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."