Thursday, November 29, 2012

Bad Banana Boy or Blessi's Reading Habits

How Blessi peels a banana.
At the end of a summer yard sale, there were a lot of Science Fiction and Fantasy books left over. Jim kindly let me "check out" a bunch of these books for reading and eventual return. I have been having a great time re-reading some of my favorite authors from 20 years ago-- discovering that I may have "outgrown" that particular author no matter how charming the talking otter originally seemed to me.  However, I took one of Jim's books to the stable and ended up writing the following email.

Topic:  Cost of Exile's Gate Book
Dear Jim,

Today, Blessi had a vet appointment and needed to be lightly put under anesthesia.  At the end of the appointment, there was a bit of a mess to clean up in the wash stall. So I turned Blessi out into the arena to sleep off his horsey drunkenness. 

Well never assume that Blessi is too sleepy to get into mischief. I had forgotten to close the door to stable owner's private tack area. Crash. Over went the waste basket in this area so I had to clean up the spilled stuff, back Blessi out of the tack room, and lock the door.

So what else could Blessi get into I thought as I went back to cleaning--he was not walking very steady so how far could he go? I go back to cleaning up but I decided to check on Blessi after 5 minutes.

Blessi was over by the mounting block nosing at something on the ground. It was your book Exile's Gate and a banana. Or should I say the remains of an exceeding ripe banana smeared over your book--and both items were sprinkled over with gravel. Yuck!!!

I don't like exceedingly ripe bananas but Blessi does so I had brought the banana over to give to Blessi as a treat when I took Blessi back to his home pasture. And I meant to read your book as I waited for Blessi to wake up. And how did Blessi get most of the banana out of the peel without opposable thumbs?

So Jim, I will either purchase Exile's Gate from you at whatever price you indicate or I will buy you a new copy of the book. I am sorry that Blessi has such messy eating habits when he is reading.
Regards, Pamela
I was still puzzled as to how Blessi managed to 'peel' a banana.  So I took a banana to the stables and video taped the process.  Blessi sure had fun.  Note:  This will be the last time Blessi gets an unpeeled banana (I hope) since there is a possibility that he may mistakenly swallow part of the peel. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Blessi and the Knightly Challenge

Photo by Dawn Gilbert
Blessi and I attended a SCA event inspired by the medieval French tract Traictié de la forme et devis d'un tournoy written by René of Anjou around 1460 on how to stage a tournament.  My back was a bit sore (sleeping on a cot in the horse trailer will do that) so we didn't actually compete that day.  However we did participate in the introductions to the fair and noble judges.  We were accompanied by our own musician also.  The herald is carrying my personal banner and introduced us to the judges.   And as you can see by the pictures below, Blessi even begged a carrot from the judge.

Photo by Dawn Gilbert

Personally I am rather pleased with the name that I devised.  Jófríðr hin víðfara Mánadóttir --which in old Norse roughly translates as "Beautiful or beloved, far travelling horse, daughter of the moon." 

My garb was suppose to be more Byzantine  than Norse with the cover story that my father had taken service in the Varangian Guard, the personal bodyguards of the Byzantine emperor.


Below is the challenge that the herald read as we entered the lists. 

Photo by Dawn Gilbert
Greetings unto our august judges and other most brave and honorable lords and ladies here at the powerful Madrone Barony.  I, Veigar frá Búðardal--- son of Jarl frá Búðardal son of Kolfinnur frá Kjarnholtum I, son of Hrafn frá Holtsmúla son of Snæfaxi frá Páfastöðum son of Blesi frá Stóru-Gröf ytri----known as Blessi the Brave Steed--have journeyed from Iceland, the Land of the Vikings, to partner with my lady Jófríðr  Far Traveler Mánadóttir on this day of pageantry and panoply. 

I have persuaded Jófríðr to essay the more daring equestrian pursuits of pig sticking, birjas, ring tilt, and quintain.  We shall dazzle not by our speed or force of arms but by our good fellowship and mirth.  We hope to provide much amusement for the ladies fair and other worthy spectators at this the eleventh Emprise of the Black Lion.

Know us by our proposed arms azure an argent horse en tőlt charged on the shoulder with a gules seeblatt and sinister chief argent increscent in base a bar wavy argent.

Let us not forget that the very word Chivalry comes from the French word “cheval” so let us pay proper respect to the noble steeds here.  I, Blessi the Brave and my lady Jódrid, am confident that we can make a showing to you that is worthy of your noble attention.  We look forward to uniting in Chivalry with our brethren from far off lands.  We ride for chivalry and adventure.  Charge on!"
I do have to admit that the Herald begged off from reading Blessi's entire lineage since Old Norse was not her skill set.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Cartoon Blessi

      Blessi's best friend Hannah took the following pictures of Blessi. He is a happy horse--and he makes a great cartoon. Perhaps Blessi should have his own comic book?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Tolutation--Obsolete Word of the Day

The 1913 and 1828 versions of The Webster Dictionary included the word tolutation which means ambling or pacing.  (My 1982 American Heritage Dictionary does not include this word.)  Tolutation comes from the Latin tolutim, which means lifting up the feet, which is related to the Latin word tollere meaning to lift up.

And speaking of ambling, check out this video of Grýla frá Geitaskarði, a two year old filly in Iceland.  Wow can this little gal tolt.  She has some impressive breeding behind her:  Álfur frá Selfossi, Orri frá Þúfu, Andvari frá Ey, etc.  Check out the set of her head as she tolts--as you can see the headset of the Icelandic horse can naturally be quite high when tolting.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Modern Bayeux Tapestry

During the SCA Autumn Wars this year, I snapped the following photograph.  Riders are beginning to line up to escort the Queen, shown to the right, in the processional into court.  I really think there is slight resemblane to some of the medieval paintings, maybe?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Bayeux Tapestry

(Wikipedia, BayeuxTapestryScene08)
Although Norman, the Bayeux Tapestry dates from the “Viking” period (approximately 850 to 1100 AD).  It illustrates the events leading up to the conquest of England by William, Duke of Normandy.  This 230 foot long embroidered cloth was probably made in England in the 1070s.  Among the 50 scenes of the cloth, several horses are depicted in a tolt.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Have Icelandic Will Travel

Photo: Cornell University Library
In the early years, the Icelandic horse was the sole form of land transportation for goods and riders in fair weather and bad, across ice and lava fields.  They carried mail, timber, hay, and trade goods by horse pack. 

Taken around 1900, the first photo shows an Icelandic pack train crossing the bridge over Elliðaá, near Reykjavík.

The second photo shows Ponies Fording a River in Iceland.  

From Alex-Tweedie, E. (1894). A Girl's Ride in Iceland,

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Blessi and the Herald

During the SCA Autumn Wars, Blessi was drafted into being a mount for the herald Alain ap Neal.  Horse handler is Rachael A.  Mounted heralds typically cry out the daily schedule periodically throughout the campsite.  Horses need to be extra steady to serve in this capacity since they a) wear a loud set of bells to warn people unfamiliar with horses that one is in the area, b) carry a shouting herald who may or may not have horse experience, and c) adapt to billowing tents, knights fighting in full armor, children running up to the horse, merchants hawking their wares, and all the other distractions of an armed encampment.

Blessi did well in his first experience.  The biggest problem was diving for grass.  He could not understand why he could not graze when we were stopped and the herald was busy crying out the day's news--especially since the event was held on a newly harvested hay field.  And after the first few announcements, Blessi knew to the word how long the speach was going to take and he walked off without aids (sometimes it is not good to have a smart horse).

Friday, November 16, 2012

Judging That Icelandic Gait

This video pulls together clips of the F1 Five Gait Finals from the Nordic Championships for Icelandic horses.  You get to see some world class examples of the gaits described in yesterday's post.  This is also a great opportunity to test your eye to see if you see what the judges
are seeing for each horse-rider combination. The beginning of the video identifies each rider. You then see brief clips of each horse-rider showing the specified gait. The scores for all riders at that gait are shown. The end of the video shows slow motion video of selected gaits.

Of course we aren't seeing exactly what the judges are seeing so we may be missing a horse/rider breaking gait or some action that influenced the judges.  However, this is a great exercise to try and determine why one rider scored a total of two points higher than another rider at a walk for instance.

Sanctioned Icelandic horse competitions are judged according to international standards set by FEIF (International Federation of Icelandic Horse Associations).  Criteria are spelled out in the FEIF Sports Judges Guidelines found at:

Here are the guidelines for judging fast tolt:
"9 to 10 (Ideal performance)
Absolutely correct beat.
absolutely sure and even tölt at very high speed; high action with long strides; a supple,
fluent and powerful, yet effortless performance

8 and 8.5

Correct beat.

extremely fast and sure tölt, with good but not excellent action and length of stride;

average carriage, good riding

good speed, high action and long strides, good carriage, supple and harmonious

performance, good riding

good speed, impressive high action and long strides, spectacular, but not always


 7 and 7.5

Correct beat, fast speed, medium action and length of stride, nice carriage. Good


good speed with long strides, but single slight faults in beat and shape

correct beat, just enough speed, with good high action and long strides; nice shape

Average section

6 and 6.5

correct beat, acceptable speed, medium action and strides, nice shape

slight faults in beat or shape, good speed and good action with long strides

correct beat, very fast and sure, but little action

correct beat, just acceptable speed, high action with long strides

very fast speed, medium to good action and strides; single clear faults

5 and 5.5

generally correct beat, at least medium speed, medium action and strides, acceptable

carriage occasional beat faults (slightly pacey/trotty/rolling), high action with long strides but

little more than medium speed

correct beat, good speed, but little action with short strides

correct beat, little more than medium speed, high action with long strides, slight faults
in carriage

single major faults in beat or shape with good speed and good action and strides

Transition to average section

4 and 4.5

constant or frequently beat faults with acceptable speed

correct beat but less than medium speed

more or less correct beat, acceptable speed, but ugly shape

speed just acceptable, little action and short strides

speed just acceptable, tense

speed just acceptable, good action and strides, but many faults (e.g. beat or carriage)

Fault section

1 to 3.5

constant major beat problems (e.g. trotty, pacey, rolling)

correct beat but too slow

more or less correct beat, acceptable speed, but poor carriage

many beat faults with acceptable speed

far behind the bit

rough riding (yellow card)


Test not carried out.

no tölt

slow tölt"

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Gaits of the Icelandic Horse

The Icelandic horse is bred to have up to five gaits--walk, trot, canter, tolt, and flying pace.  Not all Icelandics exhibit the flying pace.  It is one of the few breeds that require a tolt and the trot.  FEIF, International Federation of Icelandic Horse Associations, defines the breeding standard as "to breed a versatile, consistent in gaits and reliable horse with

good, clear gaits and an excellent, lively temperament. A horse that is beautiful when
ridden – a true Icelandic 'gæðingur'.”

Below are descriptions of the gaits of the Icelandic horse.

You can check out videos of Icelandic horse gaits and how international Icelandic judges score them at my post:

Photo by Andrea Barber
WALK is a 4-beat, lateral gait, with 2 to 3 foot support, and no suspension.  The footfall is LH, LF, RH, RF.    Per FEIF:  "The horse is impressive and walks forward enthusiastically, with an even beat and a supple body. The head is carried at medium height and the horse moves 
with long, energetic strides, tracking up well."

Photo by Martina Gates
TROT is a 2-beat, diagonal gait with 2 or no foot support since there is a moment of suspension in the gait

Footfall is LH and RF, RH and LF.  Per FEIF: "Secure 2-beat trot, movements high and supple, long strides and suspension. Excellent speed."

Photo by Martina Gates
CANTER is a 3-beat, lateral gait with 1, 2, 3, or no feet on the ground (a moment of suspension).  The footfall is LH, RH and LF, RF. 

Per FEIF, canter/gallop is "Good beat. An attractive gallop: the horse is well off the forehand yet stretches out in nice round, powerful movements with good suspension. Excellent speed."

Per FEIF, slow canter is "Supple 3-beat canter with good suspension the horse is well off the forehand, moves effortlessly, but impressively."


Photo by Martina Gates
TOLT is a 4-beat, lateral gait, with 1 to 2 foot support, and no suspension. The sequence of the footfall is LH, LF, RH, RF, but the actual movement is different from the walk. 

Per FEIF Tolt is "Even 4-beat rhythm with long strides in front and behind, elegant lift and action of the front legs, movements extremely flexible and supple, excellent speed."
Per FEIF, slow tolt is "Even 4-beat tölt with long strides in front and behind, lots of lift and action of
the front legs, movements extremely flexible and supple."

Recent high speed studies of fast tolt have shown that there is a moment of suspension.

FLYING PACE is a 2-beat, lateral gait with 1, 2, or no feet on the

Photo by Martina Gates
ground and has a moment of suspension. The footfall sequence is LH and LF, RH and RF. Per FEIF, "Secure, impressive pace, good 2-beat lateral gait with good suspension and excellent speed."

As FEIF summarizes, "The horse is very impressive and elegant to look at, with energetic, attractive
movements and a lot of charm: The horse carries itself well, is flexed at the poll, on the bit, and off the forehand. The leg movements are light, high and supple with good coordination and energy. The horse covers the ground well in great style, its tail carried high."



Merci and the Shoe Attack

I was changing a light bulb in my office so the step ladder was near the closet--the closet where I store all my dress shoes. Merci decided to leap from the ladder into the closet. She misjudged the stability of the shoes, bounced out of the closet along with some shoes, and tumbled to the floor. And to add insult to injury one last shoe fell on her head.

I was not able to film this event since it happened so quickly. However as Merci fell out of the closet, she created a cascade of shoes--almost a piece of art. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Icelandic Horse and the Whale

Cornell University Library
Around 1900,  a rider observes a skeleton on the south coast of Snæfellsnes, near Búðir.  During the early settlement years of Iceland to quite late in its history, beached whales were an important source of meat.  Early Icelanders lacked the traditions and ships necessary to hunt whales at sea.

In Grettir's Saga (sagas are stories concerning events in the 10th and early 11th centuries) Thorgils Maksson, a farmer from Miđfjörđr in the northern quarter of Iceland, goes to the Strands to search for wild food and driftage.  He and his companions find a beached whale on the common grounds, which they proceed to process. 

Meanwhile, Thorgeir and Thormod, who are landless foster-brothers and known trouble makers,  plus thier followers show up at the same site to discuss how the whale will be shared.  Though Thorgils offers half the uncut whale, the brothers demand half of all the whale--both cut and uncut.  Discussion escalates to anger which escalates to a fight.  Thorgeir slays Thorgils and Thormod kills two of Thorgils' followers.

Per the saga, the following, disapproving verse was composed about the battle:

"Hard were the blows which were dealt at Rifsker;
no weapons they had but steaks of the whale.
They belaboured each other with rotten blubber.
Unseemly methinks is such warfare for men."

The brothers take the whole whale and Thorgils' followers take his body back to Miđfjörđr.  Thorgils' close kinsman Asmund Grey-Streak prepares the case for later hearing at the Althing.  And the saga continued.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Blessi and the RC Toy Car -- Part 3

At this point, I have moved the toy car to a plastic carpet that provides a little more traction for its wheels. Blessi has decided that if the car won't go, he will make it go. At the end of the video, he comes looking for a carrot and he gets his first carrot in this experiment. 

At this point, Blessi has about 5 minutes exposure to the RC Toy car.  I think he is a bit braver than the average horse.  Our vet thinks that Blessi is only half horse and the other half must be dog, possibly lab.

Blessi ate a carrot off the top of the car--he ate it before I could start filming. He has now "bonded" with the toy car and will follow it--at least to the end of the rug. The total elapsed time of this experiment (from Part 1 to Part 4) was about 10 minutes.

If I taped a carrot to the top of the car, I bet Blessi would chase it around the arena--he would express a lot more interest in free longeing.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Blessi and the RC Toy Car -- Part 2

This video was shot just a few minutes after the first video.  Blessi is snorting less and he is still convinced there is a carrot even if he has to come get it himself.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Blessi and the RC Toy Car -- Part 1

Having read about the University of Sydney experiment in which a radio controlled toy car was used in place of a trainer in a round pen, I decided to see how Blessi would react to a RC.

I had Blessi tied up in a corner so I could set up the experiment without his "help."  At the beginning of the video, I have just released him from the tying post and he voluntarily heads toward the tarp.  It was a windy day.

Note the car will not move in the arena dirt so I put it on a tarp and it still mostly spun its wheels.  Blessi has voluntarily come up to investigate the car.  He hears its motor for the first time and snorts at it.  He was definitely worried about the toy car as evidenced by the snorting but he is convinced there will be a carrot.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Horse Training with Radio Controlled Toy Cars

Researchers at the University of Sydney developed an experiment in which a radio controlled toy car was used in place of a trainer in a round pen.  When the horse stopped moving away from the toy car, it was rewarded by having the toy car stop following it.  By using the radio-controlled toy car to apply or take away pressure, the researchers were able to train the horse to approach the car—hence “mimicking” the human bonding process of Monty Robert's Join-Up®.  Since no human-horse bond was possible, the experiment demonstrates that the horse responds due to operant conditioning and not from the creation of a human bond through the use of equine body language. 

As Cath Henshall (University of Sydney) states, "Put simply, pressure-release works because the horse finds the pressure applied unpleasant and therefore the removal of the pressure rewarding… Although neither Monty Roberts' method nor ours uses pressure applied directly to the horse's body, both apply a form of emotional pressure by scaring and then chasing the horse.  Our results indicate that because these methods rely on fear and safety, the horse is forced to choose between being repeatedly frightened or remaining with the trainer. We question whether it is humane to rely on fear and its termination to train horses." 
Thanks to Kathy S. for pointing out this video.

University of Sydney. (July 13, 2012).  Researchers urge rethink of 'Monty Roberts' horse training method.  Found at

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Historic Icelandic Horsekeeping Practices

Photographs of F. Howell, Cornell University Library.
In her investigation of historic Scandinavian horse keeping practices from 500 BC to 1060 AD, A. Sunkvist discusses the practice common in many parts of Scandinavia, including Iceland, of maintaining free-roaming horse herds in which the majority of horses, when not under use, are allowed to roam free and fend for themselves.  Such practices lead to what she calls “the survival of the fittest.”  
As Sunkvist mentions, the Icelandic Saga of Hravnkel Freysgodi and The Saga of Gunlaugs Ormstungu discuss how the mares are grouped with select superior select stallions in different valleys—a way of controlling breeding. She states that “The first law ever regulating horse-breeding in Iceland dates as late as 1891 and bans sexually mature colts to run loose, which can be interpreted as a way to control the breeding.”  Certainly these methods of letting the horses fend entirely for themselves were in use in Iceland until fairly recently and when combined with the great change in Icelandic climate would have had a devastating impact on the native horse populations during any year of severe weather conditions. 

Survival of any stock over winter in Iceland was dependent on how much hay could be harvested in the summer.  Some of the better riding horses would have received additional care and forage.  Haystacks were often roofed with sod to better preserve them.


Sunkvist, A.  (2002 ).  Herding horses: a model of prehistoric horsemanship in Scandinavia – and elsewhere,  PECUS. Man and animal in antiquity. Proceedings of the conference at the Swedish Institute in Rome, September 9-12, 2002.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Spamalot with Blessi

We are no longer the Knights who say Ni. ….We are now the Knights who say …Ekki-Ekki-Ekki-Ekki-Ptang. Zoom-Boing. Z’nourrwringmm.”  Monty Python and the Holy Grail, 1975

Blessi and I were accepted into a jousting clinic this summer. I have always wanted to try the equestrian games of the medieval re-enactors. It seemed like a good idea to practice some of the skills involved in the medieval games before showing up for the clinic. Blessi and I started prepping for jousting.

I bought a ten-foot wooden pole to serve as a practice lance. On the ground, I carried the pole as I walked with Blessi--tapped it into things, dragged it on the ground, swung it over Blessi's head, etc. We even charged/trotted down the center of the arena as I was shouting knightly oaths such as "Gadzooks" and "For St. George" and "We are the Knights of Ni" as we pretended we were really jousting against the Black Knight. (Sometimes it is good to be at the stable by yourself.) 

Blessi had no problems with any of this. We stopped frequently for a carrot break. At one point, I put the "lance" on the ground and Blessi tried to pick it up. I think he thought that just walking with me as I was doing crazy things with a pole was not challenging enough to earn carrots so he was trying to figure out he could earn more carrots. He also started spontaneously bowing at times like he was saying "Look how good I am" or, perhaps, he was just trying to increase the carrot distribution rate. 

As we practiced on the ground, it quickly became apparent that handling a ten-foot wooden pole requires some skill and strength--especially in the wrists—which I have not developed. For Blessi's sake, I decided to use a pool noodle when I actually got into the saddle.  

Blessi was a bit leery of the noodle nodding over his head--he raised his head by about three inches and braced a bit but this lasted for about three minutes as he realized that riding with a pool noodle above his head was just another stupid but harmless thing Pam was doing.  

He quickly relaxed and we walked around the arena practicing turns while carrying a pool noodle as I tried to change direction using just my seat and legs (works when I go to the right but not so easy going to the left).  

Note to self don't ask Blessi to turn in the direction of the pool noodle. Second note to self--don't get distracted and bop Blessi on the top of the head with the noodle. He doesn't mind but it is rude. 

So after riding around, I decided to pretend the pool noodle was a lance and try to spear the mounting block that I had moved to the middle of the arena. Once again, we walked down the center line and I shouted warlike cries such as "Tallyho" and "Into the Valley of Death" (OK, I was having a bit of multi-tasking issue-- balancing a pool noodle, avoiding bopping Blessi in the noggin, riding with my seat, watching for people coming to the arena, and thinking of knightly sayings at the same time.)  

Well one of the things about pool noodles is that they don't fly very far but they do slide along the ground for long distances. Thanks goodness Blessi is used to me dropping things from the saddle--he never flinched and continued walking calmly as I launched said pool noodle and it skittered across the arena. When I asked Blessi to stop, he came to a very soft stop and I gave him a big hug for indulging me. When you practice silly things like this in the arena nobody gets to see you make a fool out of yourself but then nobody is there to help you pick up the "lance" for another round or help you if you get tossed off the back of your horse for silliness. So I called it quits for the day.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Blessi Jumps

Blessi competed in an all-breed show earlier this year.  Dannelle a dressage instructor had agreed to ride him.  While preparing him for the show, she set up several small jumps for him to practice.  Blessi did not seem to get the idea of "jump" as opposed to "knock down barrier and step over it."  Since he is 16-years old, we just resigned ourselves to getting a low score on this obstacle.  However, once again Blessi surprised us.  Here is what he did during the actual competition.  He and Dannelle were one of the few horse/rider combinations who scored a perfect 10 on this obstacle.  Dannelle did a brilliant job of riding him.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Bridges of Iceland

Photographs of F. Howell, Cornell University Library.

In their native country, Icelandic horses are known as the “Bridges of Iceland.”  Because of the island’s division by numerous, glacier-fed rivers, Icelanders relied on horses to carry them across the more remote areas of the country.  It was not until the 1960s that enough bridges and roads were built in Iceland to enable a motorist to drive from one end of Iceland to another.   Icelandic is crisscrossed with rushing glacier streams.  Any sort of travel in Iceland until modern times required a rock steady, sensible horse capable of navigating these tricky crossings.  Above, Icelandic riders cross the Brúará river around 1900.