Thursday, October 30, 2014

Cat Communication--Saying I love you

Reading your cat's facial expression is probably harder than reading what your horse is trying to tell you.  Jackson Galaxy, host of the TV show My Cat from Hell, works with troubled cats and their owners.  In this video, he coaches you in how to communicate with your cat using their language.  I knew about the slow blink as a kitty signal for "I love you" but the rest of it was a surprise to me.  I am off to practice "How you doing" and the "slow bow" with my cats.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A horse walks into a police station and....

This is not the start of a bad joke.....Early one morning a horse walked into the Cheshire Constabulary Headquarters in Winsford, England. As he walked through the automatic doors, the horse startled an officer.  A policeman escorted the horse back to his field located across from the police station.  "Police Superintendent Peter Crowcroft released this statement: "We were somewhat saddled with our unexpected guest, who in the early hours of the morning quickly became the mane event of the night shift. ... At neigh point did the horse pose a risk to security."

Perhaps this horse, like Blessi, was just looking for some doughnuts.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Teaching a Dog to Ride an Icelandic

Ok, I taught Mittens the cat to ride Blessi--or she taught herself. I am glad other people do weird and wonderous things with their Icelandics.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Icelandics Work Cows--in Germany

Blessi loves working cows.  It looks like his cousins in Germany do also.  I love the working the calves through an obstacle course segment at the end of the video--train your horse and your cows at the same time.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Monty Roberts Round Pens Lauki

In my posting on October 10, I discussed some of the new research on round penning for dominance and how if done it certain ways exert too much pressure on the horse and needlessly frighten it--a method that does not work well with many Icelandics.  You can use the link below to view a video of Monty Roberts working with Lauki, an Icelandic horse that is difficult to catch. (I can't embed the video since the embed feature has been turned off.)

Before watching this video, PLEASE TURN OFF THE SOUND so you can evaluate what the trainer is doing without being distracted by what he is telling you he is doing.  Some questions to ask yourself:

- What is happening 21 seconds into the video?  Is Lauki ready to "join up?"  Did that big hand motion from Roberts drive him away?

- At minute 1:03, why did Roberts make that huge body motion?

- Starting at minute 1:45, Roberts starts tossing his rope at Lauki.  Is that too much pressure or just the right amount of pressure?  How is Lauki reacting?

- Around minute 3:45, Roberts tones down his body language and becomes much more inviting.  How is Lauki reacting?  Would this type of body language have worked as well with some carrots?

 It important for the owners of the Icelandic horse, or any horse for that manner, to understand how round penning is being used as a tool and why a horse is responding—is it due to positive reinforcement, release from pressure, or avoidance of fear.  

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Problem with Round Penning

In the above video, researchers worked with the pony Myff to join up with the radio-controlled car by using rewarding her for not running away from the car.

Experiment 1:
In a repeat of the experiment with Blessi, he at first stared
at the car .  Due to  experimenter error, I had not tested
the car on the tarp and it simply spun in place.
Round penning is a method used by many natural horsemanship trainers in which a horse is driven forward around a round pen at multiple gaits.  Monty Roberts is world renowned for his Join-Up® technique.  Based on years of observation of horse behavior, Roberts works with a horse in the round pen and uses his body language to drive the horse away, just like a dominant horse.  When the horse exhibits signs that he is willing to cooperate, Roberts adapts his body position to encourage the horse to approach him and create a human-horse bond.  Some recent research has called into question the dynamics of this process.

Experiment 1:
This did turn out to be a good lesson on tarp
desensitization as the win and Blessi moved
the tarp around.
Researchers at the University of Sydney developed an experiment in which a remote controlled toy car was used in place of a trainer in a round pen.  When the horse stopped moving away from the toy car, it was rewarded by having the toy car stop following it.  By using the remote-controlled toy car to apply or take away pressure, the researchers were able to train the horse to approach the car—hence “mimicking” the human bonding process of Join-Up®.  Since no human-horse bond was possible, the experiment demonstrates that the horse responds due to operant conditioning and not from the creation of a human bond through the use of equine body language. 

Experiment 2:
I put the radio-controlled car on a rug with some
traction.  Blessi quckly was very interested
in how the car moved.
As Cath Henshall (University of Sydney) states, "Put simply, pressure-release works because the horse finds the pressure applied unpleasant and therefore the removal of the pressure rewarding… Although neither Monty Roberts' method nor ours uses pressure applied directly to the horse's body, both apply a form of emotional pressure by scaring and then chasing the horse.  Our results indicate that because these methods rely on fear and safety, the horse is forced to choose between being repeatedly frightened or remaining with the trainer. We question whether it is humane to rely on fear and its termination to train horses."  

Experiment 2:
Blessi thought the car was great fun and even
pushed it with his nose when it stopped moving.
In a discussion about round penning and the Icelandic horse on the International Icelandic Horse Yahoo Group (IIHYG), list posters gave examples of some of the draw backs of using escalating pressure in a round pen with Iceland horses.  Many of them, myself included, have had problems round penning Icelandic horses using too much pressure.  Another set of researchers, Koster D, Wegert AC, et al. (2009), also looked at round penning to see how much horses exhibit chase-and-bond behavior among themselves  They put mares and their offspring into a round pen to see how often the mare "round penned" her offspring.  Very little of such behavior was observed.  From the center of the round pen, mares chased offspring for about .27 % of the test period, which works out to 3.9 minutes in a 24-hour period.   Mares tended to pursue colts more than fillies.  : "The results of this and other studies have shown that the responses elicited from human-horse interactions in round-yards are not reflected in horse-horse interactions."  

The round pen is just a tool and not all trainers use the round pen in the same way.  As the Natural Horsemanship trainer John Lyons (2006) states, “Training in a round pen means different things to different people, and there are plenty of misconceptions about it.  The reality is that there’s no mystical connection with a horse in the round pen.  A round pen is simply a corral without corners.” Lyons recommends uses the round pen to teach the horse specific cues such as go to the left or go to the right —not for running the horse around until it is tired. 
Experiment 2:
I put a carrot on top of the car.  Blessi "bonded"
with the car and started following it
around as it moved.

As Josh Nichol elucidates, “...the first thing folks should work on in the round pen is understanding their horse's thoughts. Unfortunately, a great many people have been taught that the first thing you do in the round pen is ‘show the horse who's boss’ by forcing the horse's body to do various movements. This completely ignores the brain of the horse, shuts him out of any conversation, and often leads to a frightening and exhausting experience for him. …All of this is exactly the opposite of what I want to be in my horse's mind. I want my horse to know that he has the freedom to try to find the right answer when I ask a question, and that even if he doesn't get it right immediately, that's truly okay. I want him to know that if I use any pressure, it is only to help guide him towards the right answer - something horses really do understand.”

The International Icelandic Horse Yahoo Group (IIHYG) posters went on to discuss other methods that work well with Icelandics such as clicker training and using a round pen as a guide to shape horse movement both inside and outside the pen.  As this discussion demonstrates, it important for the owners of the Icelandic horse, or any horse for that manner, to understand how round penning is being used as a tool and why a horse is responding—is it due to positive reinforcement, release from pressure, or avoidance of fear.  As Koster D, Wegert AC, et al. (2009) summarize their research on round penning, “The welfare of horses being subjected to round-yard training methods may often be jeopardized by trainers having unrealistic expectations based on incorrect assumptions that the behavior exhibited mimics that of the horse-horse interactions in more natural environments.” 

You can join the International Icelandic Horse Yahoo Group at:

Koster D, Wegert AC, et al. (2009).  Training horses in round-yards 2.  Proceedings of the Fifth International Equitation Science Symposium, Sydney

Lyons, J., & Gallatin, M.  (2006)  Connecting in the Round Pen, Perfect Horse, Volume 11, No. 7.

Nichols, J. (n.d.) The Round Pen: It's The Thought that Counts” available at:
University of Sydney. (July 13, 2012).  Researchers urge rethink of 'Monty Roberts' horse training method, Found at

University of Sydney. (July 13, 2012).  Researchers urge rethink of 'Monty Roberts' horse training method, Found at

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Icelandic Horses as Music Critics

Emilia Neuvonen plays the violin beautifully for her audience of Icelandic horses.  However, they seem to be very picky music critics that day.

Emilia Neuvonen - violin for the horses from Mikkel deMib Svendsen on Vimeo.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Gathering the Herd in the Highlands in Iceland

Each year in Iceland, farmers send their horse to the highlands to graze for the summer like wild horses on the US ranges.  In the fall, the farmers and interested tourists go round up the horses.  The celebration involves song, beer, and horses.  In this video, you will see some of the spectacular scenery and understand why many Iceland-bred Icelandics don't have problems with water crossing.  I am also amazed at how calm Icelandics tend to be in large groups.  At some of the stables where I have boarded Blessi, I have felt threatened by the crowding, biting, kicking and dominance games that go on with other breeds while waiting at the gate.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Blessiblog article used in Wikipedia article on Icelandic horse

Snap shot of Wikipedia page
Wikipedia now lists my article on the Detecting Icelandic Horse Origins, which summarizes historical sources, mtDNA research, and literary references on the topic,  as Reference 18 in their  item on the Icelandic horse.  I am very flattered that the editors found the researched information useful. Interestingly, Reference 18 points to my article that is published on the home web site of the Nortland breed society in Norway.   I originally wrote the article for the USIHC quarterly and the Nortland breed society kindly forwarded a picture of Nortland horses to us.  It seems sad that the easiest way to access this article is through another web page of another breed rather than through an Icelandic horse source.

You can read my article via the following link:

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Gaits of Horses on the Bayeux Tapestry

This Bayeux Tapestry panel illustrates Guy de Ponthieu surrendering Harold to William Soon-to-be-the-Conqueror.  Harold rides a mare with the ears of a mule (barded in blue).  Riding a prancing stallion, William faces Harold.  Embroidery, circa 1070. From 
Interpreting the “story of the horse” as told by its depiction in medieval art, one needs to consider the horse as a cultural emblem or signifier within the world view of that time.  The Bayeux Tapestry, illustrating key events leading up to the Norman invasion of Britain led by Duke William II of Normandy, was stitched in th 1070s AD. Horses are prominently featured on the Bayeux tapestry.  Robinson (n.d.) analyzes the gaits and sex of the equids depicted in this tapestry.  She counts 160 equid bodies (includes  mules and mythical winged horses) and 38 horse heads with an additional 10 horses in the upper and lower borders.  The majority of the horses are male: 66% stallions, 19% geldings, 8 % mares, 7 % cannot differentiate.   Gaits represented are: walk 23.1 %, trot 1.8 %, gallop 66.6%, amble 3.7%, and unknown 4.6%.  The preponderance of male horses and galloping horses serves to underline the military nature of much of the story told by the tapestry and purveys important information about their riders.

Keffer (2011) analyzes the gender, type, and other details of the horses shown on the tapestry to propose that these details are “formulaic rather than representational” (p. 95).  The horses ridden by key figures shift in both gender and type.  For example, in the panel where Guy de Ponthieu captures Harold, Harold is riding a stallion but in a later panel where Guy hands Harold over to William, Harold’s mount is a mare with the head and neck of a mule, as shown in Figure 8.  “If this shift is formulaic rather than representational, then it indicates ranked status within the Norman hierarchy, with Guy’s mount inferior by both breed and gender to William’s great stallion which prances…” (Keffer, 2011, p. 95). 

Keffer (2011) goes on to explain that Harold’s changing status can be accurately determined by examining his accouterments and horse. At the height of his accomplishments, Harold is mounted on a stallion, wears spurs, and carries a hawk.  Reduced social status is indicated when he rides a gelding; an even more reduced status, when he is shown mounted on a mare.  Wearing spurs can signify either “warrior’s pride” and/or the ability to ride away to freedom.  In most of the panels, Harold carries a hawk which reinforces his social position as a noble.  By learning to read "horse,"  one can understand a lot more of the underlying story behind medieval art.

Keffer, S.  (2005).  Body language: a graphic commentary by the horses of the Bayeux Tapestry.  In G. Owen-Crocker (Ed.), King Harold II and the Bayeux tapestry (pp. 93-108).  Suffolk, UK: Boydell Press.
Robinson, P.  (n.d.)   Le cheval dans la tapisserie de Bayeux.  Retrieved December 5, 2013, from

Monday, October 13, 2014

Manolo Mendez Meets an Icelandic Horse for the First Time

Several years ago, I took my Icelandic horse Blessi (Veigar frá Búðardal) to a clinic given in the US by Manolo Mendez, one of the former chief riders of the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art.  I finally got around to applying for permission from Manolo Mendez to post an excerpt from the session.  What does one of one of the former chief riders of the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art think of the first Icelandic horse he ever gets to work with?

For more information about Manolo Mendez you can go to his web site and Facebook page at:

For folks like me who cannot duplicate Manolo's experience and timing for in-hand exercises, you can get some of the same benefit by performing the Tteam and/Connected Riding exercises.  Books like Connect with Your Horse from the Ground up by Peggy Cummings or books by Linda Tellington-Jones present exercises like (and I hope I remember the right name) "comb the reins" in which you can get the hind leg to come under the horse.

The video also says a lot about the Icelandic horse temperament.  What you can't see in the video is about 50 people in the arena watching from about 20 feet away plus all the activity of a busy barn happening on either side of the arena.  

You will find that his observations very much reflect those written  by the Polish explorer  Charles Edmond in Voyage dans les Mers du Nord à bord de la Corvette la Reine Hortense, published in 1857 :

"Icelandic horses are small, but hardy; they are, in addition, endowed with of all the qualities needed to cope with the fantastical terrain of their homeland. When faced with a river, since no bridges exist in Iceland nor, for the same reason, does Iceland have thoroughfares or carriages, the horse, nostrils flaring as if in a race, throws itself into the water and swims across. When it is necessary to climb a mountain, the Icelandic horse scrambles through the lava fields; it picks its way through the loose rocks; it finds firm footing through the marsh. After descending to the plain, the horse resumes his ambling step, which is as fast as our post horses. Powerfully built, it is more intelligent than man in doing his job. During dangerous passages, the horse resists the rider if he gives an ill advised command; the horse follows his instincts because his instincts are true."  (I translated from the French)

I think it is important to remember that the Icelandic horse makes a superb leisure horse because of its origin and we should not lose sight of this in all the emphasis on competition horses (not that a competition horse can't be a great trail horse also).

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Blessi Jousts for the first time

Blessi and I have been attending SCA tournaments for two years so Blessi has experience competing at the quintain and other games that lead up to the joust.  I always ride Blessi at a walk.  Lord Ivan rode Blessi in the Empris, a tournament set up under the rules of a treatise written by Rene D'Anjou.

Here is Blessi's first attempt at a joust and his first attempt at carrying a rider wearing armor after a 5-minute prep time.   Blessi is such a good pony and Lord Ivan rode him well against the much bigger horses.  Lord Ivan was able to shatter 5 out of 6 tips.  Note the lance tips are made of styrofoam.

Here is a link to the Barony of Madrone Jousting Guidelines.

A critical attribute of the jousting horse is that the rider can rate the horse's speed so that the opponents meet at the center of the list.  The horse must be calm enough to slow down after impact and willing to turn around the list for the next run.  Lord Ivan was very pleased with Blessi, who often gifted Lord Ivan with a tolt as he slowed down from a canter to a walk so Lord Ivan did not bounce. An associate of the Seattle Knights, a professional jousting group, even complimented Blessi on his performance.  Go Blessi!  Go Icelandics!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

How to Translate Blessiblog from Albanian to Zulu

Check out the new page "Velkomin, Bienvenu--How to translate Blessiblog" displayed above  for directions on how to translate this or any post into over 70 languages thanks to Google's online translation feature.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Icelandic Land of Fire and Ice

Videos of modern Iceland often highlight the fantastic landscape--glaciers, volcanos, wind swept shores.  But Iceland has a vibrant cultural life, a solid fishing industry, hydroelectric and geothermal power generation, and much more.  This three-minute video manages to get in everything from the artic fox to gourmet cuisine to the sagas.  What is interesting is how often the Icelandic horse appears in the video.  I want to book my tickets to Reykjavik now!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

20 Amazing Photos of Icelandic Horses by Guðleifsdóttir

Rebekka Guðleifsdóttir loves to photograph the Icelandic horse in its native habitat.  As she states, "“I have a constant need to illustrate how i see the world. My camera is my paintbrush and canvas. To hear that my work brings joy to others makes me feel quite blessed.”  You can view 20 of her breathtaking photos at:

My favorite are the winter scenes.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Icelandic Horses in Secret Life of Walter Mitty

I just finished watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, an enjoyable film that celebrates the secret, internal  fantasy life that we all have yet encourages us to make our dreams turn into reality.  Without going into the plot details, Walter, played by Ben Stiller, has to track down a misplaced negative, which is suppose to be on the cover of the last edition of Life magazine, by tracing the travels of the photographer Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn) to Greenland, Iceland, Afghanistan, and the Himalayas.

Right after the

At one point, an Afghan warlord stabs a piece of Clementine cake baked by Walter's mother, the camera pulls back and we see the warlord and his men seated on their mountain horses.  "Hum, those horses look like Icelandics but what are Icelandic horses doing in Afghanistan?," I think to myself.  So I went to the internet to look up the locations used for filming.  Per Wikipedia:

"The portions of the film set in Nuuk, Greenland, were in fact shot in Stykkishólmur, a village on the Snæfellsnes peninsula in Iceland, and Höfn, a village in southeast Iceland. Later sequences set in Stykkishólmur were actually filmed in Seyðisfjörður. The sequences where Walter Mitty follows Sean to Afghanistan were also filmed in Iceland, at the Skogafoss waterfall and in Vatnajökull National Park."  Source:

So the horses really are Icelandics not really cute Afghan horses.  You can catch a glimpse of the Icelandic horses--actually just the tips of their ears--around minute 2:28 of the trailer above.

Aaron Sagers was inspired by the film to make his own trip to Iceland and re-create many of Walter's adventures.  You can read about it here:

Friday, October 3, 2014

Swedish Mounted Archery Team--Mostly Icelandics

Many Icelandics have a smooth canter--it may not always be the ideal, 3-beat desired in dressage but it is smooth.  And the Icelandic horse character tends to be very steady which makes an ideal combination for mounted archery.    Anders O Jönsson, 2012 Swedish mounted archery champion, and several of his teammates ride Icelandic horses.!sweden/caub

At the 2014  Grand Prix in Sweden shown in the video below, members of the team from Great Britain borrowed Icelandic horses from Anders.  Claire Sawyer (GB) wrote the following about riding her borrowed Icelandic mount "I did feel a little bit of a fraud since the arrow was in a stand on a step and my horse (not pony!) was only 12h2, there was only reaching out involved no requirement to hang off the horse  Nevertheless I was chuffed to pick the arrow each time and especially the time I hit the qabaq target too."

Thursday, October 2, 2014

What is Landsmót

Landsmot is the national Icelandic horse competition held in Iceland.  Since no horses can enter Iceland, competition is limited (if one can say that about the national Icelandic horse competition) to horses in Iceland. Lansmot is held in even numbered years and the World Championships for Icelandic horses is held in Europe in add numbered years.  And yes, the US has been sending both riders and horses to the WC for several years now.
Here is a link to information about the 2014 Landsmot.

I am not sure why the gentlemen are riding without shirts in the video below.  Perhaps it was a bet.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Oh the Adventures You will Have with an Icelandic Horse

In preparation for the pig sticking, I am twisting the lance so I can
hold it safely and not break a bone when I hit the pig.  By
Blessi's look of long suffering, you can also see me bop my
head--which I managed to do twice.
Traveling with Blessi is like going on a road trip with a zany comedian or a carload of intelligent children.   You never know what he is going to do. Last weekend during the tournament, Blessi did some of his typical Blessi actions.

On Friday, I had just moved Blessi into his stall and I was off loading additional gear.  A gentleman walked up and said he needed some horse urine or camel urine for a ceremony from his native country.  Now in SCA many people are familiar with uses of urine in the Middle Ages from softening leather to making dye to creating medicines.  Several of us agreed to try and help.  As we waited for Blessi, the man helped me with putting up stall decorations.  But it seems a watched gelding never drops and we could not help him out.

On Saturday, Blessi continued in his vikingr mode, by trying to steal things.  Lord Ivan who was sitting on Blessi on the track so I started a conversation with him.  As we conversed, Blessi reached over the fence and picked up a bright pink lance (why the bright pink one) in his mouth.  He really wanted that lance and I had to remove it carefully so I didn't have to sand out tooth marks for the lance owner.

A friend asked me if Blessi accosted women.  Puzzled, I shook my head and asked what did Blessi do.  "Oh, he put his head down my shirt and nuzzled my bra."  I had to explain that he has done that in the past and he seems to select only women that laugh at the behavior.  "He is fascinated with the bow on the bra," I explained as  the guys standing around admired to themselves what Blessi could get away with.
On Sunday, I was cleaning the stall when somebody walks by and asks if I had found a croissant.  I said no and asked why she expected a croissant in Blessi's bedding.  Earlier that day, she was walking down the barn aisle with some stale pastries to dispose of when Blessi reached over the stall door and helped her dispose of a croissant.  I am sure that he would have been happy to help even more.

One of the obstacles during the Sunday tournament was to ride your horse up to 20 feet of the dragonhead mounted on a 10 foot pole.  Given two rocks, you threw the rocks and attempted to knock the dragonhead off the pole.  When I missed my second try more widely than the first, Blessi gave out this big sigh, at which point the ground crew doubled over in laughter.

As I was getting ready to load Blessi into the trailer for the trip home, a truck stopped behind me and a lady popped out.  Her dog absolutely loved horses, whined every time he saw one at a distance, and could he meet my horse.   I said yes and she kissed my cheek in thanks.  Off she ran to get her dog, a cocker spaniel.  We agreed that she would hold the dog and introduce him to Blessi.  The spaniel realizing the size of Blessi's head was a bit subdued but within minutes the little dog was happily licking Blessi all over his face. Blessi accepted the adulation as his due.  After a few minutes, the owner and her dog returned to their truck and we resumed the loading process.   I don't know what her husband the driver thought of this process but I bet it made for an interesting conversation.

And these are just the adventures with Blessi from three days.  Just think what a lifetime of these adventures with an Icelandic horse are like.