if I’ve missed anything so obvious I’m blind to it?!IMG_2135

(I’ve just discovered a cake tin in the shape of a Dala horse in my cupboard… oh dear!)

The last ride

It’s been beautiful spring weather for a while, now, after a relatively mild winter (bar the two weeks of Siberia we had!) so nature is off to great start. Two Thursdays ago, therefore, Sturuss and I set off for a ride amongst trees whose leaves hadn’t quite opened out but whose buds were already bursting with promise. Sturuss had had a cough the two weeks prior to that, but with quick intervention and a few gentle walks instead of riding, it had been nipped in the bud and we were glad he was looking fit and greedy and yearning to get out into the field. He has always made everyone laugh, and Thursday was no exception, but he was calm and interested and so there were – for once! – no hiccups while we were out. Sure, he took an extra look at one or two things the sun was twinkling off or a new sign that had been put up, but as we headed homewards alongside the stream that was trickling and gurgling quite prettily, there was the usual quickening of pace as he became eager to get home to his lunch. A lady on a bicycle seemed to be keeping a look-out for the first young shoots of wild garlic, but otherwise, on this occasion, we didn’t meet a soul while we were out and we trundled quite happily back into the stableyard without incident.

The warmth of the sun and the excercise had brought out a bit of a sweat and as ever, Sturuss collapsed into a wriggly roll to “bread” himself with bits of straw and bark in his enclosure before plunging his face as deep as is equinely possible into his bucket, hardly stopping to take the banana I’d brought him as a treat. Life was looking good.

 It was therefore with some surprise that I took a call from my stable mistress on Tuesday to say that Sturuss wasn’t eating properly, looked a bit listless and worst of all, had developed a temperature. Only the week before I had been discussing with the vet how well Sturuss seemed for his age and how he would be going strong for a long time, yet, despite a few natural signs of ageing. Unfortunately, blood tests showed that something was very much not right – although his kidneys were fine (the initial suspicion), his whole organism seemed very suddenly to be giving up and by Tuesday evening, it was clear that oedema had developed, he was uncomfortable, and a decision had to be made, since medical care would be long and expensive and wouldn’t extend his time by very much.

Very sadly, then, we had to agree to end Sturuss’ long life at the age of 28, on a bright, sunny, windy spring afternoon in his field. He munched a bucket of carrots, got to graze a little and then it was very quickly over. Our beautiful little Haflinger went down peacefully in mid-chew, as we talked him through it all and stroked his face and mane. We spilled many tears – but we also laughed a lot as we sat in the grass next to him, reminiscing about his funny and endearing ways. Everybody loved Sturuss and he had friends wherever we went, amused by the cheeky-faced pony with the blonde mane and eyelashes. He had us all very well-trained! From the first shove he would give when we went in to him, to his cute ways of begging for treats and a serious case of “the eyes”, to his wiggly lips he used both to beg and to show his approval – or disapproval – here was a pony who had humans sussed. He got it, all the way to knowing when to give in and be nice, even when he didn’t really feel like it, eventually, he would always co-operate, nudging you as if to say, oh, go on, I was just trying it on to see if you’d budge… So much character in 141cm, 430 kg of chestnut-coated pony.

 Look what a baby he was! He and my eldest daughter were both 3 1/2 when this photo was taken, nearly 25 years ago. Don’t let the lack of muscle fool you – youth came to his aid and we had fun and games in this initial training period! But essentially, what you see is what you get and a more honest, loyal and altogether perfect pal would be hard to find.

Sturuss, you will be very sorely missed – my companion throughout my adult years so far, a quarter of a century. We can only hope you’re happy in Horse Heaven or Pony Paradise and are galloping around up there in luscious green meadows with the friends who left before you did…

Ready for the circus

This week, once again, our ride was postponed to a beautiful, warm and sunny Friday – at least 10°C at the end of February.

Most of our snow has gone, even up on the high ground of the Seerücken hills. With the sun out and everything looking dry and with the promise – if few signs – of spring in the air, it seemed a great day to spend an hour out on a ride. We weren’t the only ones out enjoying the sunshine and I consciously picked a route with nice, dry paths rather than shady and possibly icy ones, passing dog-walkers and runners out for some fresh air. Sturuss, of course, wanted to take advantage of the last bits of crunchy snow along the edges, almost as good as wading through snowdrifts – something he adores doing.

I think I got my timing a little wrong, however, since as soon as we turned for home, the bouncy ball thing started again… There had been a horse and wagon just ahead of us, excitement enough, but Sturuss is not stupid and was well aware that his lunch was waiting for him at home and he simply couldn’t bear to keep to a sedate walk on a path that was still quite snowy! As the path improved and evened out, he agreed to alter this:

to a fairly normal, fast walk, and I breathed a sigh of relief that we weren’t likely to sprain a leg with overexuberance.

Well, they say pride comes before a fall, and how right they are! While smiling to myself at Sturuss as a circus horse doing high school lessons, we came to an icy patch. Taking a short cut across a field was an option, but I know that under the thin layer of snow, it’s ploughed, so a possible hazard on old pony legs. The surface looked very wet in the sunshine, with water several centimetres deep, so I made the assumption that the ice had melted… let that be a lesson. It’s an extraordinary feeling to have 450kg of horse do the splits under you, lose control of his legs, struggle to regain his balance and then skid over sideways! And extremely Thelwellian (yet again!). Fortunately, I was thrown sideways for my own little ice skid and didn’t get trapped under poor Sturuss, who also luckily, managed to pull himself up, give himself a shake and, with a disbelieving look at me (or was it disgust?!), set off purposefully in the direction of home.

I struggled up with a bashed knee and thick mud and ice all up my left side, carefully testing to see if I was alright and registering that Sturuss didn’t appear to be limping in any way. Straightening my hat and flexing the knee, I hobbled off after Sturuss – and bless him, after a few metres, he stopped, turned and looked at me and then wandered over to the side of the road for a nibble of grass while I caught up, wasn’t that sweet?! We plodded home, wet and dirty, and he was glad of a head-rub once the leather was off, followed, naturally, by a dive into the depths of the feed bucket 🙂

It seems that no harm was done, and it may be my imagination, but it did seem to me that he came over for an extra nuzzle to show that everything is ok between us, despite having shared yet another adventure!


We don’t do Fasnacht, really, at least not since the girls outgrew it and went from princesses to punks. However, it is very popular around here – look what they did to Sturuss 😮

 But we reckon he’s man enough to take a bit of skin-tight pink! Let’s hope they don’t start applying any diamanté any time soon…

Old stamping grounds (literally!)

As explained in a previous post, Sturuss has gone on holiday for a few days over the New Year’s break, back to the village we used to live in for quite a few years. Actually, it’s not much of a holiday, as instead of having a herd of Icelandic mares and a yearling gelding to boss about and generally at least feeling important, with the freedom to wander into a warm stable or out to a cool yard at will for a roll, he’s shut in a 9 square metre barred loose box with a view of giants (= regular riding horses) on their treadmill, with only a bit of time each day out on the sand manège for a roll and a trot round. His carer has taken pity on him and is providing a constant stream of apples, carrots and brushing to make up for it and it’s only until Monday, so…

Of course, this was a great opportunity to go out for a walk around the village and take in some of the old sights and to escape the nightmare of that dreaded treadmill for a couple of hours! (Whoever thought of treadmills for horses should not be allowed to keep horses at all, in my view – they should get themselves a motorbike… :() Neatly brushed, with the worst of the sand removed and hoofs properly picked out, we were ready.

We set off, then, along the banks of the familiar village stream – one of the houses we used to live in backed on to it and always provided hours of fun for the girls and the dogs. Past  the plant nursery – the owner of the nursery used to keep his horse in the same stable as Sturuss, but he wasn’t about just now. We continued alongside a small field that used to house a nervous little herd of sheep whose bells jangled as they charged shyly away from any passersby and past a small orchard where a very pretty black mare used to live: Sturuss would always whinny over to her when he was grazing on our little patch of apple trees! As we turned in to that little road, he called very loudly in the direction of his old stable a little further down the road where he often used to get a treat of banana, one of his favourites, but although I let him have a nibble of his grassy patch, now featuring only one and a half dead-looking trees and boughs, we weren’t going quite that far west, but turned into the village to see some more familiar places.

I noticed that Sturuss was really alert all the way and am convinced he not only knew where we were but also exactly where we were going – I had a fine time keeping up! We know all the houses and most of the people along the way – a farmer here, a friend over there, a new saddler in a converted barn, the wrought-iron craftsman’s smithy, the village shop… Because we know all the back ways and shortcuts, we turned back towards the stream and followed it down through the back of the village, which takes you into a dip past the old sawmill. It was amusing to see the car drivers’ faces as they passed us on the road: some knew us and waved, others just grinned, but I suppose the sight of very furry Haflinger pony with a somewhat rotund middle-aged woman chugging along purposefully is a bit of a sight!

From the old sawmill, you look up to the oldest part of the village on the left and the schoolhouse on the right. On the right-hand side of the primary school, which was originally built in the 16th century as a country residence, is the “Trotte”, a mediaeval stone barn built onto Roman ruins and now a popular cultural venue. Because this is Pfyn, latin Ad Fines, the end of the way – well, the Roman world, at the border between Rhatia and Gaul just before it hits Lake Constance. This is one reason why Pfyn is fairly well documented and very proud of its history, though this was the second time it surfaced – years ago, a big archaelogical dig discovered the Pfyner Kultur of about 3700 years ago to the west of the village and after a further dig in 2002,  in 2007 Swiss TV spent part of a summer re-enacting life at the time of the lake-dwellers, much to the delight of the excited villagers all vying to get onto national telly.

 It’s quite clear from the layout that the “Städtli” (= little town) was a mediaeval settlement – it had market rights and a typically Swiss layout: a long, almost lozenge-shape, oval with houses crowded along the edges, a church at one end and gardens spilling down the slope of the small hill it was built on. There are no longer any town walls, there are only about 10 of the closely packed, higgledy-piggledy houses left, and the centre of it is a small park, so that the oecumenical church at one end, with it’s walled cemetary, does rather dominate, with the “Schlössli” (= little castle) schoolhouse at the other, the Trotte and a very cleverly built modern extension, fitted into the steep slope and mimicking the shape of the Städtli… best seen in an aerial view here: http://www.archaeologie.tg.ch/documents/Adfines.pdf. Pfyn’s success as a market town didn’t last and today the whole village has only a couple of thousand inhabitants at the very most, including all the outlying farms and hamlets, oh, and a chocolate factory!

This time, we didn’t go up through the Städtli, but just admired it from below and turned once again along the stream and through one of the newer quarters of the family-oriented village, towards woods that Sturuss knows only too well – he does love to see what’s going on when he’s out and about! In fact, he was so thrilled to be back and so impatient to get on that he was walking along with his neck stretched out sniffing the ground ahead, obviously taking in the old sights and sounds. He knew where we were going – well, he thought he did, and stopped outside a good friend’s house… she used to come jogging with us and he seemed to enjoy trotting along behind her, following her bright orange jacket along the farm and woodland tracks! Only she doesn’t live there any more and while I was imparting this information to him, he was a bit too quick off the mark and – stamp! – I didn’t quite have time to pull my foot out from under 400 kg of enthusiastic pony…

Well, nothing’s broken and I was still able to hobble along to where my friend has moved to, so Sturuss did get his carrots and banana, after all, along with a big fuss, which he clearly appreciated! In fact, he literally ran circles around us to prove that he’s nothing like, ahem, old, but just raring to go. The way home took us along the old Roman road, past the show-jumping stables, past the post-office and bank, past the carpenter’s workshop and woodyard, the old dairy, all at a rapid walk and almost screeching around the corner back to temporary quarters and the peace of the stream again.

No wonder: his bucket was full of lunch, his loose box full of fresh hay and well, no time to lose….

Advent (15)

Lots of work has meant I haven’t left the house today – but by the looks of it, I haven’t actually missed anything but cold, wet, soggy rain and wind. I would feel sorry for Sturuss up on the hill and out in this, except I know he can go into a warm stable whenever he feels like it.

 He gets to go on holiday this weekend! Each year, over Christmas and New Year, a big tent is set up just next to our stables (not by our owners, I hasten to add!) and it’s party time for 10 days, including fireworks and drunks who occasionally drive into fences and generally misbehave… Fortunately, we always find an alternative for our four-legged friends to spend away from that kind of madness and this year, Sturuss and his pals are headed down to the village we used to live in – I’m sure he’ll wonder what he’s doing back there. As he knows his way around, there is a chance he might make a break for it and go searching for bananas (one of his favourite treats!), as he did once a few years ago when some idiots let fireworks off in his field and he promptly took his girlfriend and his best mate 8 km back to his old stable, through fields, woods and along a main road… Our old stable owner rubbed her eyes in amazement as she saw this motley parade of horses make its way into her yard before 6 am on New Year’s Day! How we laughed when we heard about it!

We’ve had many adventures, Sturuss and I, and one of the funniest in its way also involved him breaking out of his field. That thick mane doesn’t let him bother too much about electric fencing, it’s one foot on the lowest strand, head shoved under the next strand and hey presto, off he goes to pastures new. On this occasion a few years ago, there had been a lot of snow and the fencing probably was affected, too. In any case, he went strolling off down the road looking for some grass, which of course was all buried under pretty deep drifts. Presumably several drivers had seen him on his travels and in this day and age of mobile phones, at least five had phoned the police to report a loose pony, so that as Sturuss peacefully pawed at some quite luscious greenery at the edge of the woods, definitely a good snack, no less than 5 patrol cars made their way to the village from the local town! I have it first hand that two of the police officers gamely attempted to approach Sturuss to lead him back to the nearest enclosure (closely and discreetly watched by local farmers – who do you think I have the story from?!) and were floundering in the snowdrifts up to their thighs as the shaggy pony moved gently along, always juuuussst out of reach…

I don’t know how one of the farmers stopped laughing long enough to take over, or how long he waited before he did so, but eventually he managed to get hold of Sturuss and lead him back to relative safety (and possibly a banana!) while the police brushed themselves off, enquired after the person responsible and then dispersed. At the other end of the village, I had no idea of what had been going on until a police car pulled up outside and the officers came to the door. They informed me sternly of what had happened (minus the best bits, of course!) and ordered me to pay CHF 50 for unnecessary police services… Not one of them even grinned.

Advent (8)

 In the bleak midwinter…

 …we had sunshine! In fact, so much so that our shadows came along with us for the ride!

Frosty wind made moan!

 and that was busy blowing some cold, grey cloudy weather over our way, with rain and snow forecast. Hm, will believe that when I see it!

So after a late breakfast

 it was time to roll that sweaty humanness off the back


– closely watched by the stable cat, Cesar!

who is adorably cuddly and friendly and the ponies love him, too! Very cute!

Meanwhile, back home, Alina (now completely recovered, thankyou, and back on 4 legs and a vet’s bill to prove it…!) made herself comfortable in true Cocker style:

 Happy Thursday!!!