Elfin was a bay, off the track thoroughbred whose original destiny in life was to be a race horse. Elfin's racing career can only be described as brief since he ran a grand total of one race. I find nothing surprising about Elfin's brief racing career. Elfin had very strong opinions about everything in life and he was not shy about sharing them. I have no doubt that a young Elfin made it overwhelmingly clear that being a race horse was not for him. Somehow Elfin made his way from the track to a hunter/jumper trainer that was based in California. The trainer ended up relocating to Massachusetts after purchasing Elfin, and he made the cross country move with her. The long, coast to coast, trailer ride ended up being pivotal in Elfin's life, as it was in Massachusetts that he met his mom.
Elfin and his mom
Elfin and his trainer/owner settled into life in Massachusetts, and that was how Elfin met his mom. Elfin's mom was a horse crazy teenager who started riding with Elfin's current owner. Elfin's mom had the opportunity to ride Elfin a few times, and despite the fact that both of them were green Elfin and his mom seemed to be a great fit from the start. After a lot of begging and pleading Elfin's mom convinced her dad to buy Elfin. Elfin and his mom became a permanent team, and his mom had her very first horse. That fateful day happened 22 years ago in 1996. From that day forward Elfin and his mom proceeded to grow up together, both in riding and in life.
some pictures from Elfin's early days with us at my parents' farm
Since they were both so green they spent their first few years together showing in the hunters in the 2'6" divisions. Elfin could also be quite spooky about the jumps. On one hand it was a bonus as it contributed to Elfin's tight knees and pretty jumping style, but on the front end it also made their progress slow. They eventually worked their way up to showing in the 3'6" Amateur Owner hunter division. Their last show season together was extremely successful. Elfin and his mom were champion or reserve at almost every show they attended. They ended up 5th in Zone 5 in the younger a/o hunters for the year, reserve champion in the younger a/o hunters at the Zone 4 finals that year, 2nd in the $5,000 junior-a/o hunter classic at the Zone 4 finals and year end champion of the younger a/o's for the Central Florida H/J Association.
a few more pictures from my parent's farm; Elfin (left) grazing with Homer and Apollo
Elfin (rear) galloping through the pasture with Levendi and Thomas
Elfin (center) grazing in front of the pond with Thomas and Ivan
Elfin's mom said that the best class she and Elfin ever had together was in the $5,000 junior-amateur owner hunter classic held at the Zone 4 finals in 2006, their last year showing together. The first round was was the 2nd trip of each respective division and the 2nd round was held after all classes had completed for the day. By the time the 2nd round started it was getting dark and cold as it was late in the year. Elfin had never competed under lights before so his mom was pretty worried since Elfin had a tendency to be spooky. There were 15 pairs in the class and only 2 of them were competing at 3'6". They started with the 3' riders so it was really dark by the time Elfin and his mom went. They had a tiny area to school in that was about 1/3 of a covered ring (the rest had temporary stalls) because that was the only lighted area other than the main ring. Elfin's mom said they had a terrible ride in the schooling area, so bad that she seriously considered scratching from the class and returning Elfin to his stall. Since the entry fee had been so high she decided to just go in and do the 2nd round anyway, despite their terrible warm-up in the schooling area. His mom was very nervous walking into the arena because she had no idea how Elfin was going to act. As it turned out Elfin put in one of his best trips ever and they ended up 2nd overall!
Elfin (third from left) and friends hanging out
As I mentioned above, Elfin and his mom didn't just develop their riding skills and partnership, they also grew up together. During their riding years together Elfin's mom got her driver's license, graduated from university, started a career and got married. Elfin's mom was always careful to think about him as she was making important life choices. After graduating from high school Elfin's mom ended up attending university in Florida. Part of her criteria when choosing a school was that there had to be barn she approved of close by for Elfin.
Elfin and Grand enjoying a good roll
After 10 years of riding, showing and growing up together, it became apparent that it was time for Elfin to move on to his next phase in life. He started having fleeting lameness that would be present one day and then gone the next. He also started refusing jumps which was very unusual for him. It was eventually discovered that Elfin had developed arthritis in the facet joints of his neck causing the joint space to narrow. At time, if he held his head and neck a certain way, the nerves would get pinched and cause him pain. After ten years of riding together and growing up together it was time for Elfin to move into his next phase of life, retirement.
Once Elfin's mom made the decision to retire him she took him trail riding a few days a week while searching for a retirement farm. She and Elfin had to walk down a couple of streets to get to a park that had trails. One day there was a trash can on the street by someone's house and Elfin decided it was going to eat him. His mom said anytime Elfin was afraid, or pretending to be afraid, of something his tendency was to run away from it, preferably backwards, and nothing could convince him otherwise. The more she would kick him to try to get him near it to realize it wasn't scary the faster he would go backwards or sideways. This particular instance was no exception. Once Elfin determined the trash can was scary he just kept walking backwards no matter what his mom did. His mom had long ago learned that she couldn't win this type of fight with Elfin, and the best approach was to simply find another way. So she turned Elfin around while he was flying backwards and backed him down the street until they were past the trash can. As they quickly marched backwards down the street Elfin's mom said they got a lot of weird looks from people driving down the street. Once they were past the trash can she turned Elfin back around to face the right direction. Elfin whipped his head around and looked at the trash can, and she said he was very clearly annoyed that she had tricked him into going past it. After that she and Elfin continued on their way and had an uneventful ride.
Eventually Elfin's mom settled on Paradigm Farms for Elfin's retirement years, and in May of 2007 Elfin traveled from Florida to Tennessee. Elfin made things clear that he was a "my way or the highway" type of guy from the day he arrived at our farm. His pasture shared a fence line with a few mares, and Elfin immediately decided he was obsessed with the mares and it was almost impossible to do anything with him the first few weeks. He wouldn't come with the other horses at feeding time since his time was consumed with staring at the mares, and every morning and afternoon I would have to hike to the back of the pasture to get Elfin. One morning Elfin was being particularly obstinate about being led to the barn to be fed. He kept stopping and refusing to move. Elfin and I ended up getting into a tug of war with him pulling backward and me pulling forward. I didn't know it but I was about to learn the lesson his mom had long ago learned, that you couldn't force Elfin and you had to do things in a way that worked for him. Elfin eventually moved on from pulling backward to taking a few step back to running backwards. I stubbornly held on to the leadrope with everything I had, refusing to let go. Just when I thought Elfin might be starting to slow down his backward run, his halter broke and fell off his head. Elfin went wildly galloping back to his mares, and I stood there soundly defeated and holding a broken, empty halter. A couple of weeks later Elfin decided the mares held no interest for him and don't think he ever looked at them again.
Eventually Elfin taught me how to work with him, and we lived mostly in harmony for 11.5 years. From time to time he would remind me that he was the boss in our relationship and he would refuse to be caught and spend an hour gleefully running around the pasture while I trailed behind him in defeat. Elfin enjoyed every day of his 11.5 years in retirement. He loved to graze, play and gallop. He also loved to roll and I posted endless pictures of him doing his "dogwalk" while he rolled. Elfin would roll, sit up like a dog and scoot himself around, then roll on the other side. On sunny days he loved to nap in the sun, lying flat out in dead horse position.
Elfin always changed rolling sides by sitting up like a dog, crossing his front legs, and scooting himself around to roll on the other side
another day, another rolling session
grazing in the shade with Baby and Tony
Much like Elfin and his mom, Elfin and I went through a lot of life changes together. Over the last 11.5 years with Elfin Jason and I purchased our farm, built it out, and moved all the horses from my parents' farm to this farm. My father passed away. Jason and I started a family, and then we moved ourselves to our farm. Elfin was there for so many of his mom's big life changes, just as he was there for mine.
Elfin galloping through the pasture
Elfin, Levendi, Cisco, Convey and Chance
Over the last few months Elfin's body had started to slowly decline. While Elfin still thought of himself as a 10 year old thoroughbred, his body was starting to fail on him. We came to the hard decision with his mom that it was time to let Elfin go before the inevitable crisis came. Elfin's motto in life was always that it was better to burn out than fade away, and he was starting to fade away. On Monday we said our goodbyes, Elfin was 29 years old. He and his mom had been a team for 22 years.
Rest in peace Elfin. I hope the days are always sunny, that there are endless places to roll, and maybe there is another girl that you can walk with through life's many changes. You are missed.
being silly with Leo
Elfin covered in hay and waiting for breakfast with Rip and Grand
playing with Trigger
Elfin and Homer
being wild with Hemi
galloping through the pasture with Baby
snow day with Homer
Elfin, Grand and Rip
Elfin grazing with Convey and Chance
Elfin playing with Hemi