Friday, May 1, 2015

Heart and Soul--A Guest Post by Alys Culhane

Sometimes certain horses come into our live at opportune times.  And sometimes, these meetings are fleeting.  The trick is to make note of the fact that we are in the presence of a spirit that is the embodiment of heart and soul. 

Of course, we all think that our own horses are the most intelligent, loving, and caring animals in the whole world. If we don’t, we should.  Then too, we need to acknowledge that other people’s horses have the same characteristics.  I am not a parent, but I suspect that this is the same sort of deal. 

I went to Washington after being in California with a rather quirky goal in mind.  I wanted to meet Mr. Blessi, my friend Pam Nolf’s horse.  And of course, I wanted to meet Pam.  We were originally members of the Icelandic Horse Quarterly magazine editorial committee.  Her comments always struck me as being thoughtful and intelligent.  We struck up a conversation and since have been communicating on a near-daily basis.  I call her the inveterate researcher because this is what she is.  She told me about Synergist Saddles, and she helped my friends locate Skjoni, their Icelandic pony.  And she told Pete and I about the Port Lewis saddle fit pad company. 

I was as eager to meet Blessi as Pam, for she’d been saying many astute things about him.  Also, her training philosophy complemented mine. That is, learning should be fun for both the horse and rider.  I was fortunate in that I was able to spend several days in Pam’s company, and two days in Blessi’s company.

Blessi is, indeed, as Pam describes him, a truly wonderful horse and an exemplary representative of the Icelandic horse breed.  I was, when I first met Mr. Blessi, struck by the fact that he had a very kind and wise look in his eye. This became evident to me upon seeing him – and he was off at the distance in his pasture.  Huh, easily approachable I thought. I was right.  I was further impressed by his more outwardly physical attributes – he’s a good size riding horse, approximately 14 or so hands, well proportioned, and nicely coupled. He also has thick cannon bones, something that’s indicative of strength, and says Temple Gradin, calmness. 

I quickly deduced that Mr. Blessi has an old soul, meaning he is a very wise fellow. As Alisha, one of the other horse owners at the boarding stable where Blessi resides remarked “this is the sort of horse, who if he were human, would be the sort who you’d want to have a cup of coffee with.”

Both my visits with Mr. Blessi were lengthy; however, I suspended time, and for the most part was truly in the moment.  On day one Pam and I retrieved Blessi from his pasture, put him in the barn cross ties, and spent considerable time grooming him.  All the while he was quite content.  Pam rode him after he was tacked up, then asked me if I wanted to ride him.  I generally don’t ride other people’s horses, but I sensed that this was a very safe horse who watches out for his rider.  I was right.  I discovered that Mr. Blessi is the sort of horse who will give 100 percent if the rider gives the right cues.  And oh my, this horse had a trot to die for.  The impulsion was, as it should be, coming from the hindquarters.

After I rode a bit, Pam handed me a pole and taught me a bit about jousting. This is something that she and Blessi do routinely.  I discovered that this is way harder than it looks.  I trotted a bit with pole in hand. I can’t imagine doing this at the canter.  My respect for those who do this increased tenfold.  After, Pam handed me a bow and some arrows. At a walk, I took aim at the mounting block. Again, I could not imagine doing this at the canter.  I mean, holy crap – this requires skill and coordination, two things that I am sadly lacking.  Poor Mr. Blessi – I got the feeling that he would liked to have a rider on him who was more adept doing such things. 

I dismounted, and Pam then produced Blessi’s musical instruments.  These days, Pam is attempting to teach him to play the drums.  I suspect that it won’t be long before he gets the hang of this, for he is a very smart fellow.   We next moved on to pushing the barrel.  (This was my idea).  Blessi then taught me a valuable lesson, which is when working on this kind of thing, to take the horses’ interest into consideration.  A case in point. Blessi wanted to push the barrel around, and I wanted him to push it straight forward.  We met an impasse, and then called it good.  What I later realized was that he was trying hard to tell me that his alternative plan was acceptable.  He’d had these little furrows above his brow that I suspect mirrored his frustration. I vowed to someday make my inability to communicate up to him.

I was so enamored with Mr. Blessi that I wanted to spend more time with him.  I got what I wanted – Pam and I spent another wonderful morning with him prior to my heading home.  I again rode him. I have to say that my second ride was not up to par with my first.  This was mine, and not Blessi’s doing.  I later figured out that in fretting about my upcoming plane flight, that I was more tense than usual.  Nevertheless, Blessi tried really hard to do the right thing when Pam gave me an impromptu lesson on leg yielding.  As Pam rightly said he would have done as asked if I was doing things right.
The high point of my interactions with Mr. Blessi came at the near end of my visit.  I suggested to Pam that we go for a short trail ride. She agreed, and accompanied me and her horse.  It was on this ride, to and from some down-road property, that Mr. Blessi and I connected. He was like Raudi, attentive but not at all reactive. And he was the way Signy used to be – in balance in a way that endeared rider confidence.  And he was the way Mr. Siggi used to be – appreciative of the fact that he was on an outing on such a beautiful day.  Head up, ears pricked, he moved along at a brisk pace.  The entire time, he was focused and cognizant of the fact that he was carrying an unfamiliar rider. 

After, I wanted to keep riding.  Alas, I had to get going. 

In retrospect, my meeting Mr. Blessi was yet another in a series of life-changing experiences.  What I determined was that this horse is the quintessential Icelandic horse, that is what breeders should be striving to produce.  My concern is that many Icelandic horse breeders are putting a higher value on a differing type of horse, that is those that are slighter and more reactive, this for the purpose of selling them to people who are exclusively show-oriented. 


That I prefer horses that are like Mr. Blessi is not preference-related. Plain and simple, such horses are more versatile, and in being more versatile, are more healthy and more attuned to their owners, both mentally and physically.  In this respect, Pam’s horse is a good breed ambassador.  I came away from my visit with Blessi thinking that I will continue to promote this particular breed type.  Otherwise, the likes of Mr. Blessi will become one of a kind, making the horse world a much emptier place. 

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