Saturday, March 31, 2012

Why Blessi Has a 34 Pound 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.
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.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Blessi--Grass, Grass Everywhere and Nary a Bite to Eat

Blessi in a grass muzzle--this one is too small for
his muzzle but it was bought so I could take a picture
for an article on laminitis
Blessi and I used to live in Chester County, which was home to a lot of thoroughbred breeders. Smarty Jones, the winner of the 2004 Kentucky Derby, was born in Chester County. The typically large pastures consisted of rich grass and clover—which was like a candy store for an Icelandic horse. By midsummer, Blessi was overweight and well on his way to obese.
I asked advice from the local horse owners about how to deal with this potential problem and they recommended a grass muzzle. “Just snap a grass muzzle onto Blessi’s halter. He’ll be able to get some grass through the muzzle openings but he won’t be able to vacuum up grass like he normally does.” Riding around the country side, Blessi and I had seen a lot of thoroughbreds come trotting up to the fence to greet us—many of them contentedly wearing grass muzzles.
So to avoid the risk of founder, I started to use a grass muzzle. Well putting something on Blessi that restricted his eating was like giving him a Rubrik’s cube to play with. He was getting the grass muzzle off in shorter and shorter time periods. I tried many models--muzzles attached to halters and one-piece grass muzzles, cage muzzles and sieve-type muzzles, muzzles with big holes and muzzles with little holes. I even tried adding additional metal clips—all to no avail.
Blessi had many different ways to defeat the grass muzzle puzzle. He would scrape the bottom of the plastic muzzle against the ground to wear a bigger hole in the bottom of the muzzle. He would position the muzzle against a handy post or stump and rub the muzzle off. Somehow, I never figured out how, he undid the clips on the muzzle and removed the muzzle but left his halter on. Once I walked into the pasture to find another horse tugging on Blessi’s grass muzzle as he was wearing it—probably because there were wisps of grass stuck in the muzzle.
It got to the point that I was spending more time walking the large pasture looking for the muzzle than Blessi wore the muzzle. I would find the muzzle in a different place each day—hanging off a fence, sitting on tree stump, buried in a clump of grass. As I was searching the fields, I would find a detached grass muzzle, sometimes the muzzle-halter combination, and, occasionally, muzzle and halter in different parts of the field. Just a note of advice to those of you who also own clever Icelandics: Never get a muzzle/halter combination in any shade of green. And all those thoroughbreds watched me search the field while they contentedly grazed through their grass muzzles.
And the pounds kept piling on. In desperation, I went to a local Amish harness maker for a customized grass muzzle. The harness maker confessed he had never been asked to do custom work on a grass muzzle so I explained the situation. After he stopped chuckling, he went to work on the design. The muzzle had two extra levels of straps around the muzzle and an extra chin strap; it was attached to a cribbing collar.
Blessi in the pudgey pony pasture.
I wanted to make sure that Blessi did not feel trapped or uncomfortable with the new muzzle. I slowly introduced him to the muzzle and made sure he had no problem with it. However, he did look like Hannibal Lecter wearing the mask in “Silence of the Lambs.” We spent a half hour hand grazing to see if Blessi had any issues; he immediately put his head down and started vacuuming up much smaller amounts of grass—the difference between a portable hand vacuum and the industrial shop size vacuum.
Since he was comfortable with the contraption, I led him back to his pasture. When I turned him loose, Blessi took a dozen paces into the pasture, stopped, dropped, rolled to his back, and used his front leg to brush the muzzle off the end of his nose. When I was done laughing, I gave up on grass muzzles and put him in the pudgy pony pasture, i.e. an almost dry lot, for the rest of the summer. He even managed to lose some weight. Now if I can just find a pudgy pony pasture for myself.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Blessi Has a Bad Hair Day

Photo by Sherry Wallmark
Blessi (denoting Blessing in Icelandic) and I attended a clinic at Rose-el Stables, Port Orchard, WA to learn the different styles of braids used on a horse's mane and tail. The braiding clinic was interesting. Eight horses and braiders attended the session. One of the attendees was a 5-year old girl who had brought a small ladder to work on her 15 hand horse.

Evie the instructor takes one look at Blessi and says she has never seen a horse who had so much hair. She walks away because she said she needs to think about how to handle that much mane. In the mean time, I am suppose to use the Sticky Goopy Paste (hereafter referred to as SGP) to move the partial left mane to the right side with the rest of Blessi's mane.

The first problem is the SGP comes in a light green, round tin and Blessi is convinced that this is a Granny Smith apple just for him. He tries so many methods to get to the plastic bag with the braiding supplies that we have stuff--crochet hooks, yarn, ribbons, shears--scattered across the arena. It does not help that the SGP has a pleasant, apple scent to it.

The second problem is the SGP just isn't going to do the job. Nothing short of industrial strength glue is going to get the left mane to stay on the right. SGP holds the mane over for about the time of an Apollo countdown--10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1, Reykjavik, we have lift off--as you watch the left hand mane separate from the right side and move back across Blessi's neck. The SGP does get the short 4-inch stray mane hair to stand straight up in the air.

Evie returns in about 10 minutes and I have made no progress. Blessi still has a full right and partial left mane. So Evie decides to do a long French braid across the bottom of Blessi's mane. We can pull in the left mane as we braid.

The third problem is that Blessi has shagged his mane. He has three levels of mane--about 16 inches, 8 inches, and 4 inches--each level has more hair than a normal horse. So we decide to do 2 rows of French braid. Evie shows me how and it looks easy so Evie lets me on my own.

The fourth problem is that Blessi has now discovered that there are real carrots in the supply bag and he redoubles his efforts to claim them. At one point, he gets the bag and we play tug of war with the carrot bag until it bursts. All this time, the little girl's horse is standing perfectly still like an equine angel as the little girl works from her ladder.

The 2-hour clinic is almost over and I have two rows of French braids down Blessi's mane. The other participants are starting to lead their horses around with beautiful braided manes and tails in short French braids, button braids, galloping braids, etc. One young woman has created galloping braids on her bay horse--picture wide braids done every six inches down the mane and then pulled over into overlapping arches. Entwined among the braids are ribbons in shades of purple. The black tail is braided with matching purple ribbons--just a beautiful picture.

Back to Blessi--he looks like Courtney Love on a bad hair day since that 4-inch hair at the top is sticking straight up out at the crest of the mane. Evie has no advice on this so I decide to take a gold and white ribbon and sew down the top of the mane using a back stitch. This works and actually provides a touch of elegance. Blessi now looks like Courtney Love on a really good day--ready for the red carpet or the judge's booth.

Evie and I discuss what to do about the forelock which is almost a 4-inch thick cylinder of hair. Evie suggests that when I have another hour or so I do a single braid and somehow glue the ends in a ball under the braid. There is no time to do anything with Blessi's tail.

The event organizer snaps a picture of Blessi. As I lead Blessi back to the refreshment table for people, all the braids start to come loose and we are back to the Courtney Love bad hair day look. Oh, and that little girl and her horse are adorable as she leads him around in his short French braid with green ribbons.

Note: Blessi has an average or less than average mane for an Icelandic. I think Evie might have had a breakdown if she had tried to work with an Icelandic with a "good" mane for the first time.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Blessi Is Now Sweetness of the World

Over the weekend, I took Blessi to a friend's stable so Kathleen, who is really new to horses (her second time on a horse), could ride Blessi. At first, Kathleen did not want to get on Blessi--she was too scared. But she led him around for a little bit and then decided she could get on.
Kathleen was riding for a few minutes when we stopped for a photo opportunity. Blessi broke the ice by hamming it up big time--he stood perfectly still but started giving these big horsey smiles--stretching his head up and lifting up his upper lip) which made everbody, including Kathleen, laugh hysterically. Blessi has never done that while under saddle.

So Kathleen continued her ride--in a much more relaxed frame of mind. In fact she rode him twice. Anyway Kathleen is in love with Blessi and Icelandics. Kathleen gave Blessi the title of "Sweetness of the World" and kept kissing his nose.

So my question is "Why did Blessi do this?" He doesn't regularly "Smile" and I don't give him treats for this behavior. Eight years ago, I tried to teach him the smile trick but I could not get him to do it on cue and gave up. He does "Smile" at odd times--such as when we are all standing around a long time listening to an instructor. And he has done it several times when people are taking pictures and the photographer says "Smile." So this behavior could just be a random event. But Blessi does tend to repeat behavior if people laugh at it.

What do you think?

And many thanks to the members of the International Icelandic Horse discussion group who reminded us of the importance of wearing helmets at all times--including photo opportunities.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Blessi and the Equine Social Intelligence Test

Blessi and my dressage instructor Dannelle are competing in the Northwest Horse Expo All Breed Competition.  I will be repeating some of the "Best of Blessi Blog" at this time.  Enjoy!

Several years ago, Blessi was at liberty in the arena as I was setting up some cones for an exercise in riding trot. Spontaneously, he started doing bows, carrot stretches (or kiss the stirrups), and “smiles.” I had some carrots in my pocket and he was trying to earn his carrots by spontaneously offering behavior that had been rewarded in the past. We had not worked on any “trick training” in well over a year so I started wondering if Blessi was “making a suggestion.” (And, yes, he got lots of carrots for his initiative.)

We have already worked on playing a toddler’s piano, tooting a bicycle horn, spinning the pony, targeting, following rolling hula hoops, etc. I really wanted to find a new activity that Blessi would think was fun rather than work and would, of course, involve lots of carrots.

I found a great activity developed and posted by Nancy Nicholson, Ph. D., Woodrow Wilson Fellow 1963, the Equine Social Intelligence Test, described at the link below:

Nancy took the dog intelligence test that involves problem solving and adapted it to horses as a fun--rather than a scientific--activity. Most of the activities involve the horse figuring out ways to get carrots or other treats.

Here is a link to a video of owners putting their horses through the Equine Intelligence test at the Full Circle Dressage, Kentucky:
My first thought was that Icelandics have to be great at this. Here is a report on how Blessi did on the test.
Day 1:
Test 2--Problem Solving or Finding a treat dramatically placed under a bucket.
Blessi went after that treat like a Labrador Retriever goes after his ball. It was about 4 seconds before he had the bucket upended and treat consumed.

Test 7--Short Term Memory.
Place treat under bucket and return in 40 seconds
See results above.

Test 8--Long Term Memory.
Place treat and bucket in different area and return 5 minutes later. Let horse off lead about 8 feet from bucket.

See results above but now Blessi had figured that the game was “Hide and go seek the carrot.” After getting the carrot under the bucket, he proceeded to go around the stable aisle looking for things to upend just in case I had put a carrot there. He picked up and moved several dog toys (stuffed baby, stuffed dinosaur), a lost glove, and other items--looking for additional carrots. I had to call off the test when he started to head towards the buckets filled with grooming items.

Day 2:
Test 3 Alternate: Put treat under bucket, conduct experiment, remove horse so he cannot see what you are doing. Then put out 3 treats under 2 similar type containers and 1 different container, and return horse to area.

I choose to use treats under two green buckets and one black salt block holder turned upside down. Treats were placed on newspapers to keep them from getting mucked up from arena dirt.

Upon being turned off lead, Blessi headed to the salt block holder. It was really hard for him to turn it over, but he tried several different ways, and finally upended the holder. He then picked up the newspaper and shook out all the pages to make sure no treat was hidden. It was probably unfair to use something that looked like a rubber grain tub since he will go to great lengths to explore one of those.

Blessi immediately proceeded to one of the buckets, knocked it over, got the treat, and ate the carrot. He shook out the papers and explored each sheet.

When I set up the test, I hadn’t noticed that one of the barrel racing barrels was closer than the second bucket. Blessi proceeded to the almost 4-foot tall barrel, upended it, and inspected what was underneath it before he went to the second bucket that was officially part of the test. I started laughing so hard that my stomach hurt.

I was going to wait to see if he would upend the other two barrel racing barrels but just then two boarders approached the arena with the intent of riding. I had to quickly clean up the buckets, barrel, newspapers, and other items that Blessi had strewn all over the arena.
As a follow up: I turned Blessi loose in the arena a few days later as I went to get his tack. When I came back with his saddle, Blessi had gone to the far ends of the arena and overturned the remaining two barrels used in barrel racing.
The results of the IQ-test: Blessi scored around 95%. He lost points when I put the towel over his head. He didn’t bother shaking it off since he thought it was another game. This means Blessi did better than most of the dogs who have taken the canine version of the test. I think most Icelandics would breeze right through these tests since most of the items involve finding treats. A harder test would be to prevent them from getting the treat.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Blessi's Rules of Team Sorting--The Icelandic Version

Blessi and my dressage instructor Dannelle are competing in the Northwest Horse Expo All Breed Competition. I will be repeating some of the "Best of Blessi Blog" at this time. Enjoy!Team Penning is a western competition. Two circular arenas are put together. There are 6 calves with numbers on them from 1 to 6. The timer calls out a number from 1 to 6, let's say 5. Two riders attempt to move the cows from one pen to another in the order of 5, 6, 1, 2, 3, 4. For the beginning riders, chaos now begins as all the calves want to stay together. You spend a lot of time waiting your turn at this event so Blessi came up with his own amusements.

1. As you walk around the outside of the arena, be sure to nuzzle and/or pull down any abandoned jackets or sweaters draped over railings to check for treats.
2. Make sure your owner apologizes profusely to clothing owner when you knock said item on the ground.
3. Also, pause before anybody you know and see if they have a treat.
4. Just to make sure, pause in front of complete strangers, in case they have a treat.
5. Repeat all of the above as needed as you circle the arena waiting your turn, in case you missed a treat.
6. Approach all children gently—they always say “What a cute pony!”
7. Position yourself in front of a cute mare as you stand in line for your turn at the cows so she can nuzzle your butt. If it’s a gelding, that’s OK too.
8. Stand by the arena fence, and try to get the youngest calf to approach. Just don’t act surprised when the calf starts to clean your face with her tongue.
9. Be especially slow and pokey in the arena for your owner so she feels safe.
10. But try to get your owner to find a nice rider so you can go
faster in the arena and really chase those cows.
11.Be sure and volunteer a tolt for the nice rider so they know
what they are missing.
12. When the nice rider dismounts and acts surprised because
the ground was so close, don’t act too smug.
13. When that green horse spooks and slews by you, don’t do anything since you calculate that the horse is going to miss you by ten feet. Your owner may startle but be calm and patient with her—she’s only a human.
14.Let your owner know you are enjoying this event when she is leading you by gently putting your head on her shoulder and giving her a horsey hug.
15.Let your owner know when you are bored by raising your upper lip and giving everybody a big, horsey grin. Repeat process when everyone laughs.
16.Be sure and tell your owner to proudly tell the stranger who asks that you are a chestnut Icelandic and not a Haflinger.
17.Make sure that when the team sorting event is over, that everyone thinks Icelandics are awesome.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Blessi at Corey's Day on the Farm

This year, Blessi, and I had the most awesome experience in all of the seven years of our partnership. I was close to tears several times. We participated in Corey’s Day at the Farm for the first time. Coleta and Nick Corey of Silverdale, WA have a special needs son Danny. In 1968, Danny took some puppies to his class for show and tell. Many of his classmates were unfamiliar with puppies so Coletta and Nick invited the class of 26 to their farm to ride ponies. For over 40 years, the family has continued to expand the program so that today over 1000 special needs children plus their parents and grandparents come to the Kitsap County Fairgrounds to pet the goats and cows, take wagon rides pulled by tractor or draft horses, have lunch and popcorn, rope pretend cows, square dance, and so much more. Up to 200 people volunteer to help.

The heart of the event remains the horse rides so Blessi and I decided to see if we could help. The kids who attend have special needs ranging from autism to vision and hearing impairment to physical disabilities. Really, I had no idea what this would entail—especially the dreaded “chute.”
Stage 1--help child dismount
Getting a child from a wheelchair or a physically handicapped child on a horse requires a special set-up—the chute. At the end of the ride, the horse has to take the child into the chute. The chute goes round a curve to the unloading platform which is about two feet high and about 10 by 10 feet square.
Stage 2 Help another child into the saddle
Several people are there to help the child off the horse. The horse is then led through the chute to the loading platform, which is about 5 feet in the air so that several adult volunteers can help the child down onto the horse. During the loading and unloading process the horse must stand perfectly with all the volunteers helping an often unbalanced child. Once in the queue, the horse cannot panic since there may be a horse ahead and behind it in the chute. And let’s not forget all the flashes going off.

Stage 3 Get two walkers to help support the child
The horse/leader/child grouping also picks up one to two spotters to help the child balance on the horse. The entire group makes a circuit around the arena and the process repeats itself. For children who are very scared or very unsteady a 4-H volunteer hops in the saddle and holds the child or sits behind the saddle and holds the child.

And all of this occurs in the chaos of the fairground-- outside the arena are tractor rides, milling crowds, strange horses walking around, etc. Most of the horses—mainly quarter horses and paints-- have been working at this event for several years. They are absolute saints to tote a child who may kick suddenly, make sudden hand motions, be very unbalanced, or suddenly cry.
Other activities around the riding area

The only horse misbehavior that I know of happened to the adults who loaded children in the pony pasture (as opposed to the large horse arena) who got nipped several times by the ponies, who declined to bite the children.

Blessi was one of the first-time horses. I arrived early to get him used to the set up. I did not chunk this training well but Blessi is of a forgiving nature and a quick study. Luckily there were lots of 4-H volunteers who were willing to play the role of special needs child—both on the platform and in the saddle. It took about 20 minutes and several circuits with 4-H volunteers before I felt Blessi was ready to give his first real ride. The final training step was when a 4-Her fed Blessi her breath mints from the level of the platform. (Note—many of the first time horses could not cope with dreaded chute and went back to their trailers or stalls for the rest of the day). As soon as that first child was lowered into the saddle, Blessi seemed to relax even more. It was almost as if he understood the reason for the platform. Blessi did such a good job that he got promoted to the pony pasture in the afternoon (don’t tell FEIF the international organization for the Icelandic “horse”). The smaller children are even more likely to make sudden movements. Oh, and Blessi is Icelandic. He was really good at the “I’m a relaxed pony, my head is going down, look there is grass” grass snatching trick.

Stage 4 Return to chute
Here are just some of my memories from this afternoon. I have changed the names.

  • Anna, with limited leg movement, taking her first horse ride with a smile that just got bigger and bigger as the ride went on
  • Jeffrey who got on Blessi and was so excited he shouted “Yi Haa, I’m a cowboy” and kicked Blessi in the sides
  • Desi who was in sixth grade and just so sad because she had been coming to Corey’s Day on the Farm for six years and, since there is an age limit, could not come back as a seventh grader
  • Jacob, who was about four and had to be carried by a 4-H rider. He started off the ride crying but within 10 steps he started to sing the words to his own nonsense song, a song that lasted to the end of the ride
  • An unknown boy who would not talk or look at us. However, he spent most of the ride hugging or petting Blessi’s withers
  • Davie who kept getting in line and arranging his position in line so that he could ride Blessi five times
  • And most of all the smiles, smiles, smiles of happy children and parents
I also have a confession to make about Blessi. Sometimes you find out something about your horse that makes you ashamed. After a grass break, I was walking Blessi back to the arena. Parents pushing a child in a type of stroller/wheelchair asked if their son, who looked about 5, could meet Blessi. I led Blessi over and he promptly lowered his head to greet the child at his level. The child’s legs were covered with a grass green blanket. After greeting the boy, Blessi gently took the blanket in his mouth and tried to remove it. The kid smiled and his parents laughed and laughed. The parents asked if Blessi would re-stage the event for photos—which Blessi was happy to do. So here is my confession: MY HORSE STEALS BLANKETS FROM SPECIAL NEEDS CHILDREN.

So humor aside, there are many volunteer positions to help with therapeutic riding –even if one does not have a suitable horse. It is an amazing and emotionally rewarding activity.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Blessi and the Flag

Blessi and I attended a fun day with the local Tennessee Walker club of which we are members (they made Blessi an honorary TW). The club was going to open the event with a salute to the flag and a parade around the indoor arena to "God Bless America."

Blessi and I had never carried a flag before so I volunteered to carry the American flag if Blessi was OK with it. Before seeing if Blessi reacted to the flag from the ground, I propped the flag up against a wall and turned to talk to my fellow flag carrier Dan. While my back was turned, Blessi reached over and knocked the flag to the ground. The club members teased that "Those foreigners have no respect for the flag."

Needless to say, Blessi had no reaction to the flag from the ground or the saddle so my fellow flag carrier and I mounted up, stood for the national anthem, and then started to lead off the parade of about 10 horses in the small indoor arena. I was struggling to handle the flag and reins while not hitting the somewhat low rafters with the flag. Blessi was doing great--keeping up with the other flag horse and keeping to the rail--with minimal directions from me.

As we were going round for the second time, we pass Jim who was taking some photos. Blessi slowly peeled off from the group and started to follow Jim closely. Jim turns and says "Blessi, the treats in my pocket are for my horses." I guess Blessi felt he deserved a treat for doing so well with a new activity and was going to reward himself.

Icelandics--you have to love their sense of humor.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Battle of the Breeds--Riding for Speed

These past few days, Blessi and Dannelle have been participating in the All Breed Competition at the Northwest Horse Expo in Albany, OR.   I have been doing some research as to what goes into all breed competitions. You will get a kick out of the following video of Equifest in PA--a bunch of breeds competing in barrel racing. I love the Gypsy Vanner and drafts doing their best at this sport. It takes them most of the arena just to get up to speed and then they need to turn. And the QH is amazing.  And the Pasos are quite good but they want to gait.  But somebody needs to talk to the little girl on the Shetland about roughness.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Preview--Cascade Icelandic Horse Club Drill Team at NW Horse Expo

For your viewing pleasure, here is the Cascade Icelandic Horse Club Drill Team performing their demo at the 2010 Northwest Horse Expo in Albany, OR.  The drill team will be performing at the 2012 NW Horse Expo.  If you are in the area, be sure and come out and meet the club and these wonderful horses.

The Cascade Icelandic Horse Club Drill team will be performing from March 23 to 25 at the following times:

Friday     4:30 to 5:00
Saturday 4:00 to 5:00
Sunday 10:30 to 11:00

Check the day of the show for last minute schedule changes.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Horses Have Canine Teeth

Here are some interesting factoids about equine dentition:

  • Horses can have different amounts of teeth.  Mares have 36 and geldings have 40 to 42.

  • All horses have 12 front teeth (incisors) used for cutting grass and 24 jaw teeth (molars) used for chewing grass.
  • Some males  have canine teeth between the incisors and molars.
  • Some mares and geldings/stallions have wolf teeth in front of their molars, which may need to be removed for proper bit placement.
  • The bit fits naturally in the bar or toothless area between the incisors and the molars.
  • Most foals are born without teeth; incisors appear within 8 to 10 days. 

From: Mullen, G.  (2008).  Amazing Horse Facts and Trivia.  Chartwell Books, Inc., New York. (p.16)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Horses Can Count

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have show that horses can count in the 4 to 6 range. They dropped differing amounts of fake apples (to eliminate the influence of smell) into two buckets. When released, the horse almost always went to the bucket with the most apples.

The horse considered two small apples to be better than one large apple.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

What To Do with a Bored Icelandic

Speaking of SEEK drive, this owner has an interesting solution to keep her bored Icelandic occupied.  I need to try this with Blessi.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

TÃmas's Meadow

Tungnafellsjökull (Icelandic for"tongue-fells glacier")
Photo from Wikipedia 
JÃnas Hallgrímsson (1807-1845) is a dearly beloved poet in Iceland.  He wrote a poem  "TÃmas's Meadow":

Near towering Tonguehill Glacier
TÃmas's Meadow lies,
the only green oasis
under the desert skies.
Here my dear friend's horses
hurried once in their need;
never again will he graze them
on his grassy upland mead.
Wide is the Dancing Desert,
distant the weeping sea.
Where sands are sweeping northward
my soul is hurrying me.

The story behind this poem supports the Icelandic horse having a great deal of native "seek" drive--which helps in the survival of men and beasts in the extreme environment of Iceland.    Sprengisandur (or the  "Dancing Desert") is a vast expanse of sand located in the eastern central part of Iceland.  In 1810, Sir George Mackenzie, described this desert as:
"Numerous obstacles present themselves to any person who may think of entering this dreadful country, among which the want of food for horses is the principal. The rivers, lakes, streams of lava, all the horrors of nature combined, oppose every desire to penetrate into these unknown districts; and the superstitious dread in which they are held by the natives is readily excused, the instant they are even remotely beheld."
The poet  JÃnas's friend, TÃmas SÃmundsson, set out to cross this rarely explored dessert to fetch his new wife and her belongings from the north.  His Icelandic horses discovered a meadow of grass in this forbidding wasteland that helped in the crossing. 

Of course through the years, the circumstances of this crossing became much more difficult.  In TÃmas' biography written by his grandson, the crossing was greatly exagerated in  retelling as shown below:

"But when they reached a point some 40 kilometers south of the last farms in BárÃardalur, they ran into a blinding blizzard, and before TÃmas was fully aware of what was happening he had lost all sense of direction. He kept going, however, and it was not long before his horses suddenly --- and of their own accord --- started to crop grass here and there. They had found a meadow beneath the snow, though TÃmas had never known that one existed here in the eastern part of the desert. It is not unlikely that this discovery saved his life, since he was not prepared for an extended stay in the highlands, accompanied by so many horses. Now he could pitch his tent, free from anxiety about the horses, and wait until the storm had passed. The next morning the weather was so clear that they could see the mountains and it was a simple matter to ascertain the right direction and continue the journey without hazard. The meadow he had discovered lay up under Tonguehill Glacier and has been known ever since as TÃmas's Meadow. "

However, Icelandic folklore and history is full of tales of the Icelandic horse carrying its rider and finding its way through blizzard and storms to safety.

Source: University of Wisconsin Library System

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Shaped by the Land of Fire and Ice

Eruption of Eyjafjallajőkull on March 27, 2010
The Icelandic Horse has been shaped by the extremes of its environment.  Iceland is a medium-sized island, about the size of Kentucky.  Iceland is known as the Land of Fire and Ice both for its volcanic activity and its snow-covered peaks.  About half of Iceland is lava desert (around 7,000 feet above sea level created by volcanoes) and other types wasteland.  Eleven percent of Iceland is covered by glaciers, including the snow-covered volcanoes of Eyjafjallajőkull and Snaefellsjőkull.  Only 1% of the land is farmed and 20% of the land can be used for grazing. (Geography of Iceland, Wikipedia). 

A view of Snaefellsjőkull from the sea
During the settlement of Iceland from 900 AD to 1200 AD, Iceland experienced a period of relative warm winters.  From 1200 AD to 1920 AD, the winters were much colder.  Particularly bad winters during this timeframe were give names such as “Horse Perishing Winter,” “White Winter,” and the “Great Snow Winter.” Icelandic horses were sometimes fed herring to help them survive the winters.  A volcanic eruption in 1783 reduced the Icelandic horse population by 75% and was almost responsible for the island being abandoned.   During the 19th century, 30% of the livestock died for every drop in average winter temperature of 1° C.   Only the hardiest and smartest Icelandic horses survive due to natural selection.  (Bjőrnsson and Sveinsson, 2006, pp. 36-38)
“Horses learned that standing motionless, while the worst of the storm passed, made them burn fewer calories and protected them” (Bjőrnsson & Sveinsson, 2006, p. 38)

Icelandic horse in winter--Wikipedia
Up until recent times, most Icelandic horses were left to forage for themselves over winter although good riding horses were usually stabled.  The horses learned to fend for themselves in this hostile environment. Even today, most Icelandics are turned out in large herds to graze in the highlands over the summer.

Bjőrnsson, G., & Sveinsson, H.  (2006).  The Icelandic Horse, Edda Publishing, Reykjavik, Iceland.

Geography of Iceland.  (2011).  Wikipedia.  Found December 27, 2011 at

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Cows--Seek versus Fear

In her book Animals Make Us Human, Dr.  Temple Grandin says  that cows are by nature very curious.  However, they can flip from fear to seek and seek to fear almost instantaneously.  She talked about walking around the cattle pens and leaving a clip board with papers on the ground.  The cows were fascinated with the clip board and would come up and inspect it--until the wind rustled the papers which made it a scary thing to run away from.  When the wind stopped, they would march right up and inspect the binder again.  Below is a video illustrating the fear to seek switch in cows. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Icelandic Horse Pace Races

A traditional Icelandic horse competition is the pace race--done at the flying pace.  Races are held at 100, 150, and 250 meters.  As shown below, two riders compete against each other.  They have a certain distance to get their horses into a flying pace.   Magnus Linquist riding Thor från Kalvsvik holds the current world record time of 19.86 seconds for the 250 meter race (which is close to 30 miles per hour)--set in 2004.  At one time,  Óðinn frá Búðardal  previously held the title for the 250 pace race--bred at the same farm as Blessi (whose registered name is Veigar frá Búðardal).

Some of Blessi's half siblings have had racing success.  Safir fra Nethra-Asi II trotted in the 300 meter races.  Helga Jarlsdóttir frá Svignaskarði competed in the 100 meter pace race.  Leiftur frá Búðardal competed in 100 meter speed pace.  Sproti frá Kílhrauni competed in pace tests.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Blessi and the Adventure of the Rock Slinging Truck

12/10/12  Update:  I've noticed that some readers are getting to this post by using the search term "rock slinging truck."  If so, I don't think you are interested in a cute story about my Icelandic horse.  You may want to go to:  I have had no dealings with this company but a quick web search indicates that this site provides a lot of information about "rock slinging trucks." 

Last week, I took Blessi for his dressage lesson at another barn.  The owner had arranged for gravel delivery that day.  I pictured a regular truck arriving, dumping a load of gravel, and taking off.

We have just finished Blessi's lesson and I am walking Blessi in the covered arena to cool him off.  This monster truck arrives.  It is an industrial-size truck.  The truck parks at the end of arena next to paddocks.  The driver jumps out with a remote control.  With the remote, he can control the truck, move it forward and backward.  And the truck shoots gravel--up to 100 feet.  So with the remote, the driver swings out the attached conveyor belt from the side of the truck in preparation to flinging gravel into the paddocks at the side of the barn.  (Note I did not get a picture of the actual truck but I have included generic pictures of similar trucks).

I always try to take advantage of every opportunity to accustom Blessi to any new stimulus and I can tell this is going to be a big stimulus--the mother of all stimuli.  Note only is the truck making huge pumping, grinding wheezing noises as it moves about but the sound of gravel being flung is explosive in its intensity.  And you get the machine gun noise of "ching, ching, ca-ching" as the flung gravel hits the chain link fence that divides the paddocks.

Blessi is absolutely calm during this process.  The truck is to our left.  His head is down--way down--below withers level.  However, this is not the case for the other horses; the Arabs and warm bloods are snorting, running, or staring from the farthest distance possible from the "monster" that is spitting stones.

Dannelle has a paint named Splash in the cross ties being groomed for the next training session.  Well Splash feels so trapped that he is rearing and struggling.  Dannelle and Leah quickly untie Splash and put him still saddled in his own stall away from the truck.  To our right, Splash goes bucking around his paddock so frightened and upset that he is kicking at Leah who is trying to remove his saddle. 

Blessi is concerned with Splash's shenanigans on the right.  So he turns away from the truck on the left, his head come up and he looks to his right trying to see what is scaring Splash.  It is obviously not the truck to the left so there must be something scary to the right.  After a few moments, he decides Splash is being silly, puts his head down, and continues to follow me around the arena.  At one point, we walk to within 12 feet of the truck and he could care less.

And Blessi has spooked at things.  He did not spook at the rock slinging truck but he did spook one time because of a sweater.  It was a warm day during a lesson with Svanny so I took off my sweater and tossed it over the rail and few seconds later the sweater fell off the rail and hit the ground outside the arena.  Svanny asked me if I wanted her to pick up the sweater and put it in the corner where we normally hung stuff.  I said don't bother it is an old sweater.  Well about the third time as we were walking (yes I am pretty sure we were walking) Blessi noticed the sweater on the ground and took three or four side steps.  I was not paying attention and immediately fell off.  I am not a good, balanced rider.  You would have laughed at how easily I fell out of the saddle.  After taking the side steps, Blessi looked a little abashed that he had spooked at a sweater.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

How to Pronounce the Name of Your Icelandic Horse

Fitjamyri Icelandic Horses, in Vernon, BC, Canada, has developed a wonderful resource.  They have recorded the pronunciation of common Icelandic horse names.  Many, many thanks to Toos and Arnold Faber of Fitjamyri!

Interested in learning how to pronounce Sleipnir, the name of Odin's 8-legged horse?  Go to this page and look for the guide on the left of the farm's home page:

Have fun with this site!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Brow Band Making Party

Gretchen, Lora, and Deb admire their purchases

The Bad Cowgirls--Lora, Deb, Gretchen, and I--got together to make browbands.  The craft making session was preceded by another adventure--Goodwill Hunting--in a search for suitable belts.  Of course other treasures were found during this expedition.  Thrift stores are an excellent source of barn clothes.  No matter what color of barn clothes I wear, they all eventually turn green from Blessi snuggling and snorting.

Gretchen makes a template
The Bad Cowgirls had a blast making this bling.  Wine was involved and a lot of giggling. We also tried wearing the browbands ourselves thinking that it gave us a medieval princess look or a 60s hippy aura.  During the hammering of the rivets nobody smashed a finger. And none of the helpful dogs or cat ate any of the hardware.  And there was chocolate fondue at the end of this craft making session.

Do you think the belt on my forehead gives me a
Viking princess look or is it the wine?
So here are some tips when looking for belts to use for brow bands:
  • Select a belt that suits the shape of your horse's head.  I selected a sparkly blue, pink narrow band for my instructor's Arab Skye.
  • Consider your horse's personality.  Deb selected a beautiful black belt with blue dragons for Abner, her handsome, large, black Tennessee Walker.  (And her husband likes dragons so it is a win-win.)
  • Look for a color that will compliment the color of your horse.  Gretchen  used a sparkly silver, rose, dark blue floral design with silver beaded edges that is going to pop on her gray horse Flynn.
  • Choose a belt with a design that can be centered.  Some belts have designs or studding positioned so that you cannot get enough of the design centered in the brow band.
  • Don't use belts with studs or grommets that extend on the underside of the belt--they can irritate the horse.  If you really love the design, you would have to line the belt.
  • Be careful with any belts that have beading or braiding that might fray when you cut it.  This type of decoration may unravel over time.

The tools and finished browbands
And here's to Lora who won the find-a-belt jackpot.  She had purchased a $3 leather belt with large flat scallops; engraved silver, heart-shaped conchos; and engraved silver buckle.  Upon closer inspection, the belt was made by Justin Boots and the conchos and buckle may be German silver.  Lora may choose to wear the belt or sell it on ebay.  If not, her horses Quigley and Hollyanna will be sharing a stunning browband.

For detailed directions on making your own browbands, check out the following Blessiblog posting.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Can Horses Hiccup?

Yes, horses can hiccup.  The behavior is called “thumps” and is heard in the chest—not in the throat like a human.   “A horse’s hiccup starts near the diaphragm and creates and audible thump sound in the chest area, sometimes accompanied by a rhythmic jerk  in the flank area.” 

Hiccups occur more frequently in endurance and race horses after prolonged exercise.  The phenomenon can also be caused by an electrolyte imbalance.

From: Mullen, G.  (2008).  Amazing Horse Facts and Trivia.  Chartwell Books, Inc., New York. (p.27)