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  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.

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