Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What is the Market for Horse Pants

In this video, Jimmy Kimmel makes a pitch to the Shark Tank folks for a new business idea.  My favorite style is Spanx since, let's face it, Icelandics sometimes need a bit of fluff control.  In fact, Blessi and I could wear matching Spanx.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Grágás or Gray Goose laws referring to horses

My previous post referred to the commonly held but false belief that Iceland banned the import of horses around 1000 AD to prevent the spread of disease into the herds.  In reality such a law was not passed until 1882.

An ivory Lewis Chessman or knight
depicted as mounted Viking
warrior--dated 12th century

I thought it might be interesting to look at what the laws in Iceland  related to horses were around 1000 AD.  Grágás or the Gray Goose Laws are the early laws dating from the founding of the Althing in 930 to the assumption of sovereignty over Iceland by the Norwegian king in 1262.   Originally the speaker of the Althing recited one third of the laws at each yearly session.   Current knowledge of the Gray Goose laws comes from two small incomplete volumes Konungsbók written down around 1260 and Staðarhólsbók written around 1280; laws from these books may compliment each other, support, or even contradict.  Below is a partial listing of the laws related to horses.

  • A heir for inherited property was regarded as mentally incompetent if he could not identify the front versus the back of a trough-saddle or type of wooden saddle.
  • A husband had to provide his wife with a fit horse if they were riding to a meeting with the Archbishop, regardless of which spouse initiated the meeting
  • Mounting and riding a horse without the owner's permission called for major outlawry.
  • If a man hires a horse to ride to the assembly and it gets galled, the horse has to be rested for two weeks.
  • If a man shakes a rattle at another man's horse at a baiting while that man is on an assembly trip and the rattle scares the horse, the law calls for lesser outlawry.  If not on an assembly journey there is a fine.
  • Docking a stud horse's tail calls for lesser outlawry.   Docking the tail of horse travelling to an Assembly or a wedding is lesser outlawry.  Docking a tail and touching bone is lesser outlawry.  Otherwise docking a tail is a fine of three marks. 
  • Wounding a horse with no harm is a four ounce fine.  Wounding a horse with over five ounces worth of damage is lesser outlawry.
  • Men of a household are to provide their own horses if they have them; otherwise the house owner is to provide horses if they go to assembly.
  • If a man owns woodland on another's property, he may not keep horses there overnight.
Early Icelanders valued their horses, viewing them as major assets related to their personal honor.  However, I would like to point out that there is no mention of a law that bans the import of horses.

Monday, February 23, 2015

No law banning the import of horses to Iceland until 1882

Catherine Hapka, author of Elska, Horse Diaries, ends her book with "More About the Icelandic Horse."  She states that "Even today, Icelandics are the only breed of horse in Iceland.  In fact, it is forbidden by law to bring horses into the country...This law has been in existence since around the year AD 900...."

Accck!!! I don't know how many times I have read statements like this on farm websites or in magazine articles.   Bjőrnsson and Sveinsson in their 400-plus page book The Icelandic Horse state: 
"As far as is known, importing horses into Iceland was not forbidden until 1882, when a law was passed banning the importation of foreign farm animals.  Outside Iceland, many people seem to believe that Icelanders banned the import of horses in the Commonwealth period, but both historians and specialists in legal history agree that there are no sources to confirm that belief."

The authors go on to explain that horses weren't imported because there was no need and there was decreased ship traffic between Iceland and Europe after the 1200s.  In the 1920s, a Norwegian Fjord stallion was brought to an island off the coast of Reykjavik to breed to some mares but the offspring were not regarded as good enough to continue the experiment.  Both sire and offspring were sent abroad and not brought into Iceland proper.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Elska--Horse Diaries Book Review

My niece MacKenzie can read simple books on her own so I am looking for  books about Icelandic horses that she might enjoy.  Of course I want to inoculate her with the Icelandic horse bug as soon as possible.

Amma is a girl who lives in Iceland around 1000 AD.  She has a special relationship with Elska, a silver dapple filly born on her family's farm.  As Elska develops into quite a fast pace racer, the story revolves around if Amma how can keep this talented horse when racers are valued gifts to local powerful men.

This is a cute story.  I loved the illustrations of Icelandics and people attired in historic Norse garb.  I was amused that the riders were depicted in s-shaped safety stirrups--pretty sure that this is not period.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Riding to Valhalla--The Vendel Bridle Reconstruction

My latest project is the reconstruction of a Vendel bridle from grave # 3, boat burial of a male, Sweden circa 700s.  Three horses were also found with the burial. The original bridle mounts were enameled metal.  I attempted to cut and gild and tool leather to simulate the bridle mounts.  

As you can see by the picture of Blessi, the side pieces are a bit too long and the bit is clanking on his teeth.  I took a quick picture while the poor boy was being so good.  He got some dried blueberries as a reward.  The bridle will be adjusted.

If you look closely at the original enamel mounts, you will notice that the bit is composed of entwined serpents and the rein attachment is a serpent's head and the brow band is covered by pairs of entwined serpents, which seems odd for a horse bridle.  I was curious so I did some research.

Here is my speculation.  Please take it for what it is worth--a non-scholar doing 15 minutes of google research. I could only find two references to a Norse entity using a bridle/reins made of serpents.   
In the myth about the death of  Baldur (I highly recommend reading Nancy Brown's Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths to understand this story in its wider context and the contribution of Snorri Sturluson of Iceland since I am only relating the part referring to  reins made of serpents), the Norse gods in their grief stowed so much treasure on Baldur's funeral ship Hringhorni that nobody, not even Odin or Thor, could push the ship into the sea.  

What is believed to be Hyrrokking on
the runestone from Hunnestad Monument
in Sweden.  Uploaded to Wikipedia
by Hedning. 

The immensely strong giantess Hyrrokkin was summoned from Jotunhein to help.  She arrived riding a gigantic wolf controlled by reins made of serpents. ("Troll-woman's horse" is a kenning or poetic reference frequently used by the Norse to mean "wolf.")  She pushed the ship into the sea causing the earth to quake.   Thor wanted to kill Hyrrokkin but the other gods otherwise persuade him.

You can read the full myth on Nancy's blog God of Wednesday.

God of Wednesday: Seven Norse Myths We Wouldn’t Have Without Snorri: Part VII

In the poem about Helgi Hiorvardson, Hedin is traveling at Yule time and meets a troll-wife riding a wolf with serpent reins who demands that Hedin "attend" her.  Hedin refuses so she curses him.  

So considering the relationship of Hyrrokkin riding a wolf to Baldur's funeral and launching the funeral ship, I am wondering if a craftsman made the bridle mounts specifically as grave goods.  Such a bridle would be perfect for the warrior to ride to the feasting halls after sailing to Valhalla. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Icelandic horses used by reindeer herders in Alaska

Based on Alys Culhanes' new, yet to be published book, I became aware that Icelandic horses are used to herd domestic reindeer in Alaska.  After some on-line research, I came across the fascinating study "Performance of Icelandic Horses in North-west Alaska" by W. Collins and J. Brooks published in December 1984 in Rangelands 6(6) pp. 253-256.

As early as 1929, A. Porsild recommended using Icelandic horses to help grow a reindeer industry due to their thrifty nature and cold weather tolerance.  "To a future reindeer industry, [Icelandic] ponies should prove a factor of great importance and would make herding much easier and more attractive." (p. 254)  Porsild claimed that the Icelandic horse would need no more care than reindeer and could eat the same thing.

It wasn't until 50 years later in 1982 that NANA (a native Alaskan corporation) purchased a mare and seven geldings to help with the summer herding of reindeer.  NANA is located in Kotzebue, Alaska, which is 30 miles north of the Arctic Circle.  Over the years, Alaskans had discovered that maintaining large horses over the winter was too cost prohibitive considering the feed and care that they needed so NANA decided to experiment with Icelandic horses.

Use of Icelandic horses was expected to enable the herders to keep up with the herd, cross streams impassible to ATVs or snowmobiles, and enable the rider to have a broader perspective from horseback.  "NANA's 8 horses exhibited amazing resiliency in their response to stress and work into which they were thrust immediately following their purchase..." (p. 254). The horses were calm and relatively unstressed by their long trip to Kotzebue involving both truck transportation and a flight and then 180-mile trek to the herding area.  During the trek, the horses lived off forage and a daily feeding of 7.5 lbs of barley.  Initially the horses were worked heavily on a daily basis but it was soon discovered that they could not maintain condition under this work load.

The native herders found that unlike larger breeds, the smaller Icelandics were able to navigate the boggy marshy tussocks.  More importantly, they were able to adapt to herders who for the most part had no riding experience.  The horses could even tolerate the barrage of mosquitoes usually with the help of repellent.  Observation showed that the Icelandics would eat a much wider range of tundra vegetation than other breed and their energy requirements were 20 % less than other breeds, a fact of which the researchers were initially skeptical.  In the summer, the horses needed additional zinc and copper provided through mineralized salt.  Other vitamins such as D, B12, and thiamine were believed to be sufficiently provided by year round grazing.

Moved to the Baldwin pennisula for the winter, the Icelandics were able to survive mostly on tundra grazing with some recommended protein supplements.  The horses were observed foraging in up to 20 inches of snow with wind levels averaging 10 to 20 miles an hour and temperatures from 0 to -30F.  When the ground next to the forage froze to the point where the Icelandics could no longer paw through, they were fed supplemental hay of about 9 lbs per day.  Pregnant mares would of course require more hay.

As Gunnar Bjarnason, an Icelandic expert about these horses commented:
 ""There are many incredible things about our unique horse which are difficult to understand and accept in the beginning.  Perhaps the most surprising characteristics of this horse are its ability to utilize tundra vegetation as its principal source of food year-round and to remain fit in the arctic environment with minimal energy and protein supplementation. It is a willing servant in terrain and conditions where most other breeds are reluctant to go or unable to perform. These characteristics, alone, command the attention
of individuals considering the acquisition of horses for use in tundra regions. Add to the above that the lcelandic horse can provide far more years of service than other breeds, and it becomes apparent that their purchase may be economically justified for many purposes." (p. 256)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

SleighRide with Reindeer

While researching an article on the Icelandic horses used by the native Alaskans to herd reindeer, I found the weird and fantastical video of sleigh ride with reindeer.  It reminds me of footage from the first Chronicle of Narnia movie in which Edmund meets the White Witch Jadis for the first time.

Friday, February 6, 2015

The 2015 Icelandic Horse World Championship--More Preparation

VM Herning, the media group in charge in building interest in this event, is doing a great job as shown by this promotional video.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Preparing for the 2015 World Championships

In the following video Icelandic horse riders from around the world--Denmark, Norway, Faroe Islands--talk about how they are preparing for this year's Iceland Horse World Championships.