Friday, August 29, 2014

Which do you kiss first--your goat or your Icey

Leo Tolstoy said "Happy families are all alike..."  However I don't think he ever imagined this happy family--a goat, an Icelandic horse, and the rider.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Algonquin, Icelandic Pony in White House Elevator

Quentin Riding Algonquin.  Roosevelt Family Photo
Theodore Roosevelt owned a family pony named Algonquin, who was famous for riding the White House Elevator so he could visit his friend Archie who had the measles.  Was this pony a Shetland or an Icelandic?  You can judge for yourself by reading the research I posted on my new page listed at the top of the banner.

Theodore Roosevelt and his family off for a family outing at Sagamore Hill, the family estate near Oyster
Bay, NY.  Roosevelt Family Photos

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

How to Bombproof Your Horse Against Vikings

This summer we attended a Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) tournament.  Blessi was selected to participate in a humans versus horses tournament.  The first step in this activity is to get your horse used to Viking clanking their weapons and clinking in their armor.  Lady Avalon is riding Blessi.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Blessi and the wedding cake

After the wedding ceremony, Amanda took a piece of her cake to Blessi.  The cake had real raspberry icing. He sure did enjoy it!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Do Shetland Ponies Dance Because They Can't Tolt

Shetlands are close relatives to the Icelandic.  Norse settlers to Icelandic brought stock from Norway and the northern British Isles.  Recent mtDNA studies have shown that all Shetland ponies tested on the DMRT3 "gait keeper" gene are CC or walk-trot-canter, no gait.  However recent studies as shown by this video indicate that they sure can dance.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Dopamine and its relationship to Riding Mistakes

The above diagram shows the major neural pathways in the brain associated with the release of Dopamine.   As part of the reward pathway, nerve cell bodies in the Vental Tegmental Area (VTA) manufacture dopamine which is released in the frontal cortex and nucleus accumbens.  However dopamine asscoiated with motor functions is manufactured by nerve cell bodies in the substantia nigra and released into the striatum.  Diagram and info from Wikipedia

Dr. Janet L. Jones, with a PhD in cognitive science, wrote "Oops!  The Value of Mistakes" in Equus, July 2014, Issue 442, pp. 46-53.  Dr. Jones discusses cognitive science and how it relates to riding.  She makes some interesting points about how dopamine (which affects motor control, nausea, cognition, and learning) affects how we learn from mistakes made in riding.

Positive feedback increases the level of dopamine and negative feedback does just the opposite. First, unknowingly we often strive to improve our performance by seeking positive or negative reinforcement which drives dopamine levels.  

Second, dopamine levels vary by individual.   "People with more dopamine levels usually learn best through positive feedback--praise, success, validation--and often have extroverted personalities.  Their brains are highly sensitive to rewards but relatively indifferent to errors" (p. 52).  This type of rider should pay more attention to errors and apply varied solutions to problems over time.

"People at the other end of the healthy spectrum have less dopamine circulating through their error neurons.  They notice mistakes easily and often learn best by avoiding negative feedback" (p. 53).  This type of rider learns from small errors but fear of failure may make them avoid certain activities. "Instead, these riders should accept errors as blips of information, alter behavior accordingly, and move on."

Since I tend toward the introvert, I may be missing out on some rewarding experiences--both in the equestrian realm and in other aspects of my life, by avoiding even the chance of failure.  Hopefully knowing little bit more about how brain chemistry works, I can push myself past the dislike of committing small errors.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Marques XXXVI--What if you met the horse version of Brad Pitt before he became famous?

Several years ago, I went on riding holiday to Epona, owned by Fernando and Jane Garcia,  in Spain, which I highly recommend to riders of any level.  I booked the train and trail package, which was a ride through the Andalusian countryside in the morning and a dressage lesson in the afternoon--all on Andalusians or Andalusian crosses.  Add in the side trips to Seville to visit a tack store, watch flamenco dancers, attend a performance at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art, ride on the beach in traditional Spanish doma vaquero tack, and more and the holiday was magical and mystica and amazing.  And I didn't even mention the amazing Spanish food--or wine!

One of the extras of the program was watching the Garcias' daughter Vivi, who is a graduate of the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art, train horses during the day.  One of the stallions was an absolute standout, Marques XXXVI, that the Garcias helped find for Rhea Scott (the wife of the son of the director Ridley Scott).  Here is the video that I shot:

In the US, Sabine Schut-Kery, who is now co-owner, took over the training of Marques.  This stallion went on to become PRE Stallion of the year in 2012 and 2013 Prix St Georges horse of the year.
Here is more video of this eye candy.  I am so lucky to have seen this outstanding horse before he became famous.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Wearing Helmets--Illustrated with Beautiful Horses

Wearing a helmet while riding is important at any level of riding.  This video conveys that message.  And it illustrates the human-horse relationship.  I just love watching the beautiful performance horses.  Take particular notice of the black Andalusian shown at the beginning of the video.  His name is Marques and I had the privilege of watching him train at Epona during my riding holiday in Spain several years ago.  This will be the topic of my next post.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

How to get your horse off the forehand--dressage training on an Icelandic

Stan Hirson has recorded some of the best Icelandic horse videos ever.  In this video, instructor Trish Helmer uses music to help a young student riding an Icelandic to avoid being on the forehand.  She also explains how performing a rein back can help an Icelandic to move forward in the trot since both movements are diagonal.  Since this video is on Vimeo, I can't figure out how to embed it but you can follow the  link.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Why Icelandics are hard to fit--Wither tracings across several breeds

On a discussion group for gaited horses, somebody asked about the challenges of fitting an Icelandic.  I went to the stable and took some wither tracings across a variety of breeds.  The good news is that I came away from the exercise with a greater appreciation for knowledgeable saddle fitter/makers; the bad news is that Blessi, despite maintaining his weight has thickened up through the withers again so I am going to have to re-evaluate saddle fit.

From top to bottom:
- my 18 year-old, 14.1 hand Icelandic imported from Iceland.  Measurement 3 inches from top of gullet is 9.5 inches.  This tracing illustrates the challenge of fitting Icelandics.  Like many draft/pony breeds such as Fjords, wither shape is usually an upside down bowl with no indentations (usually) for the withers.  Only a few English saddle makers such as Duett and Thorowgood make saddles for these rounded backs but even they have slight indentations for the withers.  There are even fewer English saddle makers who make a true "hoop" saddle.

Blessi's wither shape is typical of the Icelandics.  At 8.5 inches, he was above average width for an Icelandic.  At 9.5 he is well above average and he weights about 980 right now (lowest weight was 920).  When I was looking at off-the rack Western saddles, only the draft saddles were wide enough through the gullet but nothing else about the saddle fit.  The sides winged out so far that Blessi looked like he had the Flying Nun's hat set on the middle of his back.

- This tracing is for Rocky, a 5-year old, 18 plus hand Clydesdale.  Measurement is 11 inches.  Rocky wears the Icelandic style saddle (as opposed to an English or Western saddle).  And I really did measure one extreme outlyer of an Icelandic who is 13.2 hands and measured 12 1/4 inches.  His back was so flat you could set plates on it.  He ended up with a 36 or 38 cm Duett saddle.

- Thor is an 8-year old, 15.3 hand mustang.  MtDNA analysis indicates his genetic heritage is 98 % Iberian (his herd was really isolated).  Measurement is 6.5 inches.

- Raffiki is a 5-year old, 17 plus hand Dutch warmblood.  Measurement is 8 inches.

- Sunny is a 12-year old, 16 plus hand Quarterhorse.  Measurement is 6 3/4 inches.  He hasn't been worked regularly now so he is not in as muscled up as normal.

So my experience with saddle fitting for Icelandics may be limited to those I have met.  Other Icey owners, do you agree with what I have found?  Or do you have different experiences with saddle fit?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Blessi's Sire Jarl frá Búðardal

I just found this video of Blessi's sire Jarl frá Búðardal.  Jarl is the older horse standing on a lead line while the gaits of one of his offspring is featured during a stallion showcase in Denmark.  Jarl, exported from Iceland to Sweden, is a popular sire in that country.

The featured horse being ridden looks and moves just like Blessi when he was younger.  I love those flashy chestnuts.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Icelandics and Anthrozoology

Carroll College in Montana is one of the first institutions to offer a degree in anthrozoology which is the study of how animals and people relate.  Per the college website, "The Anthrozoology major explores the unique relationship between humans and animals. By increasing our knowledge about this bond and by assessing how animals enrich our lives, we can improve the quality of life for both humans and animals. "

Students can specialize in either cannine or equine assisted-learning.  On the equine side, they "explore the horse-human relationship and the scientific evidence of its contribution to psychological, physical, and spiritual well-being. Anthrozoology students learn the historic to modern implications of the horse-human relationship and are broadly exposed to the field of equine assisted activities and therapies (EAAT). "


Dr. Ann Perkins founded this program.  The first animals to be used in the program were two Icelandic horses. As she explains why she selected Icelandics, " I love them for our purposes because they are small and safe and ideal for students who have no prior experience with horses or are uncomfortable around intimidating horses.” 


A student Lia Weber partnered with an Icelandic horse named Socrates or Socs to determine if horses could be trained to detect clove work in a scent work experiment.  On her blog she describes, Socs as "Socs is a 20-year old short and fuzzy Icelandic Horse. He's opinionated and lazy. He's slow-moving and super sweet. He's also quite food motivated, so I figured Scentwork wouldn't be a problem for him to learn. " 


Of course Socs was able to learn this activity and here is the video to prove it.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Riding in Iceland in 1100 AD

Blessi and I attended a local Society for Creative Anachronism tournament.   My persona Jófriđr Mánadőttir is a woman living in Iceland around 1100 AD. I finally tried riding in my Norse woman's costume (which is historically suggestive by not historically accurate).  Because I am a klutz, I have taken off the turtle brooches with glass beads and the apron that should cover the outfit.  I am also wearing pants for modesty reason when mounting and dismounting Blessi.  Norse women, other than Breeches-Aud, did not wear pants.

Note that the tents that we are riding past are historically accurate Norse tents.  I am especially proud of Blessi.  A new obstacle was carrying two short javelins and throwing them in sequence through hoops covered in paper (see photo to left).  Blessi was probably the only horse who had no reaction to the paper tearing.

For those of you who are interested, here is a great site about Norse clothing, including some beautiful examples of hand made reproductions.  References about clothing from the sagas are included.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Camping in the Mountains of Norway with Icelandics

This video shows campers riding Icelandics through the Rondane Mountain Range in Norway to Tydal in August.  It looks like fun!!!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Icelandics Running the Keyhole

It is hard to find videos of Icelandics participating in Western games.  Here are some Icelandics competing against the big horses in the key hole event.  As the poster notes, these "ponies" came in the top three in most events at this Western fun day.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Blessi Runs the Barrels for the First Time

Jessy has been teaching Blessi to neck rein.  To further advance the training, Jessy barrel raced Blessi at the local saddle club.  I have always walked the barrels with Blessi.  As for out times, let's just say that the mother leading her child on a lead line beat our times.

With Jessy,  Blessi's lowest time was 28 seconds--not nearly fast enough to win the jackpot but not bad for an 18-year old horse.
You can also see the plantation style saddle that was custom made to fit Blessi.  Unfortunately, all off-the- shelf Western saddles that I tried on Blessi were too narrow for this boulder shoulders.  His gullet measurement is 8.5 inches.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Reason Why Icelandics Remind Me of Andalusians

When I went on riding holiday in Spain and met Andalusians for the first time (see above video that I shot of Andalusian stallion at Epona riding center near Seville, Spain), they seemed to be slightly similar to Icelandics in build and personality.  I don't mean any sharp similarities--just a hint, a soupcon, a trace.  In the April 2014 edition of Equus magazine, Dr. Deb Bennett contributed a fantastic article on "The Origin of Horse Breeds," in which she summarizes the latest morphological, zoogeological,  historical and genetic research about horse breed.

Around 10,000 years ago during the last Ice Age, there were four primary ancestors of modern horse breeds distributed across the world.  These subspecies were:
- Central European (equus caballus mosbachensis)
- Draft (equus caballus caballus)--which Dr. Deb calls a "pony/draft"
Afro-Turkic (equus caballus pumpelli)
- Tarpan (equus caballus ferus)

The drawings of these subspecies are derived from sketches by the German researcher Ernst Trumler who reconstructed what the appearance of these Ice Age horses from skeletons.   To me, the Equus caballus caballus looks  like a nice looking Icelandic.  

During the Ice Age, Equus caballus caballus was native to what is now Spain, western France, Scandinavia, extreme north of Germany, and British Islands.  DNA studies show that offshoots of Equus caballus caballus can be grouped into:
- northern draft group 1 (Mongolian, tuva, Fjord, Icelandic, Shetland, miniature, etc)
- northern draft group 2 (New Forest, Exmoor, Belgian, Percheron, Fell, Clydesdale, Shire, etc.
- southern draft and Hispano-American derivatives (Andalusian, Lusitano, Mangalarga Paulist, Peruvian Paso, etc.)

So Andalusians and Lusitanos are descended from the same subspecies Equus caballus caballus as Icelandics with both breeds having genetic input from different breeds based on history and breeders' desires. The Andalusians/Lusitanos are relatedm but not as closely as the average person would think, to the Arabian  and AKhal Teke which are derived from the Afro-Turkic (equus caballus pumpelli) subspecies.  So when I say that Icelandics remind me Andalusians what I am responding to are those draft/pony markers coming down from Equus caballus caballus.

There is an interesting connection between Icelandics and Thoroughbreds.  Per Dr. Bennett's chart of "Input from History,"  "Horses of hobby extraction taken from Dublin, Ireland, to Iceland" (p. 58).  A hobby was a small, racking or pacing horse.  (Per my research for an article on Ambling Horses in the Middle Ages, Henry VIII maintained a stable of Irish and native racing hobbies.)  The English thoroughbred are derived from native stock, including hobbies, with a lot of outcrossing to Arabians and some other breeds.  I have to admit that TBs have never reminded me of Icelandics.

I highly recommend this article by Dr. Bennett.  It makes fascinating reading.