Saturday, June 29, 2013

Published in Norway--Detecting Icelandic Horse Origins

Nordland horse--wikipedia
I wrote an article "Detecting the Origins of the Icelandic Horse" for the USIHC quarterly. Many people all over the globe were kind and gave me the use of some of the more exotic breeds related to the Icelandic such as Przewalski's Horse, Mongolian Horse, etc.



I had emailed the Nordland Horse breed society Rimfakse to get a photograph of one these horses and they sent a great picture that I used in the article (I don't have permission to include it here). These horses look and gait just like like Icelandics. Rimfakse liked the article so much that they asked permission to reprint the article.




You can see the feature here and read the article. Aren't the Nordland horses adorable and talented?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Genetic Basis of Gait in Icelandic Horse--Part 2

It is  interesting to discuss the gaits the horse displays in the field versus what they can do under saddle. 
For example, I almost never see Blessi tolting in the field; he trots everywhere but he can do a nice pleasure tolt under saddle.

As the Andersson et al study states, "31% of the four-gaited horses were homozygous A/A" so about 1/3 of the so-called 4-gaited horses in the study carried a homozygous A/A for the DMRT3 nonsense mutation so were gentically 5-gaited. If this weren't true, there would be a much higher percentage of
3-gaited Icelandics being bred.

Assuming that AA represents 5-gaited horses, CA represents 4-gaited horses, and CC 3-gaited, the percentages of expected offspring are as follows (my interpretation was confirmed by a recent article in Equus Magazine):

AA (5-gaited) crossed with AA (5-gaited) = 100 % 5-gaited. Since only AA horses have a flying pace, this is how I can interpolate that Blessi is 5-gaited.

AA (5-gaited) crossed with CA (4-gaited) = AC, AA, AC, AA, CA, CA, AA, AA or 50 % 5-gaited and 50% 4-gaited

CA (4-gaited) crossed with CA (4-gaited) = AA, AC, CA, CC, AA, AC, AC, AC OR 25% 5-gaited, 50% 4-gaited, 25% CC 3-gaited

CC (non-gaited) crossed with CA (4-gaited) = CC, CA, CC, CA  or 50 %4-gaited and 50% not gaited

So since responsible breeders are eliminating the 3-gaited horses from the breeding pool and knowledgeable breeders keep breeding back to 5-gaiters, the percentage of 3-gaited horses is kept low.

Caution: In my 9th grade science class, the teacher introduced genetics by talking about blue eyes (bb) and brown eyes (Bb or BB). He told us that 2-blued eyed parents could not have a brown-eyed child. I raised my hands and shared that my parents both had blue eyes (really green) and my sister had brown eyes (actually hazel). The teacher sputtered and went on to explain that eye color is actually determined by multiple genes and the text book was simplifying the matter. Of course, I took the text book home and told my sister she was adopted.

Also this study adds additional credibility to BLUP, which predicts which characteristics will be passed on to offspring. For example, Blessi's BLUP predicts that, assuming he was still a stallion, he would pass on the ability to pace, which I never understand since he was a "4-gaited" horse. Now that I know a bit more about the genetics, I can understand why BLUP would make this prediction.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Genetic Basis of Gait in Icelandic Horse--Part 1

Blessi was sold to me as a 4-gaited horse. Every Icelandic instructor (except one) who ever worked with Blessi confirmed that he was 4-gaited. Although when I first got Blessi, I think that Halldor, an instructor who worked with Lynn Alfonsi on the East Coast, said that he got Blessi into a flying pace. However, I was so ignorant of Icelandic gaits that I may have misunderstood what he was
saying.

For some odd reason (killing time I guess), I was looking at Blessi's lineage in World Fengur. I had always assumed that his dam was unevaluated but when I checked again, she is evaluated and she is 5-gaited with a 7 for pace. His sire is five-gaited with a 7.7 for pace.

Andersonn et al published a study "Mutations in DMRT3 affect locomotion in horses and spinal circuit function in mice" confirming that the ability to tolt is directly related to a SNP mutation on gene DMRT3.

You can read the study at:

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v488/n7413/full/nature11399.html

However Nancy Marie Brown has a much more understandable essay on the implications of this study at:

http://nancymariebrown.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2012-10-03T10:53:00-04:00\
&max-results=8&start=5&by-date=false


The original study states "Thus, homozygosity for the DMRT3 nonsense mutation is required for the ability to pace in this breed." Therefore if Blessi's dam and sire were 5-gaited, genetically Blessi must be 5-gaited also. Unfortunately, he falls into what the study calls "...a considerable number of homozygous mutant horses are considered four-gaited may reflect phenotype misclassifications, but
more likely incomplete penetrance due to other genetic factors, maturity and environmental effects, in particular training." So if Blessi does have flying pace, he doesn't not exhibit it and it is not worth training it.

However, hidden in the tables of this study are some interesting questions.

Question 1:The first question comes "Table 1: Allele frequency of the DMRT3 nonsense mutation among horse populations"
The Missouri Fox Trotters, Paso Finos, Peruvian Pasos, and Rocky Mountain horses indicated 100 % of the tested population possessed the DMRT3 nonsense mutation. Tennessee Walkers and Kenturcky Mountain horses showed 98 and 95 % respectively. Of the Icelandic horses tested, the results indicated 65% of the 4-gaited horses, 99% of the 5-gaited horses, and 89% of a random populations showed the DMRT nonsense mutation. So my understanding is that if two homozygous (AA) for this mutant gene are bred, the result must be another 5-gaited horse. If two heterozygous (CA) horses are bred, some of the offspring will not be gaited. Does the table indicating that 89% of the random population tested indicate that approximately 1 in 10 of Icelandic horsed don't tolt?

Question 2:
"Supplementary Table 5 Differences in mean in scores from breeding field tests between homozygous mutant (AA)and homozygous wild-type (CC) or heterozygous (CA) horses all shown as four gaited" compares the gaits shown during breeding evaluations between homozygous and heterozygous horses. The scores for trot (82.28 vs 79.15), gallop (82.25 vs 79.71), slow tolt (80.10 vs. 76.40), walk (77.98 vs 74.14), slow gallop (82.33 vs 77.86) are significantly higher for the 4-gaited horses. The scores for tolt are basically the same for 4-gaited versus 5-gaited (82.87 versu 82.49 respectively). Does this mean that all gaits except the tolt (and pace of course) are going to better on average for a 4-gaited horse?

Question 3:
Table 1 shows that 0% of the Shetland ponies, Arabians, Gotland ponies, Thoroughbreds, Swedish warmbloods, and Przewalski horses possess the DMRT3 nonsense mutation. What does this imply about the source of ability to tolt among the Icelandic horse? It is known that the Vikings brought horses both from Shetlands and Northern British Islands and horses directly from Norway during the original settlement of Iceland. MtDNA studies confirm that the Icelandic horse is genetically similar to the northern European ponies such as the Shetland and Exmor plus additonal breeds such as Mongolian horse and Fjord. Icelandics are also very similar to the Nordland, a gaited Norwegian breed. So did the ability to tolt come from the common ancestors of the Nordland and the current Mongolian horse or was the ability to tolt bred out of the Shetland pony?

As breeders in Iceland have known, if you always breed a 4-gaited horse to a 4-gaited horse, eventually you lose the tolt. And it seems like if 4-gaited horses are not bred to 5-gaited, the quality of the other gaits may suffer. So if the Icelandic breed want to keep quality gaits other than the tolt, breeding will always result in an occassional 3-gaited horse. This has interesting implications for the buyer of a young, untrained Icelandic horse. Ah, I love genetics--that science always seems to raise more questions than it answers.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Cause of 2010 Icelandic Horse Epidemic Found

January 2013 Equus magazine talks about the cause of the 2010 Icelandic horse epidemic. In a period of 6 months in 2010, about half the horses in Iceland were affected with respiratory symptoms of nasal discharge and cough. The outbread was serious enough that export of horses was halted, and, if I remember correctly, Landsmot was cancelled that year.

Scientists working at the Animal Health Trust in the UK identified a bacterial strain of Streptococcus zooepidemicus (ST-209) as the culprit. Most likely a single horse farm (not identified in the article) was the source of this ST-209 strain. S. zooepidemicus "is rarely associated with large outbreaks of disease." (p. 13)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

I thought it was called a puptent

I had some left over material so I decided to make my cats a tent.  Ok, call me crazy cat lady.  The directions call for the support posts to be made out of spline, a type of flexible wood slat used to hold down caning in chairs.  Of course, stores don't carry basket weaving supplies anymore  so I had to improvise--always a dangerous thing.  I had some wires for flower arrangements so I taped them together in bundles instead--they sort of worked.

I put the assembled tent down for the cats and WASU immeditely entered and settled down for a nap.  Merci, the younger cat, started dive bombing him and the tent collapsed.  I guess I do need spline after all.  Of course, I had forgotten my camera.

video
The following video shows what happened after I reassembled the tent and remembered to fetch my camera.  Cats and children always play with the package rather than the gift.

The cats have decided that they love the tent.  Merci moved in early last night and would not let WaSU in the tent.  He kept trying to get in with her and she kept wapping him with her paw.  This morning, she relented and he crawled in with her.  It is 11:45 am and they are still both in the tent.  I wonder if they are getting up to some kitty hanky panky?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Fighting the Big Horse Syndrome

Alys Culhane has used the term "big horse syndrome" in her writings. By that she means that many people want to apply training and horse keeping practices that are suitable for bigger horses such as TBs and warmbloods and Arabs that just don't work for Icelandics.

For example, last summer Blessi was stabled at a farm that was used to taking care of saddlebreds and Arabs. They fed exclusively alfalfa. I got into several arguements with the stable owner about how Blessi needed to be fed orchard grass since he didn't need the calories but he needed the bulk to keep from feeling hungry. I finally won that arguement and then he insisted on putting Blessi out in large pasture with unlimited grass. I moved Blessi after a few months because of all the weight he was gaining.

And since I usually board at dressage barns, I am constantly bombarded by suggestions that I need to bathe Blessi in the winter. Owners of other breeds don't understand how long it takes that Icelandic fur to dry out in the winter. Too much bathing can remove a lot of the oil from the coat needed that is normally
used to keep the coat water repellent.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Yakut Horse

Source: Wikipedia
What an interesting horse! Some quick internet research shows that these horses have a close link to Mongolian horses, which recent mtDNA research shows are related to Icelandic horses. However, the Yakut horse has been outbred to a number of other breeds.

Here is a link to an article that a member of the Long Riders Guild wrote about his stay with the Yakuts and their horses.

http://www.thelongridersguild.com/yakuts.htm

As Vassili, a 75-year old Yakut horse owner and trainer comments:

"You know, if we end up with an aggressive and violent horse or foal, it can take up to a year before we can ride it", Vassili continues to explain, "we never beat or use violence when training a horse. It has to take its time. This is a graceful and sensitive animal. And, I have to point out this, if a person
has to beat a horse to make it do what one wants, this person is no horseman. He's a brute."

The Yakuts don't, as an example of their horsemanship, use a whip, riding stick or anything more brutal than this to command their horse.

"I am of the opinion", Vassili states, "that if you're together with a horse every day for many years and after all this time still needs to beat the horse, you don't understand horses. A real cowboy knows how to get his horse to do what he wants it to do, without using force."

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Herd in Iceland

I thought you might enjoy seeing this video. It is the trailer to an
Icelandic-produced movie called "The Herd in Iceland." I love the quote from
one of the old Icelandic men "The horses have ideals. You need to negotiate
with them." This quote explains why Icelandic horses can be "hard to ride."

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Horse Personality Test

Eunice Rush and Marry Morrow have recently published a book "From Know You, Know Your Horse." I haven't read the book so I am neither recommending nor not recommending the book. However, they have published a horse personality questionnaire available at:

http://search.yahoo.com/r/_ylt=A0oGdVpaD1ZREFUAyQRXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTE1OGYxdG9jBHN\
lYwNzcgRwb3MDNwRjb2xvA3NrMQR2dGlkA01TWTAwNF8xMTg-/SIG=13ng2iam0/EXP=1364623322/*\
*http%3a//www.horsecollaborative.com/index.php%3foption=com_blog%26view=comments\
%26pid=842%26Itemid=72


I find such questionnaires useful because they make you think about your horse and how it reacts to stimuli. You can also compare how you categorize your horse with how your trainer categorizes your horse and discuss why you have similarities and differences of opinion and how that may affect a training program.

Sometimes the results of these questionnaires can vary widely for the same horse depending on who is answering the questions. My friends and I answered these questions about our horses and sometimes we agreed about how the horse was described and sometimes we differed widely. In fact, we often disagreed about how to answer the individual questions about each horse. To me, your left-brain introvert is a right brained extrovert and vice versa.

This questionnaire is designed as a forced choice. You must select one of two choices as best representing your horse. Interestingly, I could not answer about 25% of the questions because they just did not apply to Blessi or the results would vary greatly depending on situation. Some examples:
33. My horse can spin on a dime.
34. He goes more slowly the more you push him.
-----
5. My horse likes to see the tail of another horse in front of him.
6. He has a lot of endurance.
---------
So I don't know if Icelandics tend to not fit the typical stereotypes of how horses tend to react or I am being too literal in reading the questions. I do know that I would be reluctant to apply prescribed training methods just based on the results of this survey.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Inheritability of Chestnuts on Icelandic Horse

I am posting this more as interesting trivia than scientific fact. In 1905, Annandale and Marshall published their book "Iceland and the Faroes:Studies in Iceland Life" Available via Hathitrust Library. at
http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015067063340;page=root;view=image;si\
ze=100;seq=7;num=i


Predating the Watson and Crick discovery of DNA helix by about 50 years, they attempt to determine the origin of various animal breeds in Iceland and the Faroe Islands. They make an interesting comment about the inheritance of chestnut (the callous). Evidently some Shetland ponies are noted for not always having chestnuts on their back legs. So the authors were able to speculate that the Vikings brought some breeding stock from the Northern British Islands based on what they assume is an inherited characteristic.

"...the majority even of the heavily built Icelandic ponies are 'Celtic' in some of their characters, the hock callosities being often either wholly absent or very much reduced, and the tail possessing a more or less obvious caudal fringe."

On pages 180-181, the authors also relay the story of how sheep are herded in Suderoe, part of the Faroes islands. These horses are closely related to the Icelandic, a little lighter and swifter, but are better trained. The horse and rider and dogs chase after the sheep at mad speed. If the rider reaches down to grab the sheep, the horse traps the sheep between his legs to hold it for the rider.

I was always fascinated by that story. I can see Blessi being trained to catch sheep this
way.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Icelandics in Dressage--How Sweden Sees It

Occassionally, some of Blessi's videos on Youtube experience a jump in viewer activity. Youtube enables you to track the traffic source. This month there was a jump in viewing from Bukefalos, an equine discussion forum in Sweden. The topic of this posting is how well can Icelandics compete in dressage. Videos by several US owners, myself included, are featured--which is amusing.

The on-line translator functions well enough that you can follow the discussion at a high level. Some of the "babelfish" translation is hysterical. For example, one of the horse events forums is translated as "dressage and dressage around the crotch."

http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=sv&tl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.bukef\
alos.com%2Ff%2Fforumdisplay.php%3Fs%3Dc705b9737f29d8fa670f1090174f8887%26f%3D71%\
26order%3Ddesc%26page%3D6


 Use the link as listed. Make sure that you set the translator at the top of the menu to "from Swedish to English" or whatever your preferred language is.

- In the top pull down menu, select "Event Branches"
- In the list of forum topics, select "Dressage: Over and under the crotch dressage."
- On the selection "Page 1 of 320", select page 2 (at least as of tonight).
- Select the topic "Dressage m Icelandic"
- Go to page 3 of the discussion to see the videos listed.
I have to admit that I was a bit taken aback by one contributor who made the following comment about Blessi: "I have never seen a fatter Island to film two. Gosh .... " Gosh, I really hope that she used the Swedish word for "gross" meaning large but the on-line translator took it as "gross" for obese. Blessi and I both struggle with our weight but he was in fairly good shape at the time of this video. ;-)

If you have the time, it is interesting to read what some folks in Sweden think about Icelandics and dressage. Some of the posters insisted on comparing these Icelandics and their riders dabbling in dressage to warm bloods (translated as half breeds) competing at the top dressage levels. I agree with kryddelydd who posted "...No, I see no need to say that Icelandic horses can do the same as a
normal "half-breed". However, I think it's a shame that they often lack the imagination to see that even the Icelandic horses work for dressage work at a reasonable level...My Icelandic horses are a variety of reasons hardly what you could call dressyrridna, although I use the schools in the training, in order to get better control of such rate in all gaits and to obtain all gaits...My point with this post is long - if anyone managed to read so far - that certain, some Icelandic horses trained in dressage "for real" but many have physical limitations. " My pardon to kryddelydd who probably expressed this very elegantly in Swedish but the on-line translator did an uneven job of translating.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Blessi and the Box

Inspired by another woman who gives her Icelandic a box filled with treats and lets her mare "unpack" it, I decided to give Blessi the same puzzle.  In the following video, he has already opened the box which was loosely taped shut.

I also missed filming the part where Blessi got his head stuck in the box.  He did not panic but put his head down and shook the box off his head.  Next time I have to remember to use a box that is not the shape of his head.
 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Blessi--How to Court a Mare

I went to a clinic this weekend. During the clinic, Blessi continued to generate stories for future children's books.

Blessi was pastured with Freya, a 5-year old Icelandic mare. They shared a ride to the clinic in my trailer and it was love at first sight. We put them in the same pasture and I predicted that Blessi would follow his usual pattern of courting mares. Instead of puffing himself up and prancing around the pasture like most geldings or stallions, he goes all calm and quiet. He then takes a few steps towards the mare and goes Cary Grant cool again. Within 15 minutes he almost always succeeds in beginning to groom the mare's withers and within one hour the mare is grooming him back. Well the pattern continued with Freya.

Freya and Blessi shared the hay piles, groomed each other, and took naps together. When one of the clinic participants started to drive home last night, she noticed a strange thing in the pasture---something was twirling so she stopped to investigate.

Blessi had pulled up a long clump of grass with a dirt clod attached. He was twirling it in the air, stopping, and looking at Freya who was a foot away to see if it met her approval. He then continued twirling. This initiative continued for a long time.

During the ride home, we had to take the trailer on a ferry. Right before the ferry docked, Freya's owner and I checked on the horses before disembarking. There was a spinning movement in the front of the trailer. Blessi was twirling his hay bag, looking at Freya, and then twirling it again. He has never done this before. Freya must have approved. OR maybe he was trying to hypnotize her.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Hitchhiking Frog

While driving Blessi to an event, I was distracted by a small green shape climbing up my dash.  At first I thought it was a grasshopper or other insect.  It turned out to be a small green frog.  Here he is in all his glory.  My friend Judy captured him and relocated him to his new home in the tall grass.  He managed to hitchhike 30 miles from home. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Shrimping by Horseback in Belgium

Belgium has a history of using draft horses to pull a sledge along the surf.  The movement of the sledge stirs up the shrimp that can then be harvested.  Who knew?  Some sad commentary at the end indicated the effect of pollution on the harvest of this natural resource.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

International Horse Agility--Starter Level

Below you will see one young handler take her Exmoor pony Penelope through the starter level of International Horse Agility.  To compete in this international event, you submit your video for the course described that month, get your scores, and are ranked with the other participants that month.  As you can see the basic equipment is quite easy to come up with at this level.   Note that handler is doing a great job with the loose lead line.  And I think she added in some extras like the umbrella during the hula hoop stand and the ball used later in the video.
However I wonder if any Icelandics have competed.  And if the IHA is going to make us compete at the pony level rather than at the horse level?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Blessi and Horse Agility


I had always thought that doing agility with my dog Ollie was fun and wondered what it would be like with Blessi my horse--you know the agility with ramps, hoops, and tunnels.  Vanessa Bee from the UK had that exact same thought and developed a sport around it.  Here is a link to her organization's site...

http://www.thehorseagilityclub.com/

...and a link to her promo video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QZzCL7V5LLg


As you can see, I have reverted to using a tight lead line.
Blessi is dermined to visit Vanessa.
Vanessa is giving her first tour in North America.  She will be at various locations in Canada and the US in June.  I attended her clinic in the Seattle area this weekend.  One of the first things that Vanessa mentions in her clinic is that all "sticks" (carrot sticks, longe lines, crops, etc) are forbidden in class.  Our goal is to partner with horses and get them to do the obstacles on a loose lead line.  Vanessa's background is education so she has an excellent instructional style.




She talked about getting the horse to work with you using feel and timing. Having attended a Buck" Brannam clinic, she talked about how we should be striving to work with our horse in horse agility by "feel."  In a video I viewed recently, Tom Dorrance defined "feel and iming" as like balancing a broomstick on the tip of a finger--you need to move just enough to keep the stick balanced. If you move too fast the stick falls over, if you don't move fast enough the stick falls over.  The feel itself is very delicate with almost no pressure. So our challenge during the obstacle training is to lead our horses through the obstacles by feel and body language with float in the lead line.

Vanessa emphasized that the horse dictates the rate of exposure to an item.  She demonstrated how to introduce a horse to flag waved at the end of the stick. She waved the flag slowly from a distance.  She then walked slowly towards the horse until she detected the horse seemed nervous and then walked away from the horse.  She kept up this approach and retreat effort until she could wave the
flag gently under the horse's nose.  And then Vanessa said that was enough for the day.  The mare trusted that Vanessa would remove the object as soon as it became scary and this trust could be built on during another day.

She also chunks down the activity.  So for instance, trailer loading is practiced in several stages on the ground first a) go through barrels that are gradually brought closer together, b) go up ramp, etc.






Many horses have an instintive fear of putting their feet inside
a hula hoop since it looks like a hole to them. 
The purpose of this challenge is to direct your horse to step
into the hula hoop, then step into your hula hoop and have
your horse wait for you for the count of 3 or more.  Blessi got
this one immediately. 
Vanessa had some excellent ground exercises to help a horse develop straightness and flexibilty. For example, she talked about how some of the natural horsemanship methods to backing up your horse by shaking the leadline back and forth often result in a horse backing up out of balance--high headed and hollow backed.  She suggested some alternative ways.

Horse agility is scored--just as in dog agility.  One of the things that I loved about Vanessa's approach to evaluating results is that you are scored by both how well your horse does an activity and how well you set him up for success. All activities should be done with a loose lead line with float in it.  Each
time that your tighten up the lead line, you lose a point.  You can never strike your horse for any reason.  If the horse does not want to go through the barrels, you can invite the horse through but you cannot drag it through or threaten it with the lead line to get it through.

For example one of the activities is to lead the horse through a serpentine of poles.  The horse can step over and kick over the guiding poles and may get a 1 for the activity.  However if the owner keeps coaching, keeps the lead line with float, etc., she may score a 5 out of 5 (full marks) for the event.
 Vanessa also trains with safety in mind.  As you start out in horse agility, you want the horse to do events calmly rather than through excitement.  For example, when introducing your horse to the car wash (assuming your horse will approach
it willingly--otherwise you need to start with approach and retreat method), you start by asking your horse to stop in front of the car wash, you then step through the car wash and invite your horse to step through after you.  This really helps if the horse tries to crowd you at gates or when exiting stalls, etc.




Blessi is making me look good. See the loose lead line.
The truth is that when Blessi sees a bridge-like object
he just crosses it for me no matter how badly I set him up
Vanessa has worked extensively with Exmoor ponies so she is familiar with horses with Icelandic-like temperments and she enjoys working with them.  I often judge a clinician by how Blessi reacts to him or her.  The clinic was held in a pasture covered in rich grass so Vanessa challenged me to make Blessi think the grass was "poison" and not let him eat by using my body language and by making
him work when he dived for grass. Vanessa demonstrated how to do this with attitude and body language--it was subtle but effective. (I have gotten so tired of instructors telling me to hit Blessi to get him to stop diving for grass.) Blessi immediately bought into Vanessa's view point.  In fact he was fascinated with her.  He kept following her movements and several times took steps towards her as she kept bring out new items to introduce how to work with them.

I was either partly successful or partly unsuccessful in managing the grass diving depending on how you want to think about it. This continued to be a challenge--go through two barrels placed closely together--no problem!!! However lead Blessi through with loose lead line, have put his head down in a relaxed position, and then try to stop him from eating grass at the end of the tarp under the barrels--problem. I must also confess that I am inconsistent on handling the whole grass diving issue.

Another obstacle is to lead your horse through a square filled with empty, plastic, water bottles.  Every time (except for the actual test) that I led Blessi through the square, he had to stop and investigate the bottles.  He would pick up each bottle and shake it to see if it had treats in it.  Some he even threw some out of the square.
 
Blessi tries to fool me by keeping a low head while
crossing the tarp--oh my is that grass!
Blessi never did lead through the barrels well.  The challenge was to stop the horse before the barrels, you walk through the barrels, and then invite the horse to walk through the barrels--another great safey exercise so the horse does not push into you as you go through gates.  None of the other horses at the clinic noticed that there was some flakes of grain on top of the barrel.  So every time we did the exercise, Blessi would stop, I would walk through the barrels, and he would take the opportunity to lick up a few more flakes of grain, bite the barrel and pick it up in his teeth and shake it hoping to get
more grain, etc.

Via the International Horse agility organization, you can compete in various categories by submitting a video of you and your horse trying pre-defined course with mostly equipment you can make at home.  You get judged and compete with others at your level in many different countries.  The champion in 2011 was an Exmoor pony stallion named Hawkwell Versuvius:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nj7mtSPeFxo

I have to say that this was a wonderful, fun clinic in which I learned a lot. The clinic was filled with great horse owners and lovely horses.  Breeds ranged from other Icelandics to Arabs, minis, draft crosses, Welsh ponies, etc.  Humans ranged in age from 8 to 50+ so it really is a sport that just about anybody and any horse can do.

I was challenged to refine how I work with Blessi.  I really thought that I used a lot of float in the lead line when I worked with him on the ground.  What I discovered with feedback from the clinic is that I work that way when events go well, but when I am confused or tensed up or Blessi misinterprets what I am doing, I tighten up that lead line as a default method.  As Vanessa says, I need to trust my horse, trust Blessi and he will work with me.