Friday, April 6, 2012

Selecting an Icelandic for Dressage

I asked an Icelandic horse international breeding judge what would be the best conformation for an Icelandic horse to have for trotting not tolting to success in dressage.  Here are her suggestions--if I can interpret my notes correctly.  I may not have written things down accurately but I have tried to relay what she said as well as I can. 

A 4-gaited horse would be better than 5-gaited because (unless you are talking about a world class horse) they usually have a better canter and can trot slower. 

Look for long lines (I am still a bit confused on this--has to do with top line and balance), long neck, long body, long legs. (This does not mean a long back!!!).  The horse should be constructed kind of like Blessi--although ideally without Blessi's small hump (beginning of back to croup)  in the back which indicates stiff loins.  This is one of Blessi's conformational flaws--Barbara picked right up on this and said it indicates that he will have some difficulty in getting his  rear hocks under himself in collection.  Two dressage instructors have noted that Blessi has to work on this--he can do a nice job but it is not as easy for him as for some horses. 

Neck should be set high--avoid a too long neck or ewe neck.  Top line is important.   Look at arch of neck so can break at poll.  Jaws should not be too coarse so there is room to arch the head in a collected position. 

If you look at the horse from the side, you should be able to divide the head, neck, withers/ body of horse/ loins, back legs into three equal parts (Blessi's mid section is a tad too long for ideal conformation).  Like any breed, you want an Icelandic horse with good conformation--the better the conformation, usually the greater the ability.

The horse should have energy but not be too hot.   

One of the things you really want to look for is the center of gravity--which, per my interpretation, is kind of the location of where the sweet spot is--that area where the back dips and  the saddle naturally sits and enables the rider to have her weight in the right place.  Some icelandics have a center of gravity too far forward.  This makes it very, very difficult for the horse to raise its front quarters in a gait--whether trot or tolt or canter.  Although this "flaw" actually becomes an advantage in a pace racer--which Barbara explained and I did not write down.

And as Blessi is moving from training level to level 1 in dressage, it becomes increasingly apparent that having a natural 3-beat canter is important for dressage success. Many Icelandics tend to have a 4-beat canter although some Icelandics have a beautiful 3-beat canter.  Blessi requires a lot of conditioning and training to achieve anything like a 3-beat canter. 

Source: FIZO or breeding rules describing desired gaits are found here:
And if you have a natural tolter, you can always try gaited dressage!!!  However, be careful if an Icelandic horse is advertised as "suitable for dressage."  The seller may mean that the horse is supple, athletic, has good trot and tolt, and has a natural ability for dressage.  Or it may mean that the horse can't tolt or has difficulty tolting and the seller is trying to think of a way to market this Icelandic--a stiff horse regardless of whether it tolts or trots will have difficulty winning blue ribbons at dressage.

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