Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Photoshoot with Icelandics

It looks like Icelandics need toys to keep them interested during photo shoots just as children do.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Blessi and Ellie

Photo by Hannah Flynn
Here is Blessi meeting Ellie, who has become  another fan for Icelandics.  Ellie has quite the fashion sense.  Maybe I should get a consultation for what the well dressed equestrian should wear.

Friday, December 28, 2012

A Duck Walking Horse

As member of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) I have the  persona of an Icelandic woman from the 1100s, I am designing a coat of arm for that persona.  No matter that the Vikings pre-dated heraldry, the SCA insists that rules of heraldry must be followed.
Gloppen civic coat of arms

So I want to use a tolting Icelandic horse on my coat of arms.  In English heraldry, the horse can only be shown as courant or galloping, forcéne or rearing, pascuant or grazing, passant or walking, statant or standing still. These positions do not include tolt or passgjenger (Norwegian term for tolting or pacing).  However, tolting horses are frequently depicted in Icelandic and Norse art, tapestries, church carvings, etc. of 800 to 1200 AD.

Appleton Coat of Arms showing a horse
"en guardent" which is a rare exception

I did find this wonderfully designed civic coat of arms from the Norwegian municipality of Gloppen. It features a Fjord horse performing some sort of lateral gait--but not a tolt.   The heraldic description of this coat of arms is "Motivet synar ein gangande hest i sølv på blå botn og heidrar fjordhesten" which roughly translates as "Design synar a duck walking horse in silver on a blue background and honors fjord horse." Which brings up the question what is "a duck-walking horse?"  And is "gangande" an acceptable heraldic attitude for a horse?  Does anybody know of a coat of arms that uses a "tolting" or ambing horse and pre-dates 1650?  If so, please let me know via the comments section.

Horsens Coat of Arms
Here is another  coat of arms for the Horsen family from what looks like an inn or restaurant.  This horse is also tolting.  I need to track this coat of arms down in a pre-1600s roll of arms , sigh.  Some of the SCA rules can be very strict.

Blazon of Helfenstein family

Interestingly, in heraldry other animals are shown as "gangande" or pacing.  For example, llamas, camels, and elephants perform a kind of pace, which is accurately shown in some period coat of arms. 

And check out the web page for the municipality of Gloppen.  Gloppen is located on the shores of a southwestern fjord.  It looks like a fantastic place for a vacation with forests, meadows, mountain lakes, fjords, small farms, and riding tours on Fjord horses.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Blessi Has a Baby

Lea the stable owner put her young filly Zooey, a warmblood, with Blessi to help with weaning process.  I had a great time watching horse behavior. Since I always board Blessi, I don't often get a chance to just watch horses interact and weaning day was full of drama. 
I felt so sorry for poor Zooey--the pathos of a baby being weaned tugs so at your heart--those little quivering nostrils as the filly calls for her mother and the mother calls back. There was a point at which Zooey was desperate for milk. She tasted a pine bough--no that's not milk; took a drink of water--no that's not milk either; went into the stall area thinking she may find her mother there--no milk there; went to Blessi and actually nibbled at his gelding parts--no milk there either reinforced by a nipping motion from Blessi. She did eat some hay from time to time--but that is not what she wanted.

Zooey is confident little girl. Not once did I see her "mouthing" or smack her lips at Blessi like most other foals that I have seen. No, she kept pushing the boundaries and he kept disciplining her--like a really strict uncle. (Note after a few days with Blessi, Zooey did start to "mouth" or "clack" at him and the older horses and Blessi stopped nipping as much.)  Blessi kept her in line by pinning his ears and making nipping motions at her. I only saw him actually nip her once--on the shoulder and it wasn't very hard. And every once in awhile, she kicked up at his face from about 2 or 3 feet away.  When Zooey is not hanging out with Blessi, she spends time with Samauri, the gelding in the next pasture.

And it is funny watching Zooey trying to nurse off Blessi. He is actually rather tolerant of it considering his gelding parts are at risk. He does nip at her. I never saw him make any kicking motion at her up to this point. Once she actually got close enough to mouth on his gelding parts. Blessi did this dramatic stomping back up (I have never seen him so collected, his haunches dropped about 6 inches and his head arched) towards Zooey but he never actually kicked out at her--just let her know that she was way out of line.

And I would say "Poor Blessi" except that he is getting to eat non-stop in exchange for some light baby sitting duties. I went into the pasture to groom Blessi and Zooey came up to get some pets also. Blessi was jealous and pinned his ears at her and drove her off. I verbally told Blessi to knock that off (horses should not do that when people are around--at least if the person can prevent it) and Blessi walked off in a huff. He walked off about 15 feet and turned his butt to me. It was pretty funny--he did that to me once before when I mildly yelled at him for tugging somebody's jacket zipper up and down. It was like he was saying "You are making me babysit this brat and then when I am doing my job, you yell at me--seesh, I can't win." I ignored him and he "forgave" me in less than 5 minutes and came back for snuggles.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Iceland--Enchanted Scenery

In his Edda,  Snorri Sturluson borrows many verses attributed to Bragi Boddason , poet at the courts of several Swedish kings in the mid 800s.   One of the verses goes like this::

They call me Troll;
Gnawer of the Moon,
Giant of the Gale-blasts,
Curse of the rain-hall,
Companion of the Sibyl,
Nightroaming hag,
Swallower of the loaf of heaven.
            What is a Troll but that?

(And I am sorry that I forgot to note the source of this quote--and I can't find it now!!!)

Can't you see trolls and giants, Odin and Thor, valkyries and shield maidens in this video of the fantastical Icelandic landscape?  And there are lovely horses, fit for the gods.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Jingle Penguins

Blessi and the penguins from the San Francisco Zoo wish you a Happy Holiday Season!!!!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Do you really want that pony for Christmas?

Like most little girls, I always put "pony" on my Christmas list.  Sometimes the reality is not quite like the dream. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Passive Leader of the Christmas Parade

Photo by Gretchen
My friend Gretchen forwarded a picture of her holiday decorations which include representations of the Bad Cowgirl horses--Blessi, Hollyanna, Quigley, Flynn, Abner, Special, and Rev.  At this moment, Blessi is in the lead. 

Which reminds me of Mark Rashid's concept of "passive leader."  "There are two types of leaders in a herd situation. The alpha, or lead horse, that rules by dominance, and passive leaders that lead by example. The passive leaders are usually chosen by other members of the herd and are followed willingly, while alphas use force to declare their place in the herd."

A passive leader is usually an older , confident, quiet horse in the herd.  The passive leader is usually mid level in the pecking order and doesn't care to be agreesive to move up in this order.  The other horses want to be with a passive leader since he or she is consistent and dependable.  Mark bases his training methods off those of the passive leader horse, rather than the alpha horse. 

I have found this concept really useful when working with Blessi.  As Mark Rashid says, "
I guess when it gets right down to it, it's more of an attitude than a technique. It's being
able to give the horse the benefit of the doubt that they will try and do things right for
you, and not constantly reprimanding them for things done wrong."


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Tinker Rings Salvation Army Bell

In Wisconsin, Tinker the miniature horse is one of the biggest fund raisers for the Salvation Army. 
"Major Roger Ross, a Salvation Army commander, said Tinker is one of their biggest money raisers in the area: He brings in 10 times the amount of a regular bell ringer.

"A good kettle for a couple of hours brings in about $250, and for the same time period (Tinker and his owners) have been known to bring in $2,500," he said. "They line up to put money in the kettle."

Tinker is 13  and he has been fund raising for four Christmases.  Now how cute is that!!!!


Friday, December 21, 2012

Oskar the Blind Kitty and his first toys

Oskar is blind.  He was born without fully formed eyeballs.  A wonderful couple adopted Oskar from a local farm.  Here he is during the first day at his new home.  Oskar has been given his first toy--a ball with a bell in it.  If you can watch this video with tearing up, well you are a Christmas Scroodge.  But it certainly puts the "gift giving" season into perspective.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

What Does It Take to Disturb an Icelandic's Nap

Check out this video that Ingiberger Jonnson posted of her Icelandic horse and dog on the Icelandic Horses Facebook page.  And I thought that Blessi is tolerant.  Some of the animal behaviorists should observe how representatives of these two species are playing.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Icelandic Roads

Icelandic and Faroese Photographs of Frederick W.W. Howell, Cornell University Library
Roads in Iceland remained rather primitive until after World War II.  You could not drive from one end of Iceland to the other until the mid 60s.  Taken around 1900, the above collodian print shows a sheet of lava as viewed from the road from Reykjavík to Ölvesá.

For much of Iceland's history, its people lived in rural homesteads.  Towns only began to grow in the late 1800s.  "In 1880 the country had only three townships, whose inhabitants together numbered 3,630 and accounted for only 5 percent of the entire population.  With all its attendant problems and benefits, urbanization had progressed rapidly by 1920, when seven townships with 29,000 inhabitants between them accounted for 31 percent of the the total population.  Yet, despite the growth of towns, the island was largely a rural land of fishermen and farmers." (Byock, p. 153)

No wonder the Icelandic horse developed into such a fine riding animal!!!

Source: Byock, J.  (2001).  Viking Age Iceland.  Penguin Books, London, England.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Blessi Bling How To--My Grandmother's Garden Jacket

One of the challenges if you are a full figure filly is buying stylish riding clothes.  I have started making my own.  I found some light spring wool-mohair fabric in an antique shop--the kind commonly used to make spring Easter coats about 40 or 50 years ago.  I decided to make a riding wrap using Butterick pattern 5680.   It is the purple coat displayed in the upper right of the pattern. 

When it was finished, it reminded me of a field of spring grass.  I happened to have some crocheted flowers that my grandmother made.  I tacked them to the coat.  I liked the result so much that I am not wearing the coat to the barn.  I will have to make another one.  If you decided not to add embellishments to the wrap, the entire thing can be made in one evening.

Of course Merci was very helpful during the process.  She slept on the coat as I was tacking down the flowers.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

What a Horse Sees When Jumping

What is fascinating about this video is the side-by-side comparison between what a human sees and what a horse sees as they go over a jump.  The required partnership between horse and rider is amazing.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Crossing the Ford

Cornell University Library
If you ever go horse treking in Iceland, crossing fords and glacier streams has always been an exciting activity. 

These riders are fording Markarfljót near Eyjafjardarsysla, IS, around 1900 AD. 

Below is another crossing at Hvítá near Bláfell.
Cornell University Library

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Ponies Re-Enact Lord of the Rings

Since "The Hobbit" movie is being released today in the US and since Icelandic horses are featured in the recently released Hobbit movie, I wondered what Lord of the Rings would have looked like with horses playing the parts of the main characters.  In this silly but whimsical parody, ponies re-enact Lord of the Rings.  Be prepared for some silly puns such as DoDoBaggins and Neigh-sayer.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Horses and Nail Polish

I have always loved OPI nail polish.  I love the colors and love the names.  For example, the German collection features Don't Talk Bach to Me, Schanapps Out of It, Berlin There Done That.  The Bright collection includes Do You Lilac It, Over the Taupe, and Blue My Mind.  OK, I am a sucker for a bad pun.  In this ad, dancers of different styles from classical to clumping challenge a black diva of a horse.  You have to admire an ad that has a horse moonwalking. 

Thanks to Raven of the International Icelandic Horse Yahoo Discussion Group for pointing out this video.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

So You Think You Can Joust

Northwest Jousing Association
"O just and faithful knight of God! Ride on! the prize is near."  Lord Tennyson, “Sir Galahad”

If previous postings have interested you in trying these medieval equestrian sports, there are multiple organizations you can contact.  The following organizations may offer clinics in your area:

  • National Jousting Association—VA, MD, PA, WV
  • Northwest Jousting Association, WA, OR, ID
  • International Jousting Association—covers entire US

The Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), an affiliation of “kingdoms” of historical re-enactors across the US, usually has equestrian guilds within each barony.   Their web site is  These guilds schedule monthly practice sessions and stage weekend events based on these tournament games.  In addition, a web search will locate schools of jousting in which you can train for eight hours a day for a week or more. 

Based on Blessi and my experience with The Knights of the Myst, these organizations welcome newcomers interested in their passion.  And you will certainly be able to showcase the wonderful gaits and personalities of your Icelandic horses.  Charge on!!!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Just in time for Christmas--Raudi's Story

Used with permission of Culhane &Romano

If you are a member of the USIHC, you have already read some of the wonderful adventures of Alys Culhane and her Icelandic horses and chuckled at the wonderful cartoons and illustrations by Christina Romano.  Together Alys and Christina have published "Raudi's Story: An Alaskan-Born Icelandic Mare's First Five Years of Life."

I just finished reading my copy.  Told from Raudi's point of view, it is a charming, humorous, sometimes dramatic and heart rending story of how a novice horse owner gets her first Icelandics.  Raudi and Alys grow together--it is a
wonderful partnership.  And Christina's illustrations are bright and charming.

Here are some representative samples.  Alys discusses with her husband Ben as to whether or not they should purchase another Icelandic horse as a companion for

"Am I hearing you right? You want us to buy a second horse?" he asked.
"Virginia put it in her contract that Raudi should have a companion."
"We have a chicken. The two can keep each other company."
"Raudi hates chickens."
"A chicken will grow on her."

And this section deals with a typical feeding of young Icelandics:

"We young ones also worked at making Alys's time with us more interesting. For example, one day Siggi began pawing at the half-filled manure sled. Elsa then cantered over, reached down, and flipped it with her teeth. I sauntered over to the overturned sled and placed both front feet on it. Alys, pretending to be irate, shooed us away with her rake. Seconds later, Siggi grabbed the rope and pulled the sled. Elsa, who was not to be outdone, nipped him on the butt. Siggi dropped the rope. I picked up the sled and ran across the pasture with it banging behind me. Alys, laughing, disappeared into the hanger and returned with several more flakes of hay."

This is a wonderful book for both adults and teens, owners of Icelandics and people thinking of purchasing an Icelandic, individuals who have never owned a horse and people who have been riding all their lives.

This on-line book is available via Smashwords and Amazon.  It is only $4.99 plus tax--no shipping since it is an e-book.   If you order via Smashwords, you can send out copies as gifts.  If you don't have a Kindle, you can still download a copy to read on your PC.  I am making my list and checking it twice to see who is nice and deserves a copy for Christmas.\ f=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1354953024&sr=8-1&keywords=raudi%27s+story

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Icelandic Horse in Viking Warfare

“Thrain had fifteen house-earles trained to arms in his house, and eight of them rode with him whithersoever he went. Thrain was very fond of show and dress, and always rode in a blue cloak, and had on a guilded helm, and the spear - the Earl's gift - in his hand, and a fair shield, and a sword at his belt.”  The Story of Burnt Njal—Icelandic Saga written down in 1200s about events from 960 to 1020

Wikipedia photo
Historically, the Icelandic horse was not used in battle.  From approximately 700 to 1100 AD, the Vikings raided across Europe.  Disembarking from their well built ships capable of sailing both ocean and rivers, Vikings pillaged monasteries and villages.  Armored in mail or leather and carrying axes or spears (and sometimes swords), the Vikings would ransack and terrorize.   “… as they spent much of their time sailing to different destinations the use of horses was impractical. Most Viking armies were relatively small and thus they did not seek open battle willingly…they preferred sailing along a stretch of coast, raiding, looting and enslaving before disappearing over the horizon. Their best weapon was the advantage of surprise”  (Nell, 2008). War horses would have taken up too much space in the Viking ships and been of limited use on quick slash and grab raids.  However on home ground, the Vikings rode horses to a battle but dismounted and fought in a shield wall.
Carved of ivory probably in Skalholt, Iceland, in the first half of the 13th century, the Lewis Chess pieces depict what armed Viking warriors may have looked like at that time. Some of the pieces are riding Icelandic-like horses. The pieces were found on the Isle of Lewis, Scotland, in 1831.

Nell, G.  (2008).  Viking Warfare: Weapons and War in the Viking Age.  Last found June 8, 2012 at

Friday, December 7, 2012

Brief History of Jousting

Knights of the Myst joust.  Melinda Leach and Stephanie Printy, on their draft horses Mikie and Bob, thunder down the list.  Photo by Ellie Reutlinger
“So the duke departed, and Sir Gareth stood there alone; and there he saw an armed knight coming toward him. Then Sir Gareth took the duke’s shield, and mounted upon horseback, and so without biding they ran together as it had been the thunder. And there that knight hurt Sir Gareth under the side with his spear. And then they alighted and drew their swords, and gave great strokes that the blood trailed to the ground. And so they fought two hours.” Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte D’Arthur, Book 7, Chapter XXXIII

The first rules of jousting were written by the Frenchman Geoffori de Pruelli in 1066.  Ironically, de Pruelli died in his first tournament.  During the Middle Ages in Europe, jousting became a way to practice the skills required in heavy cavalry attacks and to settle disputes between individuals. 

Armor owned by Northwest Jousting Association
From the 11th to 14th centuries, jousting was a duel between two heavily armored, mounted riders.  They started the competition by charging at each other with lances, usually smashing the lances, and then continuing the fight on foot with sword or mace until one rider yielded or was so hurt (or dead) that the fight could not continue.   Horses were frequently maimed or killed.  Influenced by the tales of chivalry from the 12th century, jousting became more of a knightly tournament sport with rules, tilts to guide the horses, and specialized heavy armor to protect both horse and rider.

In 1559, King Henry II of France died of wounds incurred during a tournament.  His death essentially brought an end to jousting as a noble sport.  In the early 1600s, equine activities at royal courts centered around horse ballets or carousels, which were displays of a large number of elaborately accoutered knights riding in patterns and showing off their equestrian skills.  Ring tilts or ring jousting continued as a sport until the 1700s. (Wikipedia, Jousting)

Surprisingly the horses used in medieval jousting were not draft horses.  Current historical research indicates that the destrier, or war horse of the Middle Ages, used for jousting would have commonly been a 16-hand stallion with short back and powerful hindquarters suitable for springing forward and making quick turns. (Wikipedia, Destrier) 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Fan Letter for Blessi

Here is the thank you note that the kids wrote after their day with Blessi.  And, Nate, I haven't forgotten about that series of of books about rangers and horses that you talked about.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Blessi and the JoJo Bean

I invited Gretchen to bring her two nieces who were interested in horses to come and meet Blessi.  Much to the surprise of both of us,  her neices Maddy, Molly, Maya (JoJoBean), Emily, nephew Nate, and sisters Shannon and Ellie all wanted to meet Blessi.   Blessi was so happy to have the mob or clan (what do you call a collection of nieces and nephews?) show up to groom him and hug him. 

Everybody had a chance to ride Blessi.  He was exceedingly good for the children but challenged the adults a bit.  Blessi was absolutely perfect for JoJo Bean, the three-year old, as you can see.  In fact, JoJo Bean decided that "Bessi" was her horse.

At one point one of the cousins was riding "Bessi" about 10 feet away from JoJo Bean when she decided to throw arena dirt up in the air and in the general direction of Bessi and shout in the sheer exuberance of having an arena-sized sand box to play in.  Bessi and I had been working on some Sylvia Zerbini liberty training in which you can toss handfuls of dirt towards a horse to get it to move (since you are working with out a longe whip or riding crop to direct the horse from a distance).  Thankfully Bessi did an intelligent override and ignored the JoJo Bean's command to trot on.

As a remembrance of the ride, I gave JoJo Bean a stuffed Icelandic horse from Iceland (made in China).  She saves the best of the homegrown carrots and sends them over to Bessi via Aunt Gretchen.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Blessi Bling How To--Wine Glass Rack for Tack Room

Have a rake that is a little loose and you don't feel like repairing it?  Here is a great way to recycle that farm tool.  My fellow Bad Cowgirl Deb made a wonderful addition for the tack room.  And it is wonderful to share a glass of wine at the end of the day at our boarding barn.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Fast Tolt Has Suspension

Labratory used for gait
Viktoria Östlund wrote her masters thesis on "Limb phasing Icelandic horses".  She studied 20 Icelandic horses using the ETB limb phasing system which measures the speed, stride length, stride duration and symmetry of the horse's legs at different gaits. She came up with some interesting findings.

She suggests using a more mechanical means to judge the quality of gait at breeding evaluations and competitions.  "ETB-Pegasus Limp Phasing (ETB-Pegasus, 2011) is a system measuring movements of the horse. The system consists of four synchronized sensor monitors fitted to brushing boots mounted on each cannon bone of the horse and a GPS (Global Positioning Sensor). In ridden horses the GPS sensor is fitted on the rider."

Fast tolt has a moment of suspension:In reviewing past research, she found that "Zips et al. 2001 ...found that Icelandic horses had a suspension phase in tölt of higher speed, i.e. when reaching 4.4 m/s. Only one of 23 horses did not show a suspension phase in fast tölt. The results of Nicodemus & Clayton, 2003 and Zips et al. 2001 indicate that the definition of tölt should be reviewed and tripedal support and/or suspension phase characteristics should be included where relevant."  Östlund suggests that FEIF might want to rewrite its gait descriptions to take into account this finding.

Pace is less symetrical that tolt and trot:"The difference between the forelimbs as well as for the hindlimbs in limb phasing is assumed to be 0.5 if the horse moves symmetrically. As seen in table 3, pace differs from the other gaits with respect to the differences between the phase means as being less symmetric than tölt and trot, the forelimb symmetry in pace is estimated to 0.46 whereas in tölt it is 0.5 and in trot 0.51."

Canter varies in speed and phases between left and right leads:"...there is a difference between left and right canter, both in mean speed and differences in phase mean between the limbs which indicates of different mean beat in right versus left canter. "

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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Icelandic Horses on Breiðamerkurjökull

Photographs of Frederick W.W. Howell, Cornell University Library
About half of Iceland is lava desert (around 7,000 feet above sea level created by volcanoes) and other types of 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).  

Photographs of Frederick W.W. Howell, Cornell University Library
Above Icelandic horses are shown on Breiðamerkurjökull in Iceland around 1900.

To the left, the horses are taking a rest as they climb near Hekla in Iceland.