Friday, December 30, 2011

Why Blessi Has a 34 Lb Bag of Dog Food on His Back

As some of you may know, Blessi has been accepted into the All Breed Competition to be held March 22-25, 2012, in Albany, OR.  My dressage instructor Dannelle is going to ride him in this 4- day competition.  So Dannelle is in charge of furthering his gait and dressage training and I have taken it upon myself to further Blessi’s training in potentially scary things.

http://equinepromotions.net/northwest-horse-fair/event-details/special-events/
Someone told me that last year at this event the riders were expected to dismount, throw a 30-lb sandbag (simulating an injured calf) on the horse’s back, lead the horse some 30 feet, remove sandbag, remount,and continue with the competition. Several of the horses seemed to have problems with this activity.  I had just picked up 34 lbs (15.4 kgs) of dog food for my dog Ollie so I decided to stop at the stable on the way home and work on this obstacle with Blessi.  I wanted to take some pictures to show Dannelle how well Blessi did with strange and unusual activities.
Jordan the dog is really interested in
that dog food served a la cheval

When I get to the stable, I park my truck at the barn rather than the arena.  Rena the stable owner is at the barn and I ask her to take some pictures.  If things go disastrously wrong, nobody ever needs to see the pictures—right?  
I put on Blessi’s halter and lead line and lead him to the truck.  I know that Rena wants to feed the horses since it is dinner time so I decide to practice this activity in the parking area rather than the arena.  After all, what could go wrong?
So I lead Blessi to the back of the truck, open the truck bed cover, and lower the tail gate.  Blessi is very interested in the contents in the truck bed since there are leftover hay and interesting containers to explore.  I pick up the dog food bag and let him sniff the bag.  Blessi definitely knows it contains food of some kind and wants to investigate.  Enticed by the interesting smell, the barn dog Jordon also comes over.  Well the bag is heavy, Blessi seems quite calm about the process, so I decide to fling the bag on Blessi’s bare back.  What’s the worst that can happen? 
Right after the bag fell--Blessi really wants to get that bag
 I put the bag on Blessi’s back and he stands quite nicely.  I lead him around a bit and Rena snaps some pictures.  It is really hard to keep a 30 lb bag of dog food stabilized on the back of a horse and lead the horse at the same time but I manage.  We stop to pose for a few final pictures.  And guess what, the bag slips off Blessi’s back and crashes to the ground.  Blessi doesn’t move a muscle.  Rena and I laugh.   I am very surprised that the bag doesn’t break.  But I have some pictures and what else could happen?


Hole that Blessi chewed through bag--he did not read the directions for how to open!
So Rena gives me the camera and I put the dog food in the back of the truck.  As I turn around to move some things in truck bed, Blessi reaches into the bed of the truck, grabs the bag of dog food in his teeth, and lifts the bag out of the truck.  He proceeds to shake the bag.  I must confess that I am so surprised by a 34 lb bag flying by my ear that I make a noise--the closest word I can come up with is screech.  Or would that be shriek?  I have visions of the bag bursting and $30 of dog food flying all over the place.  I kick myself for not getting a bag of bark mulch or a real sand bag or something not so fragile.  Not at all perturbed, Blessi continues shaking the bag but it slips through his teeth and hits the ground.  Amazingly, it does not break.  Rena and I burst out laughing and wish that we had kept the camera out.  As I lead Blessi back to his stall, he starts licking and chewing.  I have to stop and remove some bag remnants from his mouth.  Rena comments that Blessi and I are a good match—I am not sure if that is a compliment to me but I am sure that it is a compliment to Blessi.



The Story of Super Guus

Here is a very inspiring story of another little horse that exceeded all expectations--succeeding in the large horse world of dressage, overcoming a medical crisis, and even modeling in some top magazines. Jolanda Adelaar, owner and trainer, narrates Guus' story, the little Fjord who could.  Now if only Guus' book would get translated into English!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

What is BLUP?

WorldFengur is the international registry for the Icelandic horse.  It contains a treasure trove of fascinating information about your Icelandic horse.  One of the nuggets of information is BLUP.  So if you have a registered Icelandic horse, you can look up its BLUP in WorldFengur.  Note:  If you join the US Icelandic Horse Congress (or the Icelandic breed association in your country), you get free access to WorldFengur for your individual membership fee of $45; normally access to WorldFengur runs around $95.

https://www.icelandics.org/wf_access.php

BLUP  stands for Best Linear Unbiased Prediction. Per C. Clarke (2010, para 1), BLUP indices are “statistical values that are designed to help predict likely future developments based on past performance… However, in animal husbandry they are most widely used to improve the genetic quality of the breeding herd and although originally introduced for dairy cattle they are now regarded by many as an essential tool in the sports horse breeder’s armory.” You can refer to T. Árnason’s (2010) article International Genetic Evaluations with the BLUP Method for more information on how WorldFengur calculates BLUP. 
To summarize, BLUP is a statistical method used for predicting the breeding value of animals based on field assessments of that animal’s progenitors.  Sports competition scores do not factor into the BLUP calculation for Icelandic horses.  BLUP has been used to improve the breeding of French riding horses, Dutch trotters, and American quarter horses (Árnason and Van Vleck, p.485).   As a casual user, the important thing to remember about BLUP is that it is a predictor only.  Now let’s find the BLUP for Blessi.

In interpreting BLUP, you consider a score of 100 as average.   As you can see above, Blessi is predicted as passing on (assuming he were a stallion) above average conformation.  His best conformational features to be passed on are predicted to be his back, legs, and proportions.  And his worst features are predicted to be his mane and tail and head. As for gaits, BLUP predicts his potential offspring would have a decent trot and tolt.  It also predicts they will have a flying pace--which Blessi himself at age 15 has never shown.  BLUP predicts, his offspring would be taller than average (Blessi is 14.1 hands).  BLUP accuracy is calculated at 61% which is fairly low. His total BLUB score is currently 104; when I first got him over seven years ago, it was 108.


As  M. Gates (2010, p. 16) cautions, BLUP is a valuable guide in breeding but ”… BLUP scores are not always accurate due to the fact that some breeding horses are missing either pedigree or evaluated parents in their bloodlines, and are therefore automatically scored lower.”  The BLUP score will change over time as assessments are added to horses in the pedigree tree. 

Remember BLUP refers to what could be passed on to offspring.  However, BLUP can give you some hints as to what to look for when you see the actual horse:  If BLUP predicts that the horse pass on a below average tolt, you could legitimately check on the quality of the actual horse's tolt.  Does BLUP predict that offspring will have a better than average confirmation but average gaits (or vice versa)?  Is the tolt score much lower than the trot score?  Does BLUP predict that offspring will be taller or shorter than average?  Have fun playing with these types of questions and see how the real horse measures up. 



Sources:
Árnason, T. (November, 2010).  International genetic evaluations with the BLUP method 2010. Found at: http://www.worldfengur.com/WorldFengur/temp/International_BLUP.pdf
Árnason, T., & Van Vleck, L. (2000).  Genetic improvement in the horse.  In The Genetics of the Horse.  Eds. A. Bowling & A. Ruvinsky, CABI Publishing, London, pp. 473-495.
Gates, M.  (2010).  The art of horse breeding.  In The Icelandic StudBook, Icelandic Stallions of North America, ed. T. Kristjánsdóttir, Cranial Solutions, Chatham, NY.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Merci and the Fly Trap


Poor Merci's tail!
I heard a really awful commotion down stairs. It sounded like a rugby team was running around and knocking things over. I ran downstairs to check out what was happening. My Burmese cat Merci was running around like a
mad thing.

I had placed a fly trap--one of those cylinder-shaped things coated with sticky stuff--in the laundry room to capture the pests. Well, I never considered that this might look like an empty paper towel holder which many cats like to kill. You know how the cat rolls the tube around and then lays on her back and claws and rips at the tube to "kill" it.

Well, Merci had decided to play with the fly trap and it stuck to her belly. Like Uncle Remus' tar baby, the more she clawed at it, the more stuck she got. And the more she ran around, the more stuff --especially dust bunnies--stuck to her. By the time I caught up with her, my beautiful sleek, short haired, brown cat looked like a long haired, cream colored, Himalayan because of all the stuck fuzzies. 

Well the danger was that Merci would attempt to clean off this mess herself and eat some of the sticky, fly-killing goo--not a good idea. So I put her in the sink and ran warm water over her. Burmese are kind of like the Icelandics of the cat world--Merci did not struggle but she uttered this occasional heart rending mew.

Water did not get the goo off so I got out the scissors. I flipped Merci on her back and proceed to clip small sections of fur, goo, and dust off her belly.  From time to time, she wiggled loose and I had to catch her and start the process all over again. Finally we were done and a damp, balding Merci retired to the closet for the day.


This was not funny at the time. I was so concerned over my distressed cat. I can see the humor now. And Merci did make a good start on the weekly dusting. She was like a very animated Rhomba or live dust-and-mop. I keep checking her every hour or so since I missed some goop.  More dust collected, and I need to trim off more hair. Her tail was mostly naked and she had bald spots on her belly. Otherwise she suffered no ill effects--except hiding for one day in the closet and refusing to let me pick her up and walk towards the bathroom for an entire week.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Christmas Pony

It was Christmas eve.  The extended family had gathered at my parents' house to celebrate.  My 5-year old niece Amy came running up me and handed me a small, lovingly wrapped package. "Guess what it is," she joyfully asked.  "But you can't open it until tomorrow morning," she added. 

Well the last thing in the world I wanted to do was ruin a little girl's Christmas surprise.  So I took the small box and carefully shook it.  The box was just the size that small pieces of jewelry comes in.  And it rattled just like a piece of jewelry.  So I decided to guess something that could not possibly be in the box.  "It's a pony," I announced. 

Pony magnet that is currently on my refrigerator

Poor Amy, her face crumpled and tears came to her eyes.  Sobbing, she turned and ran to her mother.  "Aunt Pam is so mean.  She guessed.  She guessed." 

Here is what was in the box.  
 I felt so bad for the rest of the night.  I had to play a lot of games to get Amy back in the Christmas spirit.

But what is ironic is that Amy's gift pony magnet turned out to look a lot like my first and only horse Blessi.

Blessi says Merry Christmas to everybody!!!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Different Type of Sleigh Ride

Of course, not everybody can afford a ride with Pere Noel himself.  Some people make their own sleighs.  Look at the ingenuity of this person.  And if you watch closely, you might catch a glimpse of Santa's reindeer in the fields--or is it more horses?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Pere Noel and the Icelandic Horse

Just in time for Christmas.   Pere Noel takes Ambre for a carriage ride through the streets of a French city.  Since his reindeer are only trained to draw a sleigh, Pere Noel had to harness up his trusty Icelandic horse.  The video starts after the series of photos.  Enjoy!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

What Blessi is getting for Christmas--A Hand Hooked Saddle Pad

One of my hobbies is felting and needle work. So I decided to make Blessi a saddle pad for Christmas.   I found these neat on-line directions for an old style cowboy hooked saddle pad made with roving and burlap. I have been working on getting a Western saddle to go over the pad.  I ordered the wool roving from this site:

http://www.thesheepshedstudio.com/Roving.html

I ordered five pounds of roving in chestnut and cream--to match my pony. The roving was high quality and easy to work with. Well, the saddle pad turned out beautifully!!! Here is a picture--please note nobody was at the stable that day and my horse Blessi thought it was silly to hold up his head just for a picture when there was grass to eat.
Here are the online directions for making a pad:
http://www.ehow.com/how_5024333_make-hooked-wool-saddle-p...

If you are making a 32 X 32 inch pad, you need all 5 lbs of roving. The pad is about 2 inches thick but will compress down to slightly less than 1 inch under the saddle. I did not have enough left over roving to finish the cat bed that I started. And the process takes a lot of time. If somebody wants to do a more precise pattern, they will probably want to order more wool to make sure they have enough of a certain shading.

WASU on his favorite bed.
Everyone (including my cats) want to snuggle with the pad and take a nap on it.

I just reordered more roving to make a black and cream English style saddle pad.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What an Appaloosa-Colored Icelandic Would Look Like

In Britain, somebody crossed an Appaloosa with an Icelandic (or perhaps the horses made the decision).   Icelandics come in over 40 different colors--from silver dapple to cream to dappled grays to all variations of pinto--but Appaloosa.  The closest you get to Appaloosa in an Icelandic horse is some "ink spots."  So here is what an Appalossa-colored Icelandic would look like.  I have to admit this cross is very cute and talented also.  Too bad Stripes is in England or I know a lot of people who would be tempted to buy this horse.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Flocked Icelandic Horses for Christmas

Just in time for Christmas....If you are looking for party favors or gifts for children over 5, these Derby Stable flocked Icelandic horses are adorable.  One is even tolting.  And you don't even have to be an Icey fan to appreciate them  Dollar Tree Stores are carrying them for, what else, $1 each.

My friend Deb made giant cupcakes for my birthday celebration and decorated them with these  cute little guys.  (Hint: wrap the legs in plastic so the icing doesn't ruin them and the flocking doesn't get into the icing.)
Deb made me these giant cupcakes for my birthday.
Here are the Bad Cowgirls--Pamela, Lora, Deb, and Gretchen.
I also gave a complete set to my 3 1/2 year old niece (to be played with under adult supervision).  MacKenzie adores them.  And I gave them Icelandic names--Blessi, Veigar (Blessi's registered name), and Miska.  I had to write them down since MacKenzie can't remember them.  My Mom has to look them up every few hours.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Blessi on the Race Track

When you go to a race track, this is what you expect to see.  Long-legged thoroughbreds bursting out of the starting gate.

You don't expect to see this--Icelandic horses on the race track.  In 2007 and 2008, my Icelandic instructor Svanny Stefánsdóttir rode Blessi in the Parade of Breeds at Emerald Down Racetrack in Auburn, WA.  In the photo above, Peter Townsend is riding his Icelandic gelding Thytur.  Below is Svanny and Peter warming up in the Emerald Downs parking lot.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Why I got an Icelandic--It is all Kathy Anderson's fault

On Sunday, December 14th, 2003, I was sitting in my living room reading the Neighbors section of the Philadelphia Inquirer.  My eye was immediately caught by the absolutely adorable photos of these hairy little ponies.  What were they?  They looked nothing like the thoroughbreds and quarter horses on which I had been taking riding lessons.  So I had to read the article.

Kathy Anderson had written an article entitled "The feel of Iceland--courtesy of farm."  Kathy, then living in Malibu, CA, and her niece had come east to visit family for Christmas.  Having heard of Lynn Alfonsi's Viking Horses, they booked a ride through the Chester County countryside on Icelandic horses.

Kathy describes her first look at Icelandic horses: "As Lynn led us away from the aloof thoroughbred to a nearby paddock we watched four horses with very thick, long manes trot over to us with friendly enthusiasm.  You could sense immediately that these were horses with a lot of personality" (p. 1).    Oh, I thought, these horses are not only cute but they seem like such characters.  Intrigued I read on.

Kathy goes on to describe her first memorable ride on an chestnut mare named Rúm.  "Once out in the field, Rúm surveyed the environment, took note of all the activity, then picked up her pace.  She was very alert without being skittish and sturdy without being cloddish.  She whinnied with delight at being out on a cold winter day with her pals.  Her sure and sensible attitude gave me confidence, and I was ready to give "tolting" a try.  I gave Rúm the signals Lynne had shown us, and the Icelandic moved into the smoothest and fastest gait I had ever ridden!  We were now 'tolting' across the brisk countryside" (p. 1, 12). 

What is this tolt I wondered?  My knowledge of horse breeds was limited.  I did know about walk, trot, and canter and I vaguely remembered something about ambling palfreys in the middle ages.   And I had heard of Tennessee Walkers but had never seen gaited horses except on the pages of a book.  I just knew that the lesson horses that I had been riding were safe. they were reliable, they had good training basics--but that trot sure was rough.

Kathy goes on to describe the rest of the ride.  "Once out on the trail, and now comfortable with my mount, I went into a state of tranquility.  Riding for me is a meditative place to think about everything and nothing at all.  It's a place to talk with my riding companions and a place to be silent and listen to nature...The landscape resembled a Wyeth painting in its stark simplicity, and the soft winter sunlight cast shadows from empty tree branches.  The brisk, cold air was invigorating, and when my hands became cold, I put them under Rúm's thick mane for warmth and shelter.  The quiet of this winter day was accompanied by the gentle sounds of hooves hitting the frozen earth and geese flying overhead" (p. 12).  This passage was more poem than prose to me.  Was there something magical about these Icelandic horses? 

How wonderful to ride through the rolling Chester County country side on a brisk winter day.  Up to this point, I had been mostly riding lesson horses in the arena with an occasional trail ride.  I didn't want to ride a colorless lesson horse in the arena anymore--I dreamed of having a companion and just the two of us could explore that wonderful countryside that so inspired Andrew Wyeth.  And Icelandics sounded so much more alive, personable, and calm than any horses I had met previously.   I clipped the article out of the paper.  For weeks, I kept re-reading that article. 

It snowed in Chester County in February.   I couldn't stand it any more.  I called Lynn at the number listed at the end of the article.   I booked a ride and ended up tolting on Rúm.  I kept booking more and more rides.  By April, I was the proud partner of my own Icelandic Blessi and we were boarding with Lynn.  And it is all Kathy Anderson's fault.

Along with her very successful career in the film industry, Kathy Anderson continues to write equestrian articles, especially about preserving the American mustang.  She has a web site at http://web.me.com/kathfilms/Kathy_Anderson/Feature_Writer_articles.html  where you can read this article in its entirety along with many other wonder stories.  I recently corresponded with Kathy to thank her for her inspiring article.  If not for her I would have missed meeting up with this wonderful breed.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Blessi and Icelandic Horse Character



Rena, who owns the stable where I board Blessi, gave me the following card.  She says the cartoon face looks just like Blessi and I totally agree with her.  But you can judge for yourself by comparing the cartoon Blessi to the real Blessi. 


And Blessi is certainly a "character" in the definition of "a person who is odd, different, or eccentric."  Which brings up the question, what is the character of the Icelandic horse.


Per the International Icelandic breeding standards, the Icelandic horse at its best “should be very willing, brave, happy, cheerful, confident and offering its best with very little encouragement. The horse tries to please the rider and is sensible and easy to handle.” (pg., e-19)
Source: Antonsson, G., Siiger Hansen, J., Grimm, M. eds. (2011) FEIF Rules for Icelandic Horse Breeding FEIF International Federation of Icelandic Horse Associations.  Found on September 23, 2011 at http://feif.org/Download/Breeding/tabid/204/Default.aspx

However everybody has a different definition of “willingness”—what should be the balance between “forwardness” versus “mangeability.”   As Bjőrnsson, G., & Sveinsson state, “Horsemen do not see eye to eye about willingness,  and everyone has his own requirements.  Some are not satisfied with willingness and want vigour—but from vigour to loss of manageability can sometimes be a short step.  Judging of breeding horses and gæđingar often have a difficult job giving scores for this difficult feature”  (p. 154). 
Source: Bjőrnsson, G., & Sveinsson, H.  (2006).  The Icelandic Horse, Edda Publishing, Reykjavik, Iceland.
Yes the Icelandic is a sweet faced, “brave, happy, cheerful, confident” little horse but there is fire in his soul.  And there is considerable differences among Icelandic horses as to “willingness” and “forwardness.” And training may impact the balance between the two characteristics also.  The Icelandic as a breed is not a children’s horse (although some are very suited for children.)  Don’t mistake the cartoon for the real horse.  If you are thinking about getting an Icelandic horse, be sure to have a frank discussion with the seller about how he or she defines “willingness.”



Sunday, December 11, 2011

I Love You Peter Pan

Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders are British comic team who have worked on various radio and TV projects for almost 30 years.  Saunders is also known for her lead role in Absolutely Fabulous and Jennifer Sauders also worked on The Vicker of Dibley.  But they are most famous for their skits and film parodies on the BBC show French and Saunders.

Here is one of their brilliant gems from that series about girls and their ponies.  It is laugh out loud funny.


How many "I love you Peter Pan" moments can you share?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Unusual Trail Obstacles

On Gaited Horse Sense discussion group, people have been helping me come up with trail obstacles that may come up at the NW Horse Expo All Breed show.  Some people shared pictures of the craziest obstacles that they have ever encountered.

Barbara M.  shows what happens when your horse can't believe that there is a (stuffed) lynx on that table.  Barbara (http://www.pegasusacres.com/) has her own blog at http://creatingpegasus.blogspot.com/

Unfortunately, I don't have permission to show the photo of the horse and the stuffed moose!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Blessi and the Extreme Trail Challenge

This is one of the videos submitted to the NW Horse Expo that helped us get early acceptance to the All Breed Competition.  This fall, my dressage instructor Dannelle Haugen rode Blessi in the 2011 Kitsap Saddle Club Extreme Trail Challenge in Port Orchard, WA. Dannelle is an accomplished dressage trainer who teaches Intro to fourth level dressage.  Dannelle also holds several titles within the Arabian Sport Horse circuit including:  Top Ten at 2nd Level, 3rd Level, 4th Level dressage.   This was both Blessi and Dannelle's first attempt at an Extreme Trail Challenge.  They took the Grand Championship with 191 points out 200.  They scored 10 out of 10 for 17 of the 20 obstacles.  They were the only competitors riding in English tack and Blessi was the only gaited horse.

Dannelle rode Blessi brilliantly.  But what is so surprising about this performance is the number of obstacles that Blessi had never encountered or encountered only once:
  • rocking bridge--I led Blessi over a rocking bridge a few times two years ago
  • jumping--Dannelle took him over a few jumps once last summer and I free jumped him with a longe line once
  • carrying tarp over head--never
  • dragging a barrel--never
  • straddling a pole--never 
  • cantering in figure 8 with lead changes--never
And Blessi and I don't spend a lot of time practicing side passing or opening gates or doing 360 turns in boxes--these are not traditional dressage movements.

Based on Blessi's reactions to things in the arena and on the trail, I believe that Blessi was ridden a lot on the trail in Icelandic before he was exported to the US.  And if you have ever seen the "horse treks" in Iceland, this must have seemed like a walk in the park for Blessi.

So to Blessi extreme trail is just dressage with scary things--which is much more interesting than dressage.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Blessi is competing at All Breed at Northwest Horse Expo

Bless and Dannelle at KSC Extreme Trail
I am so excited!!!! My dressage instructor Dannelle agreed to ride Blessi in the All Breed Competition at the Northwest Horse Expo in Albany, OR.  Only 24 horses will be picked to compete in a multi-day competition from March 22 to 25.  I had just mailed in the application last week and selections weren't suppose to be announced until February 1.  But Blessi got early selection. 

Crossing the moveable bridge
"The All Breed Challenge is a timed and judged competition through an obstacle course that will test the abilities of each horse/rider team as they execute familiar and new maneuvers that push them out of their traditional “comfort zones,”. In each preliminary round up horse/rider teams will attempt to conquer a timed course made up of tasks that can include jumps, dressage, reining, trail obstacles, barrel racing, ranch versatility and more. See gaited horses, dressage horses and western horses go head to head in this fun and challenging competition and compete for $3,000.00 in cash prizes, and the title of “Northwest Horse Fair & Expo All Breed Challenge Champion.”

Source: http://equinepromotions.net/northwest-horse-fair/event-details/special-events/


Not a classical jump position but
not bad for Blessi's second jump ever carrying a rider.
 The Cascade Icelandic Horse Club and the Can Am Icelandic Horse Club will be sponsoring a booth and performing demos each day.  If you want to meet these colorful, curious, fun small horses with the big hearts come on out to the NW Horse Expo.  It will be a fun event!

Meanwhile, Dannelle and I need to figure out how to get Blessi prepared for this competition.  Wish us well!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Fathers and Daughters and Ponies


My father
 It is my Dad's birthday today so I thought I would write about the important role that a Dad plays when his daughter goes horse crazy--regardless of her age.  My parents did not have the money to support a horse when I was growing up.  However, they made sure that all the important things in life were covered such as health care, college, and, of course, love and support. 

So when I got interested in horses late in life, my Dad found himself in the unusual position of playing equine enabler for a daughter in her late 40s.  I had taken some riding lessons and was thinking about getting a horse.  Well, after my first ride on an Icelandic horse, I knew that I wanted an Icey.  The only instructor offering lessons on Icelandic horses was Kelly Pierce of Sundaze Icelandics, whose facility was close to my parents' home in Harrisburg, PA.  So every few weeks, I would drive to see my parents and book a lesson with Kelly. 

My Dad insisted on taking me to my lesson.  He was not at all interested in horses.  His only experience with horses was a job that he had early in his life driving a team of draft horses to drag out timber in Western Pennsylvania. This was one of his least favorite jobs.  Despite his dislike of horses, he would faithfully drive me to my lesson and patiently wait for me in the car.  So here he was in his late 60s performing a service that most fathers get out of the way in their 20s or 30s.

Today, my Dad is in nursing home.  I went to visit him a few weeks ago.  His eyes lit up when he saw me and the first words he spoke were "How's the pony?"  And he still patiently listened to me tell Blessi stories.  Thank you Dad.   I love you.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Bruno Podlech Performing a Bridleless Riding Demo on Stallion

Below is one of my favorite demos of riding an Icelandic horse.  The late Bruno Podlech was a noted breeder and trainer of Icelandic horses in Germany.  Here he rides his stallion Geysir vom Wiesenhof  in a bridleless demo in Holland during the 2007 Icelandic Horse Championships.  Bruno demos 4 of the 5 gaits--walk, tolt, canter, and trot. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

There is no tolt in dressage Blessi

Blessi can be a big, loveable, brave goofball but he does have some talent.  At age 13, Blessi started some dressage lessons as opposed to gait training.  I took lessons also but Blessi learned a lot quicker.  Most Icelandics have 4 gaits--walk, trot, tolt, and canter.  Some have a fifth gait called flying pace.  Blessi is 4-gaited.  Blessi has an almost warmblood trot with a lot of suspension as well as a good tolt.  My dressage instructor Dannelle says riding Blessi is like riding a 4-speed sports car as opposed to an automatic--you have a lot more gaits to play with. 

Last summer, Dannelle rode Blessi in his first dressage classes.  Much to everybody's surprise, they won 4 blue ribbons in 4 classes at the intro and training levels.  They beat out the warmbloods, Arabs, TBs, etc.  Their scores ranged between 66 and 72.  Here is a video of one of those classes--I have added a voice over that provides the judge's comments and scores.  And, yes, Blessi did throw in some tolt and they still took the blue ribbon.
Blessi did not do quite so well in his dressage tests this year due to the doughnut effect--a yet-to-be-written post.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Blessi is the Maru of the Horse World

One of the most famous personages in Japan is a cat named Maru.  Maru is a male Scottish fold with his own unique perspective on the world.  Maru does so many things that you have never seen a cat do before. 
And Maru's owner has lovingly documented Maru's antics on Youtube in a very Zen like manner.  As you watch the video below, you can make many comparisons between Maru and Blessi.  They both:
  • are round and furry
  • are a little bit bumbling
  • originate from a different country--Scotland vs. Iceland
  • are a bit lazy
  • can be very mischievous
  • display white socks and blaze
  • act spoiled sometimes (and are spoiled by their owners)
  • are very jocular (make you laugh)
  • are a little fat
  • are very playful
  • love boxes or buckets
  • do very unusal behaviors for their species
 Check out the video below and give me your opinions about Blessi and Maru.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Blessi and Cats

Blessi has always loved cats.  He will go out of his way to meet up with a cat.  And sometimes I will find scratch marks on his nose when he has tried to make friends with a non-horse savvy cat.
Blessi and Regato, his new best cat friend
Sam, a black barn cat, was Blessi’s earliest cat friend.   Sam discovered what a joy it was to sleep on the broad, hairy Icelandic back in the winter.  And at every opportunity Blessi would gently  snuffle and groom Sam’s head.  I don't have any pictures of Sam and Blessi, but Blessi's current cat friend is a black cat named Regato.
Blessi pets Lora as she pets Regato.
Blessi and I were on a trail ride one day.  As we got back to the stable property, Sam was perched on a fence post.  On catching sight of Sam, Blessi took the bit in his teeth and marched us over to greet Sam.  After the friendly reunion, we had to follow Sam as he walked the top of the fence line.  After all Sam was part of the herd. 
Blessi and Mittens
When we moved from the east coast to the west coast, we boarded at a number of feline-free stables.     Then we went to Big Steel Ranch in Port Orchard, WA, which had a resident cat named Mittens.  Mittens liked horses but most of the horses were afraid of her or did not care for her.  However, Blessi did.  I would sometimes find Mittens perched on Blessi’s back.  She seemed to like the elevation which got her closer to the birds and away from the barn dogs.  Blessi just liked the company.
So then my friend Lora and I decided to teach Mittens to ride.  We would put a saddle pad on on our horse and place Mittens on the horse while we groomed the horse.  Lora’s horse Hollyanna, a lovely paint, opinionated mare, had a different reaction.  She would wait until Lora turned her back and then grab the saddle pad and fling saddle pad and cat away from her.  Blessi was much more tolerant. 
I started giving Mittens a ride around the farm on a lead line.  Both Blessi and Mittens seemed to enjoy the walk.  Of course the barn dogs were really flummoxed by the situation—their facial expressions were quite comical.
Of course, one of us got the brilliant idea to take Mittens for a real ride.  Here is the film footage of Mittens’ first ride. 

Mittens became addicted to riding.  She would clamber up the mounting block as I got on Blessi trying to get on with me.  She would sit on the half wall of the arena and cry to be picked up and taken for a ride.   Unfortunately (for many, many reasons), Big Steel Ranch had to close for financial reasons and I never had the opportunity to take Mittens for tolt.
PS  There are only 5 types of wild mammals commonly found in Iceland—4 species of rats and mice, reindeer, mink, Arctic fox, and rabbits. 
Several of the rat/mice species, mink, and rabbits are not native and were introduced as accidents.  So coming from Iceland, Blessi was totally unfamiliar with many of the common, wild mammals found in the US.   He tended to treat everything as a “cat” or a “dog.”  Boy was he surprised when he met his first black “cat” with the white stripe down the back and tail.  I came back from several trips to find him reeking after he had tried to make friends with a black and white-striped “kitty.”