Thursday, January 29, 2015

Perhaps an Icelandic used in Falconry

I am pretty sure that the above video features an Icelandic horse featured in a display of falconry.

Despite its obvious dangers, “Hunting, falconry and the tournament were major sporting activities claiming much royal and noble leisure time” Hyland (1999, p. 78).  In his survey of the medieval French romances, Faaborg (2006) finds “Les nobles s’occupent quasi exclusivement de leurs chevaux et, dans une moindre mesure, des chiens et des oiseaux de chasse, tandis que les roturiers tirent plus de profit des vaches, des brebis etc.[1] ” (p. 371).  The French romances frequently mention the hunt and specify the types of birds of prey used in this sport.  Historically, many monks and clerics also enjoyed hunting--sometimes to the neglect of their priestly duties.  In 1215, Pope Innocent III tried to prohibit monks from hunting as the Abbot of Cluny did his monks in 1310.  None of these and other attempts were successful. (Hyland, 1999)

[1] Translated by the author as “The noble deal almost exclusively with their horses and, to a lesser extent, dogs and birds in the hunt, while the commoners derive more profit from cows, sheep etc.”

Paging through art work and manuscripts created from 1150 to 1650, the author observed that most riders when hawking were mounted on ambling or galloping horses, as shown in below.  However, the author found, from time to time, a rider hunting on a trotting horse. 
Although numerous medieval authors wrote volumes about the art of hunting, the books focused more on selecting and training hounds and hawks than horses.  As Hyland (1999) notes, “The part the horse played in European and English hunting has to be extrapolated from accounts, poems, and contemporary illustrations of hunting and hawking.  In hunting treatises information on the hunting horse is scarce.  No doubt in nobles’ stables certain horses were valued for their performance in the field, but unlike today, where a hunter is a certain stamp of horse which does not exclude other suitable horses, medieval hunting horses were not specially designated.  The usual mount was the courser, swift and not too heavy, and the palfrey, elegant and comfortable” (p. 78).
De Angleria coats of arms in which the riders are mounted on ambling horses, carrying hawks and riding to hounds.  Insignia Neapolitanorum, - BSB Cod.icon. ca Italy, 1550s

Cummins (2003) notes that often the success of the hunt depends on the quality of the horse.  Below, he describes the horses shown in medieval paintings of the hunt and quotes some contemporary experts on their desired characteristics.
Those in the medieval miniatures…usually look smaller than a modern hunter, clean-legged and somewhat broad in the body and chest.  They had to be responsive to the bit, to avoid the dangers of tree branches and rocks, in any form of par force hunting, but in the boar-hunt, where accuracy of aim might be a matter of life and death, the great essential was a serene temperament.  “Hunters must have nothing to do with a nervous horse, for this is one of the worst faults that a hunting-horse can have,…for we would have been ten or a dozen times in danger of death had we been on a nervous horse, and we advise all hunters never to put themselves astride one;” so says John of Portugal.[1] (p.102)
Gace de la Vigne in Le Roman des Déduis describes three typical fourteenth century hunts of the French court.  In the third hunt, he notes that in flying sparrow hawks a hunter needs “a stout, steady-going horse, another in reserve, and four spaniels to quest and retrieve, two in the morning and two in the afternoon” (Cummins, 2003, p. 215).

Considering their temperaments, Icelandic horses should make very good mounts for this sport today.  If you watch the video at the beginning of this posting, I think there is an Icelandic horse featured.

Cummins, J.  (2003).  The art of Medieval hunting: The hound and the hawk.  Edison, NJ: Castle Books.
Hyland, A.  (1999).  The horse in the Middle Ages.  Sutton, England: History Press Limited.
Faaborg, J.  (2006).  Animaux domestiques dans la literature narrative française au Moyen Âge, Museum Tusculanum Press, Université de Copenhague.

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