Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Icelandic and the Motorbike

A visitor touring Iceland by motorbike stops to engage with some Icelandic horses.  One Icelandic is fascinated with the motorbike.  And it appears when food, in this case noodles, is mentioned, the entire herd moves in.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Icelandic horses Help Teach Budhist Life Lessons

Students from Goettingen University, Germany, produced the following documentary about Icelandic horses in the series "Horse. Culture. Lower Saxony."  It documents how an instructor in Budhism uses the Icelandic horse to teach lessons about life.  As the instructor comments, "Das ist schön."  Perhaps Blessi is also a Budhist since he tries to teach me every day--I just don't always learn.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tolt--A Documentary

Leslie Elliot created the following documentary about the Icelandic horse.  The magnificent scenery only enhances the charming personalities of the horses themselves.  I have included a direct link so you can view the video on a larger screen.  As one Icelandic breeder and tour guides states, "You need a horse that you can trust.  Here in Iceland we are working with our horses.  You bring the sheep into the highlands.  And often we have to bring them down.  And we do that with the horses.  And sometimes you have really bad weather conditions.  But you need to trust your horse in every situtation.  You cannoth think about 'Oh is my horse going very well or anything.'  You just have to work.  And I think that makes a big difference.  In that caseThe horse is your working mate and your friend.  You can just completely trust them."

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Photographs of Icelandic Horse History

The poster Lythorse created a slide show of the heritage of the Icelandic horses from photographs of the early 1900s.  Icelandic horses were the work machines of the island--drawing plows, hauling timbers on their backs, helping with hay harvest, deliverying mail, treking with visitors, crossing rivers in open boats or swimming, and so on.  This is a must see!!!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Blessi and His Visitors

Saturday was a day of visitors at the stable.  Half of the Bad Cowgirls, Lora and Gretchen, came to see Blessi at his, new to them, digs.  As you can see by the photo, he was delighted to have his old friends bring him carrots and hugs.

Blessi says, "But you promised me carrots!!!!"

Blessi has always loved donkeys ever since he was stabled next to them at a Mane Event Horse expo several years ago.  Herman the stable owner is breaking the neighbors' mini donkeys to pull carts.  As the mini donkeys, owners, and Herman paraded around the arena, Blessi and I joined them.  The mini donkeys seemed to like the company.  Except Blessi was not allowed to get one step in front of the jenny or she would crash to a complete stop until he assumed his proper place which was several steps behind her.

Blessi enjoyed both his human and equid visitors this day.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Bent Branderup Commenting on Stallion Behavior

Bent Branderup, a classical dressage trainer who works with the old old Danish breed  Frederiksborger and Iberians, provides the following commentary on how to introduce two stallions Swan and Cara who are going to share a pasture.  His commentary is a fascinating insight into horse behavior.

Here is a link to part 2 of this video:

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Bless Smiles in Thanks

At the 2012 Northwest Horse Expo, I volunteered Blessi to serve as a demo horse for some deep tissue massage.  Blessi loves his massages.  And he served as a nice example of a well behaved horse tolerating a crowded setting under a tent.  To the right, Blessi thanks the lecturer for a great massage.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Icelandics and the Wildflowers of Home

Icelandics roaming among the wildflowers of the meadows of Iceland--how much better could a vidoe get.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Have You Seen Max's Chicken

A family touring Iceland somehow loses their son Max's chicken (perhaps a stuffed animal).  They decide to enlist the aid of some local Icelandic horses and the whole herd shows up to help.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Blessi and the Cup Fixation

Today I had to write out an unbudgeted check.  As I was leading Blessi back to his pasture, he took advantage of the float in the lead line to knock over a cup that was sitting on a trash can in the aisle way.  Unfortunately the cup was an expensive, double walled ceramic piece with inlaid insulation and it shattered.  Sigh, ponies can be expensive.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Blessi and the Gypsy Vanner Colt

Encampment of Gypsies with Caravans
by Vincent Van Gogh--Wikipedia
When I got to the stable today, Amy told me another Blessi story. A 2-year old Gypsy Vanner stallion is boarded at the stable. The owners seldom come out to visit and the horse is led out to a pasture in the morning and then back to a stall at night. Since he is a stallion, the colt is pastured by himself. Phantom is kind of a blank slate--friendly enough, sometimes a little antsy on the lead line, and, at this age, looking more for companionship rather than domination.
Last week, Amy led both Blessi and Phantom together out to the pastures and the two horses walked very nicely in unison. Today, Blessi was turned loose so he could eat grass while Amy took all the other horses out. Blessi would then be led into his pasture after about 20 minutes of free grazing. When Amy went to get Phantom, Blessi left off his eating, positioned himself on the other side of Phantom and escorted Amy and Phantom to the pasture. Once again, the two horses walked in unison--which is actually a little slow in comparison to Blessi's fast Icelandic walk.
Amy is still trying to puzzle out why Blessi did this. Frankly, I am surprised that he would stop eating grass but I think he felt the colt, who is as large as Blessi, needed some free-style ponying. I am sure that with Blessi's size and temperament, he was used to help train younger horses in Iceland.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Icelandic Mare and the Piglets

It is amazing what Icelandic horses find interesting and not scarey.  Here a brood of piglets investigate an Icelandic mare's legs.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Halloween Icelandic Horse Ride at Martha Stewarts

Blessi and I are riding in costume.
Photo by Carol Townsend
Nicki Esdorn is a neighbor of Martha Stewart.  Nicki arranged to bring a group of her friends most riding Icelandic horses to Martha's estate for their traditional Halloween ride.  Martha could not join the ride but she served the group home pressed cider. 

You can use this link to see some great pictures of horse and riders decked out for Halloween.

For copyright reasons, I can't post any pictures of the ride but I can post a picture of Blessi in costume.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Blessi Gets to Model a Harness

Close up of Blessi showing detailing of harness
Herman, the stable owner, was gifted with a gorgeous, leather and patent leather harness.  We decided to try it on Blessi.  It fit well so Herman took Blessi for a ground driving lesson. 

Blessi looks so cute.  He was generally cooperative except when he saw me in his blinkered view.  He then tried to walk towards me.

Below is a short video.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Blessi Thinks Outside the Box

I have always been fascinated by research on horse cognition.  On the one hand, the studies give us fresh insight into how horses think.  On the other hand, I believe sometimes the studies of horse behavior are limited in design and that the breed(s) of horse used may skew the results.  For example, Lloyd et al in their study "Horse personality: Variation between breeds" lumped the trait "intelligence" into horse reactivity.  In my opinion, the typical Icelandic horse approach to novel situations tends to contradict this association since Icelandics think "quietly."  You can read my summary and speculations about this study at:

This is the type of box (hose reel) that Blessi used
in the experiment he designed
C. Lesimple, C. Sankey, M. Richards, and M. Hausberger published the study "Do Horses Expect Humans to Solve Their Problems" on August 24, 2012 in  Frontiers in Psychology.   The researchers hypothesized that domestication of animals has resulted in decreased cognitive skills such problem solving.  In other words domesticated animals such as dogs and horses  rely more on humans to solve their problems than their wild counterparts.  (Note earlier research indicated that dogs who spent more time looking at their owners during the experiment were less successful in figuring out the problem presented to them.) 

To test their hypothesis, Lesimple et al built a special wooden box with an extended lid that was easily opened by horses. The box was filled with the horses' normal food and the test was run about an hour before feeding time.  Using a halter and lead line, the experimenter led the horse to the box, demonstrated how the box worked, removed the lead line, and in a neutral position observed what the horse did.  The test consisted of three trials of three minutes each.

The researchers tested 46 horses, about evenly divided between geldings and mares, ages from 5 to 23, representing 8 breeds.

Behaviors were categorized between exploratory (sniffing and playing with box lid) and excitement/frustration (head shaking and startling).  Half the horses were successful in opening the box over the 9 minutes of the combined trials (which means half the horses failed to open the box).   Horses that were most interested in the experimenter as indicated by exploratory behaviors and gazes toward the human had significantly less success in opening the box.    The researchers concluded that "...a strong attachment to humans could lead to an impairment of these [problem solving] abilities. "

I always wanted to run this experiment with Icelandics.  First I am sure that well over 50% of the Icelandics would be able to open the box containing their dinner.  Second, I believe that they would demonstrate both interest in their humans as well as successful problem solving abilities.  Running this experiment with Blessi has been on my list of future fun activities as soon as I could get around to building a similar box.

Well Blessi took the entire matter out of my hands and ran his own experiment.  I had him tied so I could give him a winter trim.  If not nuzzling me and investigating my jacket, he worked on playing with the buckets, coiled hose, hanging horse toy in the adjacent stall, and anything else he could reach.  One of the objects within his reach was a closed box containing a hose reel.  Quick as a Chomsky* thought, Blessi lifted the lid of the hose reel box so he could check out the contents.  How did he know that this was a "box?"  How did he figure out that there was a "lid" to this box especially since the lid was set flush to the side of the box?  And how did he know exactly how to flip open the box without any exploratory behavior when, to the best of my knowledge, he had never seen anybody open the box?  And, more importantly why did he open the box?  

Luckily, I had my camera so I was able to record Blessi's behavior.  To ensure that Blessi repeated the behavior, I let him observe me place a pear in the hose reel box.  Forget about 3 trials of 3 minutes.  He opened the box so quickly that I did not have time to get the camera in position and start filming.  It took me several tries to capture this behavior and the pear got a little chewed up in the process.  Sometimes the pear, which was loosely balanced on the coiled hose, would roll off the hose before Blessi could grab it.  He knew to scout for the fallen fruit on the ground beside and behind the box. (Hum, I wonder if Blessi's next "experiment" will involve Newton's laws of motion and universal gravitation?)

Oh, the laughter you hear in the background is the father of a young rider who was tacking up her horse for a lesson.  He was exceedingly entertained by Blessi's antics.  In fact he came up to me later to ask if I was ever going to breed my "mare."  I had to explain that, sadly, Blessi was a gelding so he wouldn't be producing any offspring.  However, Blessi's  antics have convinced the gentleman that he wants to get Icelandics for his family when they are in a financial position to have a farm.

Blessi says, "Take that pear and shove it in your black box, Skinner**!"

*Chomsky was extremely critical of Skinner's operant conditioning theory.
** Skinnerian theory does not consider internal thoughts or motivations to explain behavior only external inputs as causes of behavior.  The mind is conceptualized as a "black box."


Thursday, October 31, 2013

Best Icelandic Horse Tricks--Caeli and Soldis

In this video, Caeli and Soldis are showing off their repertoire of tricks.  This is a wonderful partership!  They are having so much fun.  It is amazing how much work Icelandics will do for a carrot (or peanut).  I wonder what Blessi would look like performing the Spanish Walk. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Blessi Gets the Boot

At the SCA practice over the weekend, my friend Dawn stopped by to get her "horse fix."  She recently broke her leg and is currently non-weight bearing.  She wore an orthopedic boot and supported herself with crutches. 

Dawn re-introduced her self to old friends--both equine and knightly.  Blessi amazed us by being the only horse to notice that Dawn wore an orthopedic boot.  Blessi gently ran his nose up and down the boot and checked out each strap.  I am so glad that he did not decide to undo any velcro this time.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Medieval Games Practice

Tilting at the Quintain
Amy, who calls Blessi, the floofy, poofy pony, rode Bless to gain her Society for Creative Anachronism authorization for riding games.  I will let the pictures speak for themselves.  Blessi and Amy's favorite game was "behead the bandit" or, in this case, "behead the soda bottle."  The equestrian guild got a little creative in devising game equipment.
Pig Sticking--that's why the styrofoam is pink!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Happy Moments

Everthing is totally 100% perfect.
Peter Hoeg profoundly inspired me in the following passage from his recent novel  The Elephant Keepers' Children:

"Before I start, I'm going to ask you something.  I'm going to ask if you can recall a moment of your life at which you were happy.  Not just in a good mood.  Not just content.  But so happy that everything was totally one hundred percent perfect."

I challenged myself to think of three times in my life that I was happy.  I did not limit myself to the happiest events in my life since I did not want to get bogged down in a internal debate over degrees of happiness.  My goal was just to visualize three happy moments that immediately popped into my head.  Do you know what?  Two out  of three moments involved horses.  Blessi really brings that kind of joy into my life. 

As I was involved in this exercise, I was flooded with remembrances of small happy moments in life.  I keep challenging myself to string together those happy moments and not dwell on the small dissatisfactions in life.

When you think of happy moments in your life, what do you visualize?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Blessi Works for Peanuts--Literally

From time to time, Blessi and I retire to the arena and work on silly tricks like spin the pony, piaffe in place (which is currently really kick in place), toot a bicycle horn, bow, carrot stretches, play a child's piano, identify numbers (in progress), hold on to something (in progress), etc. 

Blessi will work really hard for any kind of treat but his favorite is peanuts.  While clicker training, I usually reward him with one--that's right just one--Spanish roasted peanut.  Blessi is very careful in taking the peanut off the palm of my hand.  Since peanuts are so small, sometimes it is like feeding a fish to a dolphin.  Blessi kind of opens hims mouth and  I throw one peanut onto the side of his tongue.

We were practicing tricks in the arena.  I brought the whole can of peanuts into the arena and occasionally refreshed the stash of peanuts in my pocket.   The peanut can was stored in the observational area--a little porch-like structure raised above the surface of one corner of the arena. 
Close up of lid showing where Blessi bit
through the plastic
As the session progressed, I noticed that Blessi was playing the "trick game" at two different levels.  One level is enthusiastically offering tricks for a peanut.  The other level is trying to get as close to the deck as possible and making a grab for the entire peanut can--thus earning the jackpot.  Trying to keep ahead of his strategized movements was mentally and physically taxing for me so I decided to store the can of peanuts outside the arena. 

After finishing the session, Blessi and I excited the arena and stopped to socialize with Amy and her horse.  Quick as a thought, Blessi grabbed the peanut can by the lid and popped the top strewing peanuts about the gravel.  How did he know how to remove a plastic lid?  It is not like he gets to practice this movement which usually requires opposable thumbs.

As a follow up, he passed a fellow boarder's tack box and noticed she had a can of leather cleaner.  As an optimist, Blessi made a grab for the can again--going right for the lid.  Thank goodness I was able to intercept that movement.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Whirls and Swirls--Icelandic Lore

Blessi has a Straumfjađrir, I think,
and he loves water crossings
Photo by Carol Townsend

Bjőrnsson and Sveinsson(2006, p. 73)  in The Icelandic Horse, a comprehensive reference book about the breed, present some Icelandic lore about the meaning of whirls.  The Icelandic horse can have various whirls on its body:
  • Flugfjađrir (flying feathers) are whirls in a row along the mane. Three such whirls are believed to indicate a horse with more stamina.
  • Pétursstingir (strings of St. Peter) are whirls along the mane on both sides of the neck.   Some believe that it is “healthy” to touch these fingerprint of St. Peter.
  • Pétursfar (touch of St. Peter) is a whirl under the mane.
  • Straumfjőđur (stream feather) is a whirl on the lower part of the neck.  Folklore says a rider will never drown riding a horse with both a touch of St. Peter and a stream feather on both sides of the neck.
  • Straumfjađrir (stream edges) are whirls on the chest and such horses are regarded as being great water horses.
  • A whirl “at the front of the eyebrow” indicates a very lively horse.

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

Horse Festival in Reykjavik

Each year, the city of Reykjavik sponsors a horse festival.  I love the scenes in this video of Icelandic horses and their riders tolting through the city streets.  One of these years I will visit Iceland to see this in person.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Certifying Icelandic Horses for Leisure Riding

Haraldur Þórarinsson, president of the Horse Clubs Association in Iceland, reported in Eidfaxi about a presentation given by Silvie Rizo from France that he listened to at the 2013 FEIF annual meeting in Strasbourg.  Rizo discussed the formal certification process available in her country to grade all breeds of horses by gait and temperament for leisure riding.

Dannelle adjusts her headband before replacing
her helmet and continuing her trail ride on Blessi.

Approximately 80% of the riders in France are leisure riders and most are middle aged women who ride as a hobby.  These riders are especially interested in purchasing safe, dependable horses that they can be sure are not dangerous.  Horse owners in France pay for this certification since it adds resale value to their horses.  

As Þórarinsson cautions, "We should not forget that Gunnar Bjarnason marketed the Icelandic horse first and foremost as an affordable and a dependable family horse and this is how the horse became as wide spread as it is. We have perhaps forgotten ourselves a bit by concentrating on the competition- and show horse, which is good and valid by itself. But the prerequisite for new persons practicing horse riding to some extent is that ordinary people can find manageable horses and affordable facilities."

Do you think that other countries could benefit from setting up a similar certification program for horses?  How do you think Icelandics would compare with other breeds?  Do you think this would help show the value of the Icelandic horse?

You can read the entire article at:

Friday, October 18, 2013

Velcro Blessi

Sometimes animals are called "velcro pets" because they are clingy and want to be close constantly to their owners.  Blessi brings new meaning to phrase "velcro" horse. 

Amy was petting Blessi today when he spied the velcro on her glove and proceeded to zip and unzip the velcro.  He has never had an opportunity to practice with velcro but he definitely knew how the procedure went.  Blessi constantly astonishes us with what he notices about the world and how it works. 

By the time I got my camera, he was a bit bored with the whole process and never repeated the behavior as precisely as he did the first time.   The video below shows what he was attempting--why I don't know.

I still dispute the scientific studies that say a horse cannot learn by observation--they have never tested Blessi. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

What is an Honors Stallion--Orri frá Þúfu

In 1978, FEIF established the rules for awarding honors status to stallions and mares:  Honor stallion status: Minimum BLUP of 118, 50 or more evaluated offspring.  An honors horse not only has great confirmation and outstanding performance but they are so genetically stable that they pass on these traits to a large number of their offspring. Very few horses achieve honors status.  Breeding has often been described as a crapshoot but selecting the right stallion can certainly help you weight the dice.  If you look at the breeding results of some of the honors stallions, the results are astounding. 
At the time this blog was written Orri frá Þúfu had 1170 registered offspring of which 48 were 4 years old or younger.  If you subtract the number of young horses from the total and calculate the number of assessed offspring, (544/1122) an astounding 48% of Orri’s offspring were assessed with over 40% making first or second prize.  Note that the author hand counted some of this information so the percentages may not be accurate. 

Here is a link to a video of Orri from 1993 with an interview (in Icelandic) with his owner and rider.

Below is a video of Orri from Landsmót in 1994.

Orri frá Þúfu’s quality was recognized very early.  In their book The Icelandic Horse, Bjőrnsson and Sveinsson describe Orri as a friendly, easy to handle, black stallion with four great gaits (Orri sires few pacers) with high leg action and wide movements.  The reason that Orri is so famous is not only for the quality of his gaits but for how many of these abilities he passes along to his offspring.  As Bjőrnsson and Sveinsson proclaim, “There is no doubt that Orri has been the strongest stallion in Iceland for years.  His influence will be seen for a long time, and many superb sons and daughters will still show up” (p. 235). Orri has been awarded “honors stallion” status in Iceland. 

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

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

List of Honors Stallions

Blessi's pedigree Part 1

In Iceland, only 26 stallions have attained Honors status from the awarding of the first honor in 1978 to 2008.  Mares can also attain honors status.  One of the fun things you can do is look up the pedigree of your horse in World Fengur, the international breeding registry of the Icelandic horse.  Or you can have a friend look it up if you don't have access.  You will almost certainly find one or more of these honors stallions in your horse's pedigree.


Honors Stallions:  

Blessi's Pedigree--Part 2

1978 Sőrli frá Sauđárkróki
1982 Hrafn frá Holtsmúla
          Páttur frá Kirkjubae
1986 Ófeiger frá Hvanneyri
          Náttfari frá Ytra-Dalsgerđi

1990 Hervar frá Sauđárkróki 
          Gáski frá Hofsstőđum
          Ófeiger frá Flugumýri
1994 Þokki frá Garđi
          Kjarval frá Sauđárkróki
          Stigur frá Kjartansstőđum
1996 Angi frá Laugarvatni
1998 Stigandi frá Sauđárkróki
        Kolfinnur frá Kjarnholtum
          Gustur frá Hóli
          Oddur frá Selfossi
2004 Kraflar frá Miđsitju
          Óđur frá Brún
          Andvari frá Ey I
          Galsi frá Sauđárkróki
2006 Hugi frá Hafsteinsstőđum
         Keilir frá Miđsitju
2008  Hródur frá Refsstőđun
           Saer frá Bakkakoti
Source:  Gates, M.  (2010).  The art of horse breeding.  In The Icelandic StudBook, Icelandic Stallions of North America, ed. T. Kristjánsdóttir, Cranial Solutions, Chatham, NY.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Horse Project--Portland OR

Photo by Maureen Lunn
Flckr Creative Commons
If you have ever watched Portlandia, the TV show, you know that residents of Portland OR have their own unique perspective on life.  Many of Portland's sidewalks have horse rings that were originally used to tie up horses.  Scott Wayne Indiana is credited with originating The Horse Project in which whimsical, tiny horse models (or other creatures) are tied to these rings. 

The following link provides more information.

Photo by vj_pdx Flckr Creative Commons 
The project has really captured the imagination of residents and visitors as you can see by the pictures.  Some of these photos are breathtaking in their artistic staging--others are cute snapshots.  Either way, I adore these petite ponies prancing around Portland. 

Contributors to this project have even posted poems about their favorite equines. 

"There is a horse on 11th avenue
who is roped to a hitching post
as if in Tombstone, not Portland.
He's built straight like a bridge; at times,
topples, yet always finds his feet,
never throws his sense of humor."

The rest of the poem can be found here:

I love this project--except for the horse "rustlers" who steal an occassional pony from time to time.

Monday, October 14, 2013

(Ground) Driving Mr. Blessi

Shannon, my dressage instructor is going to teach me how to drive.  Of course, she first needs to teach Blessi how to drive.  The above video was taken about five minutes into the lesson.  

Blessi was probaby started under saddle in Iceland via long lines.  I have often longed Blessi in ovals and serpentines and variations other than circles which helped.  Also the TTouch exercises helped with his understanding.  However, this was the first time to my knowledge that he was driven from behind with actual long lines.

However, Blessi also had to throw in his own unique approach to driving.  Dropping the longe whip--no reaction.  Tangling of reins--no problem. 

Bored--let's turn around and face the driver.  Really bored--let's just stop and ignore the longe whip--nobody is really going to hurt me with that thing.

And we really need to work on changing directions in a seamless way--but all in all a great start. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Blessi and the Plume

Blessi is one of the most observant horses that I know.  The resident farm rooster usually roosts in the beams of the stable at night.   Yesterday, Blessi was loose in the arena and he walked right up to a fallen tail feather to investigate it.  He has done this to an owl feather, a sale tag from T J Maxx, an empty water bottle, etc.

I always thought Blessi would look quite dashing as a carriage horse with a plume.  I guess a rooster tail feather may be the closest we will ever get.

It is also hard to take a picture of Blessi
when he is loose--either he comes too close
or he eats grass--as can be seen by some of
these failed pictures.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Shoeing Icelandic Horses for Competition

In this video, Taylor Keenan, a farrier from New York, explains some of the intricacies of shoeing Icelandic horses for evaluation and/or competition per FEIF regulations.  As he explains the intent of the regulations is to "By prohiting exagerated shoeing methods, the governing organization FEIF is trying to achieve two goals: protecting the horse's soundness and welfare and preserving breed quality by not using artificial means to enhance its movement."

NOTE:  Please refer to the FEIF web page for the most recent update to shoeing requirements since some of the information in this video may be out of date.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Benedikt Líndal -- Training Icelandic horses

Benedikt Líndal is a master trainer of Icelandic horses.  He has created a series of videos on Youtube introducing his training--a combination of classical dressage, natural horsemanship, and traditional Icelandic methods.  You will also note some techniques relatively unique to Iceland--training in and around a round pen placed within an arena and training "in the nature."  One of the treats of this video is the quality of the horses and the range of color of the Icelandics shown.

The video is not narrated until the vary end when Lindal concludes "Finally let's remember one thing.  When the horse was born, he knew how to walk, trot, and dance around in tolt, and to pace.  He also knew how to back up and turn around in all directions.  We are not teaching him anything.  He knows it all.  What we are doing is to ask him to do those things with us.  And that is called harmony. "

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Chevy Chase and his Icelandic Horses

Some of us are fans of the work of Chevy Chase from the early years of Saturday Night Live. 
Gerald Ford, former President of the US, sharing a moment with
Chevy Chase who was know for his imitation of President Ford
on SNL.  Photo from Wikipedia.
Others watched him in  the National Lampoon Vacation movies.  And recently, Chevy is experiencing great success in the TV series Community.  But who know that Chevy is a fan of the Icelandic horse?

Chevy Chase and his family own two Icelandic hores.  "Chase says, 'We have two Icelandic horses whose names are not pronounceable, so we call them Bob and Candy. A close friend’s cousin, who is Icelandic, had them brought in from Iceland especially for us. Bob and Candy are a bit smaller than non-­Icelandic horses. I look very funny sitting on them; I’m just under 6’4″, so my feet hang down to their knees. While riding him bareback, Bob has thrown me a few times, ­but since I’m long and he’s short, it’s more like just rolling over in the grass.'"

Chevy admits that his wife and daughters do most of the riding while he functions as "valet, chauffeur and stable hand." 

You can  see a picture of Chavy handgrazing one of his horses at this source:

Quote source:
People We Know, Horses They Love. [Emmaus, Pennsylvania]: Rodale, 2004.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Blessi has a bad hair day

Photo by Sherry Wallmark
Blessi 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, October 2, 2013

Do Icelandics Have More SEEK Than Other Breeds?

Blessi and Dannelle Haugen winning the grand
championship in the Kitsap Saddle Club Extreme
Trail Competition
In the post "Activating SEEK and turning off FEAR in Horses," we talked about  Dr. Panksepp, a neuroscientist, who discovered that localized electrode stimulation of the brain caused  the same well-organized behavior for certain core emotions, which he calls “blue ribbon emotions.”  These emotions are rage, fear, panic, seek, lust, care, and play. (pp. 7-8)  Seeking is defined as “the positive emotions of wanting, looking forward to, or being curious about something…..SEEKING feels good” (Grandin, 2009, p. 7)

And in the post "Shaped By the Land of Fire and Ice," we speculated that that the Icelandic horses who were more likely to survive the extremes of the Icelandic environment were more likely to think rather than react.  “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).

So my theory is that Icelandic horses as shaped by their traditional environment have a higher SEEK factor than most other breeds.  In many open trail obstacle courses, you will often find the Icelandic horses dominating the field.  What do you think?

Grandin, T. (2009). Animals Make Us Human, First Mariner Book, NY.
Bjőrnsson, G., & Sveinsson, H.  (2006).  The Icelandic Horse, Edda Publishing, Reykjavik, Iceland.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Activating SEEK and Turning Off FEAR in Horses

In her book Animals Make Us Human, Dr. Temple Grandin discusses the emotions that many species of animals can have.  Animals and people have the same core emotions in the brain.   Dr. Panksepp, a neuroscientist, discovered that localized electrode stimulation of the brain caused  the same well-organized behavior for certain core emotions, which he calls “blue ribbon emotions.”  These emotions are rage, fear, panic, seek, lust, care, and play. (pp. 7-8)  Seeking is defined as “the positive emotions of wanting, looking forward to, or being curious about something…..SEEKING feels good” (p. 7)

In the chapter on horses, Dr. Grandin discusses the research on how horses react in relation to these emotions.  With horses, she posits that you can use positive reinforcement to activate the Seek emotion while turning off FEAR.  Fear and seek are the opposite ends of the emotional spectrum.   And with horses, fear can be easily converted to anger or rage.  For this reason, she highly recommends positive reinforcement to shape behavior whenever possible (although positive and negative reinforcement can be used together).  (p. 123) 
One week afterthe equine social intelligence test,
Blessi overturned and did "seeking" for carrots under
the racing barrels--even though I have never put
carrots under racing barrels
As Grandin states, “…when your horse becomes really accustomed to clicker training or other positive reinforcement to keep the SEEKING system turned on, you inhibit the FEAR system overall because the SEEKING system and the FEAR system are opposed inside the brain.  If you’re in the middle of a clicker-training session and a piece of plastic blows into your horse’s face, he’s going to be less likely to panic than he would be if his FEAR system were already mildly ‘turned on’ through negative reinforcement.
It’s easier for a horse to be brave
                                                              when he’s feeling happy than when
he’s feeling nervous or
                                                              afraid” (p.130). 

In many ways, using positive reinforcement is teaching the horse to train us—they learn how to learn.  “With positive reinforcement, the animal suddenly ‘gets it’ –realizes that it can do something to make a good thing happen.  That’s called learning to learn.  When the animal learns to learn, it starts to offer behavior.  That’s what behaviorists call it.  It’ll intentionally run through all kinds of different behaviors looking for one that will work” (Grandin, 2009, p. 131).
Blessi "volunteering" a smile to see if he can
earn a reward

Blessi and I do some training with treats.  I have found that Blessi often “volunteers” behavior such as bowing or smiling.  He is more likely to explore a novel item in his environment than panic over it.  People ask if Blessi is just a calm natured horse or if he has been trained to be accepting of new stimuli.  I have to say that it is probably a combination of both.

Grandin, T. (2009). Animals Make Us Human, First Mariner Book, NY.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Blessi has a Coat of Arms and a Motto

About a year ago, Blessi and I moved to a new boarding stable that has never had an Icelandic before.  Blessi is doing well there and the owners and other boarders really like Blessi.  In fact, 24 hours after I moved him to the new stable, I went back to check on him and Rena,the owner,  told me that if I ever leave, Blessi has to stay--they are going to adopt him.

Well Icelandics are smart and they are opportunistic.  Not long after moving in to the new stable, Rena told me that she and her husband were having lunch in the kitchen.  They looked out their French doors and saw Blessi grazing right by their deck--note that is not his pasture.  The electricity for the pastures went out  and Blessi noticed the golden opportunity.

It turns out that there is a lower gate that consists of two wires attached to the "bicycle" handles.  I didn't even notice the gate but Blessi did.  He undid the lower wire and then ducked under the upper wire.  What
is impressive about this is that he associated the "bicycle" handles with "gate."  Blessi has never been taken in or out of the pasture at this area.  When Rena went to fetch him with a halter and lead rope, he led her on a merry chase around the yard until she thought to get some grain.  Luckily there were no other horses in the pasture.

The stable owner analyzed Blessi's personality.  She said that his personality is described by the expression "I can so I will" and that he should have a sign on his door with that phrase.  I thought that would be cooler in Latin, which per the online translator is:

"Possum sic ego."

This could be the motto of many an Icelandic horse.  So Blessi now has his own coat of arms complete with motto.  Rena has a sense of humor and they still want to adopt Blessi--I think.

Note:  The horse artwork in the center is not a very good representation of an Icelandic but the image was in the public domain.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Of Horses and Men

The Icelandic Film and TV Academy selected  Hross í oss (Of Horses and Men) as Iceland's entry as Best Foreign Language film category for the 2014 Oscars.  Directed by Benedikt Erlingsson, the movie is about the importance of the horse in the life of Icelandic country side in 1970s with themes of romance, daily living, friendships, and rivalries. 


Due to a stallion acting like a stallion in the official trailer below, this clip is not recommended for children.  So parents, please preview!

Alana Odegard of Icelandic Review On-Line reviewed the film.  Highlights from her review include:
"...the movie was about what has always been close to Icelanders: horses and nature. However, Hross í oss is no ordinary horse and nature film, but rather a keyhole peep into Iceland’s past...

Hross í oss masterfully weaves together parables; negative passion, such as breach of peace, drunkenness or vengefulness are punished, the positive passion finds reward. The film also describes the experiences of two foreigners, deeply touching as acts of initiation, although they could hardly be more different from each other..

Horses are everywhere in this movie. Strong and fast, life-giving, overwhelmingly wild and yet tender, and always at people’s side, up to the last breath. In the static nature shots horses are the moving elements. They move people. They move the soul. At the same time they are the stationary element, as if to indicate, “why are you going mad?” They represent beauty, power, and eternity in this loving story that does not condemn ugliness and weakness. "

Alana Odegard notes that although both actors and horses face danger in the film no horses were harmed during the filming due to the training of great work of the eight men led by Benedikt Líndal.

You can read the entire review at:

I look forward to seeing how "Of Horses and Men" fares at the Academies this year.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Pignon Riding with Les Chevaux Islandais

And here is one of the videos of Jean-Francois Pignon, famous for his at-liberty horse act,  riding with one of the French Icelandic demo teams. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Horse Tango

Frederic Pignon and Magalie Delgado perform a magnificent tango on horseback.  Wow!  Frederic Pignon can be found riding with the Icelandic horse demo groups in France from time to time.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Icelandics in The Great American Horse Race

In 1976, 91 riders (there is some disagreement as to exact number of riders) and
a 450 support team participated in the Great American Horse Race. The race was
for 3,000 miles from Frankfort, NY, to Sacramento, CA and was scheduled to last
over 100 days. Each rider had two mounts. Vet checks were done 4 times a day.  Icelandic horses had a spectacular showing in this extreme long distance race.

Riders in the race originated from all over the US, Canada, Germany, Austria,
France, Switzerland, Iceland and Australia. Horsebreeds represented
were:"Spanish Mustang, Arabian, Morgan, Saddlebred, Standardbred, Pony of
America, Pinto, Icelandic pony, half Orlov trotter, Mule, Appaloosa, Palomino,
Thoroughbred, an Albino, Quarter Horse, Connemara pony, Paso Fino."

The winner of the race was Virl Norton, riding the mules Lord Fauntlerroy and
Lady Eloise. At the beginning of the race, Virl cautioned, "Watch the mules.
They're tougher and can take the tough terrain better than a horse," he said. He
felt his mules could match the Arabian horses at endurance because this was
going to be a long race, not a fast one.

Here's a link to an interview with Norton's son Pierce who served as general assistant during the race.

"Because about a quarter of the way into the race, in Kankakee, Illinois, Virl Norton and Leroy went out ahead of all the Arabians.  

"He’d always said that he hadn’t planned on taking the lead that early. Everyone ran their horses down a little bit sooner than he thought, I guess," Pierce says. "You know, soon as we got into the lead, there was a long way to go. But we were going in the right direction. The lead was getting longer."

And so, days before the finish, it became clear that a mule was going to win the Great American Horse Race."

A link to a 1976 Sports Illustrated article about the race.

All of the remaining top 22 places went to Arabs or Arab crosses except for :

7th Appaloossa
9th Conamarra ponies
10th mules
13th Icelandics (Johannas Hoyos)
16th Pinto/Thoroughbred
21st Icelandic (Walter Feldman)
22nd Appaloosa

Per Robyn Hood, TTouch trainer and a Canadian breeder and trainer of Icelandics ,participated as support crew during the race. As Robyn commented, "During the GAHR the organizers liked to put the Icelandics near the entry to our camping site because our horses looked so good. We fed them as much hay as they could eat and about 6 pounds of grain a day. They were very fit but not thin."

There is a book available on Amazon about the Race:

The Great American Horse Race of 1976: A Photographic Documentary by Curtis Lewis

What an interesting bit of history!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Blessi and the Bells

Shannon has been riding Blessi on the trails.   There are bears in those woods so Shannon wanted some bells.  Herman the stable owner donated part of a Christmas decoration and we attached it to Blessi's saddle.  Voila!!!! An alarm system to to alert the bears.

Of course the chiming of  bells always reminds me of Edgar Allen Poe's poem "The Bells."  The words go so well with how Shannon and Blessi sound going merrily down the trail. (I changed the word "sledges" to "Blessi".)

"Hear the Blessi with the bells-
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells-
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells."