Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Riding Icelandic Horses on the Beach in New Zealand

Ever want to ride Icelandic horses on the beach? Here's a twist--Inga Currey runs Icelandic horse treks near Christchurch, New Zealand. You can start watching the video at 15:10 minutes or you can start at the beginning and learn about farming and earth moving in rural New Zealand.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Canine Free Style that will save your life

Lusy Imbergerova
Lusy Imbergerova
Lusy Imbergerov
Lusy Imbergerov competes with her faithful canine Deril represent Italy in the 2016 World Dog Show in Moscow.  Their routine will both amaze you and make you cry!

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Killing of Basque Whalers in Iceland

Also there is a historic connection between Iceland and Basque. Basque whalers started coming to Iceland as early as the 1600s. They were also the victims of the only government sponsored mass murder in Icelandic history. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Pottok Ponies

If you are unfamiliar with the Pottok, this now rare pony is native to the Basque area between France and Spain. Genetically Pottok ponies have lived in these mountains for thousands of years. Semi-feral herds still roam the mountains. They are related to the Asturon and Galician breeds. Traditionally they were used to carry goods, especially by smugglers. Today they are popular as children's ponies.

The first photo features an 1872 photo of a Potok pony used in Third Carlist war, a rebellion in Spain. Notice the coat of arms from Zestoa, Spain, featuring the Pottaks in power poses. I still don't understand why the SCA won't let me feature an Icelandic horse tolting on my personal coat of arms. ;-)

Both photos are from Wikipedia. The coat of arms was supplied by Antxon Gomez.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Ponies Mules and Penquins at the Poles

There should be an Olympics designed for the "power ponies"-- Fjords, Icelandics, Yakut, Mongolians, Pottok from Basque, etc.--compact, powerful, thrifty creatures that carried men and goods through fire, ice, desert, flood. I have been "researching" a posting as to what such a event would look like based on historic equitation events.

Obstacle number one would be penguin herding at the poles. Here is a photo of Himalayan mules, a gift from India to to Britain, for Scott's Antarctic exploration. The same journal describes how Russian ponies were offloaded from the ship onto ice, which broke up, and the ponies and handlers had to jump from floe to floe. Later, one handler and pony were out on a floe and a pod of killer whales started hunting them. The whales had a technique of ramming the floes to dislodge seals. Earlier the whales had tried this method on handlers and dogs. Luckily the later attempt on man and pony failed due to the whales coming up on the wrong side of the ice.

Icelandic horses were one of the few breeds involved in polar explorations.

Let's face it--none of the horses currently in the Olympics would pass the first event in the Ninja Warrior Power Pony Olympics.,

Friday, August 19, 2016

Snaffle Bits in Haute Couture

Ever wonder what to do with your old snaffle bits? How about adding some class to your attire? I've often seen bits on belts or handbags. But how about adding them to skirts or coats? You don't have to sew, just enhance. Here are some examples of vintage clothing. The green skirt is by a well known designer but I have forgotten his name since I have a vintage brain. Wait! When I captured the image I named it Gucci. Could be a hint.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

2017 World Championships Preview

Here's the trailer for the 2017 Icelandic Horse World Championships.  Recognize the singer?  She's from Iceland.
World Championships Icelandic Horses 2017 | Video from on Vimeo.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Lyngshest horse herding sheep in Mountains of Norway

This is a Lyngshest horse from Norway, a close relation to the Icelandic. Here Peter, Neisti, and Tinka the border collie are herding sheep in the mountains of Norway. Tinka works independently at such far distances. And I swear by Neisti's ears that horse is looking for sheep also. On steeper parts of the trail, I had my eyes closed.

I wonder what types of obstacles this would require in a Working Equitation class and how the longer legged horses would do. ;-) Check out the trail maps at the beginning of the video showing the rough, steep, terrain that had to be negotiated.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

2016 CHIO Aachen Opening Ceremonies

At the 2016 World Equestrian Festival in Aachen, Germany, the best horses and riders in the world compete in dressage, jumping, eventing, driving, and vaulting watched by 350,000 attendees. Co-sponsored by Sweden, the opening ceremonies featured Icelandic horses, royalty, mounted knights, and the most amazingly pink dalarhästars.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Friday, July 15, 2016

Blessi on Emerald Downs Race Track

Each year, Emerald Downs Race Track sponsors a Parade of Breeds.  My Icelandic instructor Svanny rode Blessi twice at this event.

Blessi must have been on a competition track before.  He was quite calm in the warm up area (which was a parking lot) and he was not at all bothered by the crowds, loudspeaker, track equipment, or thoroughbreds barreling out of the start up gate right in front of us.  When Blessi got on the track the first year at the Parade of Breeds, he wanted to run all out.  Svanny did some half halts and he kept in gait.  The second year, Blessi knew that he was only suppose to tolt and was not so wound up.

Both years, the Icelandics were one of the few breeds that could be ridden on the track--as opposed to being led  And they were the only breed ridden in a snaffle bit.  One rider rode her Arab in an 8 inch shank bit and used it to control the horse.  The owner of an Andalusian (I think) asked if the Icelandic riders would go down the track with her so her horse had some "friends."
Blessi say his first train at Emerald Downs.  The train ran in the distance but you could see it and hear from the parking lot.  He was in the cross ties and got a bit antsy--moving his butt around but not pulling on the lead line.  I untied him and started walking him around the parking lot and he was fine.  Blessi knew that if that horse-eating train came after us he was faster than I was and it would eat me first.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Blessi and the Exercise Leggings

Photo by Dallas Webb
Blessi developed a foot abscess several years ago.  Here is what we rigged up to help Blessi. I sacrificed one of my exercise leggings from the 80s to prevent the protective boot from rubbing. We put the boot on Blessi and duct tapped the top of the boot to prevent the tie from coming loose. 

I gave Blessi a bath and took him into the arena (without the boot).  When I turned him loose, he immediately rolled and became a muddy pony.  When he got up, he cantered about the arena madly by himself.  I wasn't sure if this was due to the pain masking effects of the butte or to a recovery so I didn't let him run around too much.

The abcess never broke as far as I can tell.  Looking back, I believe the problem was gravel stuck under the frog which the farrier did not trim correctly.  I have since changed farriers.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Icelandic in Mounted Cowboy Shooting

Here's a team competing in Mounted Cowboy Shooting.  The second rider is on on Blair the Icelandic.  Go team! Go!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Star Wars An Icelandic Horse Saves the Day

Here is an equestrian demonstration at the Kentucky Horse Park. Darth Vader rides a Friesian. A Storm Trooper rides as Andalusian. But Han Solo is mounted on an Icelandic Chewbacca to save the day.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Icelandic horses liberty work on the beach

Here's something different....Catherine Stewart does liberty work with her two Icelandic Benni and Helgi.  What a wonderful relationship.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Odin frá Búðardal

Blessi's registered name is Veigar frá Búðardal out of breeding by the late Skjoldur Steffanson. One of Iceland's most successful competition horses came off this farm Odin frá Búðardal (shares almost no genetic heritage with Blessi). Below is an article about how Odin is still competing at age 22. Odin ridden by Sigurbjörn Bárðarson broke the 250 m pace record in 2003.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Icelandic Horse in Sagas and History

Here's an amazing video with a young guide and her horse relating the mention of the Icelandic horse in the saga in the historic setting, old competition footage and photos, and magnificent footage of the horse in its phantastical environment.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Research Horses Try to Communicate with Us

Researchers in Austria and Italy have shown that horses try to initiate contact with humans to get what they want.  Horses are one of the few species able to communicate across species. 

“Having this ability means that horses do not just ‘behave’ without considering the consequence of their actions,” she said. “Rather, they are able to create a mental plan (for example, to reach a goal with the help of others around them), to evaluate the attentional state of that audience, and to modify their communicative strategy accordingly. Horses seem therefore able of iterative problem solving strategy.”

While all horses probably have the ability to intentionally communicate with us, many handlers don’t see it, Malavasi said. And some horses might have “given up” on trying to communicate with us, she said, especially if they have experienced learned helplessness through constant isolation and/or abuse."

For more details, check out this link:

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Blessi and Chris Cox

Fear is irrational.  Fear feeds upon itself.  Fear is an impassable barrier.  This is a story about fear while riding and it is a very hard report to write so please bear with me.
We are waiting for the demo to begin.  I am trying to
hide behind Blessi and the round pen.

Chris Cox, a natural horsemanship trainer, was looking for riders who had both a serious riding accident and confidence issues for his “Building Rider Confidence Clinic” at the 2014 Northwest Horse Expo in Albany, OR.  (Note: I like to use TTouch/TTeam and Connected Riding training techniques myself and both Robyn Hood and Peggy Cummings have also helped me with my fear issues at previous, more private clinics.)  Since Shannon Lockwood was already going to be riding Blessi at this event, I decided to try and become a participant.  I definitely met the criteria and I was 99.99% sure that Blessi would be calm and steady in this environment.  It would be good exposure for the Icelandic breed and I would pick up a few riding tips.  I was accepted as a participant but reality has a way of confounding expectations. 

Chris explains a breathing technique to help with hyperventilation.
I almost cancelled out several times but the other Icelandic owners at the event and Shannon were very encouraging.  So on the day of the clinic, I saddle up Blessi and go for it. Poor Blessi, Shannon my dressage instructor has just ridden him in the freestyle demo. He goes directly from her free style demo to my demo with Chris with no break. 

Here I am saying "No," "No," "No," to Chris even though
Blessi is saying "Yes," "Yes," "Yes" to me.
As I walk Blessi around the entrance waiting for the clinic to begin, I go into a full blown panic attack. I start hyperventilating sound almost like I am in a Lamaze breathing class.  Joanne, the other participant, who has fear issues of her own, starts telling me funny stories about herself to try and make me laugh.  When we lead our horses into the arena, the crowd of at least a thousand is standing room only.  All I see is this vast sea of eyes and faces staring, staring, staring.  My panic, hyperventilation, and discomfort increases.  Shannon is so concerned that she walks into the arena with me—I think she was worried that I was going to faint—a real possibility at this point.  Blessi seems totally relaxed.
Chris riding Blessi in the round pen.  They are going so
fast that it is hard to get pictures.
As we introduce ourselves and our horses, Chris notes that I am green and clammy with shallow, fast breathing.  He gives me a breathing technique to at least stop the hyperventilating. Take a deep breath, hold it for a second or two, and let it out as if you are fluttering a feather directly in front of your mouth.  (I confirm later that this is what the medical sites on panic attacks also recommend.)  Believe it or not, two deep breaths and the hyperventilation stops! 

We mount up---I am shaking, not thinking, and scared. Blessi is calm, relaxed, and responsive—answering my every cue.  Chris asks me to do some basic stuff (like trotting or tolting) to assess my riding level and I just say "No." (Later, I apologized to Chris who very graciously said that my behavior was typical of a fear response.)  Now I am worried that I am ruining Chris’ demo.  What can he show the crowd if half of his demonstration team is riding in circles, turning green, thinking she is going to throw up, and saying No to every suggestion? 

Chris works with Joanne and her horse.  He checks to see if the horse without a rider will listen to his directional cues from the center of the round pen.  Chris also rides the mare to make sure she is safe for Joanne’s level of riding skill in this high pressure environment. Joanne mounts and with some equitation tips from Chris about rider position and following the movement of the horse, Joanne, who competes in reining,  is cantering without reins or bridle in the round pen.  Chris discusses the importance of core strength in the rider for balance and security.  He also recommends taking lessons from any trainer.  If you have invested so much in a horse and tack, you should also invest in yourself and your training. 

Chris works with Blessi in the round pen.

Now it is our turn.  We spend a few minutes talking—I think Chris is trying to calm me and build some trust.  I also don’t think he has worked much with Icelandics since he thinks they can’t canter.   Chris takes Blessi into the round pen and repeats the process.  Chris then asks me to mount having quickly ascertained that Blessi is a safe horse for me.  I ask if Chris would ride Blessi first and Chris jokes that I just want to see him ride in an English saddle. He hops on and within minutes has Blessi galloping around the round pen. Chris takes his lariat and starts spinning circles in the air.  Ok, since I was stressed at this point, my memory of the exact words used may be off a bit.  Chris calls Blessi a “good horse,” much faster than he had expected, and having a super smooth canter that he could rope from. (This was great since up to this point all the crowd had seen was an old, slow, pokey pony being ridden by a gibbering idiot.)

Chris is coaching me on riding a canter.
I get on Blessi and we agree that I will attempt to canter Blessi for the first time in my life for just a few, negotiated strides.  I am thinking to myself that Chris won’t ask anything that he doesn’t think that Blessi and I are capable of due to liability and bad press.  My fear doesn’t really respond to this argument.   

Here I am trying to get Blessi to canter from a fast trot while
constantly checking on the reins at the same time.
I don't know how to ask for a canter depart so Chris helps by applying some pressure from the center of the round pen.   However Blessi has a fast trot with lots of suspension. Although I am secure in the saddle, I go into hysterics again, shrieking in time to every stride. To continue the natal analogy, I sound like a woman giving birth.   Ok, this is where I really have to decide if I trust Chris.  It would be all too easy for him to push Blessi into a canter and voila, he has coached another fearful rider to conquer her fears and canter.  I have to say that Chris’ timing is low key and supportive to what I am cuing Blessi to do.  This is quite a challenge since I keep hauling back on the reins.  Blessi is obeying my every cue despite my hysterics and trying to listen to both Chris and myself. 

Finally, I break through into a canter for a few strides. It is like flying in a small plane in the clouds with turbulence and then emerging into clear, calm skies.  We are free and sailing away.  Evidently I put get this huge smile on my face. Blessi slows down and Chris tries to encourage me to try again in the other direction.   but I can't--not at this time in front of the crowd.   I really just want to be away from the crowd as soon as possible.  I dismount and Chris gives me a big hug.
Evidently the crowd gave me and Blessi a standing ovation (which Blessi really deserved).  People were crying and cheering.   A fellow Icelandic owner in the crowd overheard people saying "I would buy that horse," "I want that horse," "My mother needs that horse." As we walked back to the barn, strangers come up, some in tears, to hug me and Blessi.  Blessi gets lots of hugs, kisses, and treats from me.  Can horses become saints?  Many thanks to Shannon and the members of the Cascade Icelandic Horse Club for their support!

Chris gives me a big hug.

I have to give Chris credit. He understood what I was going through, gave me total support, and never tired to belittle or force me into something beyond my skills.  However the hard work is just beginning.  This was a good start but to really progress I need to build those core muscles, ride more frequently with intent and a plan, and start riding lessons again.

As I was writing up this account, I was struck by the number of similarities between what I was going through and how horses react when they are fearful—the need for total trust, the need for consistency, the need to build in small steps.  There are so many analogies here. 

Friday, June 3, 2016

Icelandic Horse Song by Kicking Donkey

Kicking Donkey wrote this wonderful ballad in tribute to an Icelandic horse and his rider.  The horse is Pjotter as ridden by Esther.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Loneliest Pony

Blessi needs one of these.

Wendy Williams - The Horse--Part II Evolution

I finally finished Wendy William's The Horse: The Epic History of Our Noble Companion. Her master work includes interviews with researchers studying wild horse behavior, organizers who successfully reintroduced the Przewalsksi or Takhi wild horse to Mongolia, scientists studying equine social behavior, and much more.

Williams writes so vividly that for the first time I read about the evolution of the horse from start to finish--a process involving continental drift, triumph of grass, climate change, plant wax at the bottom of the ocean, and much more.

Below is a photo from the 1905 Scientific American article on the evolution of the horse. It contrasts the phases of a modern horse canter (based on photographs) with how scientists of the time thought the Hyracotheium, a 4-toed horse dating from 56 million years ago in the Eocene period moved. Hyracothenium was assumed to canter like modern horses.

As Williams explains these very early horses lived in a warm, jungle- like environment in which they mushed grapes, browsed on other fodder, and scampered like rabbits. The modern horse canter was millions of years in the future. Plains covered in grass appeared and the horse grew taller, four toes became one toe,evolved to run, and developed the tough teeth needed to graze on silica-based grasses. The eyes moved closer to the top of the head as the teeth took up more room in the jaw.  Brains grew bigger to track and find more dispersed resources.

The evolution of the horse had one benefit important to mankind. As Dr. Martin Fischer, German evolutionary biologist explains, "Horses are actually the only dorsal-stable animal we have. That's why we can ride them." p. 83

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Origin of Western Canadian Horses and Yakut Pony

Just came across this study about the origin of some western Canadian wild horses--stock from the French king, some Spanish, and the Russian Yakut pony.  And the Yakut is distantly related to the Icelandics since the Vikings took some Yakut/Mongolian sourced stock to Iceland at its settlement from 800 to 1000AD.  Who would have ever guessed?

Friday, May 27, 2016

Blessi and the Demented Hen

This is not the demented hen.  This is the rooster
of the flock to which the demented hen belongs.
Oh, and there was the demented hen.   As I was longeing Blessi, the old hen with crazed behavior came into the arena and started winding in and out of Blessi's longe circle--clucking and squawking in random directions and various speeds.

Blessi ignored her even though she was almost going through his legs.   After a minute, I realized that she was not going to leave the arena and there was a real possibility that Blessi was going to have to make a choice as to whether he was going to step on the chicken or veer out of the circle. 

Since I didn't want to explain to the barn owner why there was a pancake chicken in his arena, I tried to modify my longeing circle but got flustered tracking random chicken movements and got the longe line between Blessi's front legs as he was circling.  This was even more dangerous since the hen was still fluttering in random directions and Blessi still had the rope between his legs.  So I dropped the rope and got Blessi to stop.  Then I chased the *%#%@  chicken out of the arena.  Got to give Blessi lots of credit.  He really expected a treat as I untacked him.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Icelandics sure do love their cats

Icelandics seem to have a natural affinity for cats.  Or are cats attracted to those plump, comfy backs covered with all that fur.  Try getting this cat Jim off his Icelandic friend.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Versatility of Blessi

I am pulling together a multi-media presentation about the history and origin of the Icelandic horse.  My first delivery will be to the Daughters of Norway.   The slide entitled "Versatility of the Icelandic Horse"  features Blessi and his many adventures.  Interestingly, I did not have room to show Blessi "racing" on Emerald Downs Race Track, barrel racing, mounted cowboy shooting, playing musical instruments, introduction to polo, or stupid pet tricks. As I've always said, Blessi is a Blessing.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Hillary Clinton Owned Two Icelandic Horses ---Briefly

The children of Iceland gave Senator Hillary Clinton two Icelandic horses, one of which was named Spadi.  Einar Bollason, Managing Director of Íshestar Riding Tours, was selected to present the horses to Clinton.  As he explains, "It was a big media fuzz and the reporters followed me for days before she came, because the day was kept a secret for security reasons. The only way to escape the journalists was to saddle up my horses and ride into the mountains!" (Interview with, n.d.)

You can view a picture of the presentation of the horses here:

Then Senator Clinton accepted them with the intent of donating them to the children of the United States.  Senator Clinton gave the horses to Green Chimneys, a non-profit therapeutic and educational center.  (Halberg, 2008, p. 53)  Currently Green Chimneys supports over 300 animals and birds--including horses, camels, llamas, goats, falcons, guinea pigs, hedgehog, rats, cat, and more--used in their therapy programs for emotionally troubled children. 

Spadi was a favorite therapy horse at Green Chimneys. (The second horse died of cancer and Spadi is no longer listed on the Green Chimneys web page.)  One of the young riders Devon  "likes Spadi for a couple of reasons. First, in addition to the usual gaits of walk, trot, canter and gallop, Spadi has a gait called the toelt that is something like the long trotting gait of a Missouri Fox Trotter; very smooth, fast and stable. Devon very much likes that toelt gait. Second, Spadi is the unquestioned herd leader of Green Chimneys' horses, even though compared to American horses like the quarter horse, Morgan, Standardbred or Thoroughbred, he looks no bigger than a tall pony. He has an attitude that says, "I will NOT be intimidated by you, and you WILL do what I tell you." He stands like a rock and stares them down. Finally, the two of them get along; there is a bond between them. Horse people will understand what I mean."  (Junior, 2013)   

You can view a picture of Spadi and his young rider Devon at:

Now that Hillary and Bill Clinton have their first grandchild, I wonder if they are thinking about getting the young one a pony--perhaps an Icelandic pony.  ;-)


Halberg, L.  (2008) Walking the Way of the Horse, iUniverse.  

Interview with Einar Bollason at

Junior on Horseback (2013).  Found at

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Horse by Wendy Williams a book review

Below is a photo of the Vogelherd horse, the first known sculpture of a horse carved 35,000 years ago. This 2-inch long horse carved from Mammoth ivory was found in a cave in Germany. As Wendy Williams in her recently published book The Horse: The Epic History of our Noble Companion, describes it: "Across thirty five millennia, you can almost hear him snort and see him toss his head, warning encroaching stallions to take care." p. 12 Williams asks the question about horses... "What are their special powers?" Perhaps our "fascination with horses is somehow encoded in our genes."

She examines the natural history of the horse and the horse-human bond especially emphasizing recent equine research, which definitely disproves a lot of the claims of certain horse training approaches. Some points I have discovered in the first chapter:

- The male-centric view of wild horses is false--very often the mares initiate herd behavior.

- A pair of bonded mares in a wild horse herd in Spain remained in a territory with the head stallion but when they came into season, they accompanied each other to go mate with a neighboring stallion--year after year

- British researcher Deborah Goodwin is summarized by Williams as saying "our belief that stallions dominate a band may be due to the hierarchical structure of our own culture..." which has caused us to "view relationships among horses with blinders on." p. 28

- One wild mare High Tail bonded so strongly with her first stallion that even after he lost his harem, she snuck away from each new stallion to be with him until he died of old age. As she did with other stallions she bonded with.

- Horse hierarchies are not fixed but are fluid and flexible. Horse A may rank higher than b, but c may rank higher than a.

"Now that science is showing us the subtleties of how horses naturally interact with each other, we can expand our own interactions with them, improve our ability to communicate with them, and enrich our partnership....A relationship that has been traditionally seen as unidirectional--we command and they obey--can now become much more nuanced and sensitive." p 32

Can't wait to read more. I am only on page 32.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Dominance Behavior in Icelandic Horse Herds

 Many horse trainers claim that their training techniques mimic what happens in the horse herd.  Dominant, aggressive is justified because horses in the herd bite and kick each other so what the trainer does is mild in comparison with what the trainer does.  Interestingly research may or may not support their claims.  In the following study based on observations of a horse herd in the Netherlands, rank could be determined among the horses.  However amount of aggression displayed by individual horses did not correlated with rank.

Van Dierendonck, De Vries, and Schilder published a study on dominance behavior in Icelandic horses titled "An Analysis of Dominance, Its Behavioural Parameters and Possible Determinants in a Herd of Icelandic Horses in Captivity" (Netherlands Journal of Zoology, 1995).  In their review of previous research, they found a lack of clarity in how dominance is defined and hence how it impacted hierarchy among and between horses other than adult horses were almost always dominant over immature horses and horses newly introduced to the herd having lower rank.  The impact of weight, height, and age, and age at castration varied among studies .
Farm in Iceland--Cornell university

The researchers observed a herd of 26 Icelandic horses (6 geldings, 16 mares, 2 young stallions, and 2 young mares) and 5 ponies of different breeds at a farm in the Netherlands over a period of 6 months in 1984.  The horses were pastured year round with access to water, shelter, and food.  The non-Icelandic horses, young horses, and one mare with a probable hormonal disorder were excluded from the study. The horses had been together for several years.

Dominance behaviors were defined as offensive aggressive behaviors (attack, bite, threat to bite, approach with ears flattened,) versus avoidance.  Defensive aggressive behaviors were  kick, threat to kick, and buck.  Based on these observed behaviors the scientists could build a strictly linear relationship among the Icelandic geldings and mares.  The top five places in rank were taken by the older Icelandic mares with the sixth place held by a gelding with the rest of the rankings interspersed among mares and geldings.
Between sexes, certain lower ranking members could be dominant to higher ranking individuals.

  • Age correlated with rank in the mixed sex herd ranking and among mares but not among the geldings.  
  • Height did not correlate with rank when males and females were considered separately.  However height did correlate with the entire herd ranking with smaller horses ranking higher in this herd.
  • Length of residency in the herd correlated higher with rank.
  • Rank position surprisingly did not correlate well with amount of aggression displayed.
  • Submission correlated with rank.
  • Age at castration  linked with sexual experience  correlated with rank.  In other words, the amount of sexual experience and the opportunity to develop and practice male displays rather than age of castration per se influenced ranking among geldings.
  • Mares with foals temporarily can gain in herd ranking.
  • Ranking of adult mares correlated positively with their adult offspring.
  • If a mare exhibited more aggressive behavior, her offspring was likely to be observed exhibiting more frequent aggressive behavior (which could be due to heredity and/or learned behavior).

This study did not observe and correlation between rank and allogrooming, kinship, and social bonds.  However pairs of horses closer in rank tended to spend more time close to each other.


Sunday, May 1, 2016

Icelandic Horse Games--600 kilometers in 8 days

In this video, Anita (not sure of spelling) is proposing Icelandic Horse Games, a 600 kilometer race across Iceland in eight days with 300 horses and 30 riders.  Each rider with two to three changes of mounts needs to ride 80 kilometers a day to be competitive.  Each day there will be vet checks.  The race, inspired by the Mongolian Derby at 1000 kilometers and the South African race, is intended to bring the adventuresome and adrenalin junkies to Iceland.  The race organizers already have 300 horses available and are looking for corporate sponsors.  Planned kick off date is fall of 2017.

Friday, April 29, 2016

2015 WorldFengur Report

In March 2016, WorldFengur, the Icelandic horse world registry, published a report on major trends in the registration of these horses.   Here are some highlights (in my humble opinion).

Subscriptions to WF, currently 19,060 are up by 5% in one year.  Over the past three years, the greatest number of users is in Germany 5,173 or 27% followed by Iceland at 4,028, Sweden 3,617, Denmark 2,639.  Members are up by 11% in Germany and Sweden and down by 40% in Norway.  (US is not mentioned.)

If you are a WF subscriber, you can purchase a service to view videos from Lansmot this year.  WF is also adding videos from previous Lansmots that you can view for a fee.

Different countries now have different criteria for approval of stallions for breeding purposes.  Iceland allows breeders to choose any stallion they want.  Other countries have different criteria.  WF continues to discuss if there should be standardization in this area.

There are 142 registered Icelandic horses in New Zealand.

Should Icelandic horses always carry Iceland names? There are various takes on this topic: some studbook associations allow only Icelandic names, others are more liberal provided the name chosen is not offensive. In general, most horses get Icelandic names. At a WF meeting in Malmö in 2013, WF registrars discussed this topic and the outcome was that based on legal grounds, it is not possible to set stricter rules to the use of Icelandic horse names only, since this would infringe on the breeders´ freedom of choice.” P. 6  Personal note:  I sometimes get kidded about misspelling Blessi’s name (his barn name to me is short for Blessing).  When I did a search in WF, I found about 17 or so mares named Pamela and 1 mare in Iceland named Pamela Anderson.


The number of foals born and assessed on a world-wide basis continues to drop steadily over the past 8 years.  In 2008, 16,454 foals were born and 3,119 registered.  In 2015 those numbers were 8,164 and 2,155 respectively.


In 2015, 1360 were exported from Iceland, compared with 1,269 in 2014.  Export numbers: Germany—529, Sweden – 219, Denmark 165,US – 39.


You can view the full report at:

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

What is Spirit in the Icelandic Horse Breeding and is it moving to fear

Interesting study using Icelandic horses in Norway in 2013. Researchers were trying to determine if silver dapple horses were more reactive than other colors. "The results suggest that Silver horses are more cautious in novel situations rather than more reactive in fearful situations" probably due to hereditary MCOA related eye problems.
Researchers were surprised to find: "Furthermore, offspring (regardless of coat colour) from sires with a Best Linear Unbiased Prediction (BLUP, an index indicating which traits a horse will pass on to its offspring) value above 100 for the temperament trait ‘Spirit’, showed a greater fear reaction (P < 0.01) and reacted for a longer time (P < 0.01) than horses from sires with a lower (<100) index. These results indicate that horses with a high BLUP value for ‘Spirit’ seem to express stronger fear reactions. Breeding for Silver coat colour and the ‘Spirit’ trait, as it is currently defined, may need to be reconsidered if these results are confirmed in a larger cohort."
Considering the test was shaking a plastic bag full of cans about eight feet behind the horse while the horse was eating a bucket of high value treats such as apples is probably a rather low "stress" for most Icelandics.

If you look at the history of the Icelandic horse breeding evaluations, there has always been a lot of discussion about how to judge spirit. In the 1980's the horses were judged on both willingness and disposition--two separate scores. And the weighting of what is now "spirit" has changed over the years also. At one point, it was weighted at around 17% and today at 9% .

The original designers of the breeding evals were specifically not looking to reward fear. Per Marit Jonson 1988 Judging Icelandic Breeding Horses: She quotes from a pre-1988 breeding standard:
"Willingness and self-propulsion is the most important quality in an Icelandic riding horse and is the foundation for all other riding qualities. Irrespective of an excellent predisposition for all the gaits, a horse will never achieve top notes unless it has the prerequisite willingness. The horse must push ahead willingly in all gaits, always a little bit faster than the tempo indicated by the rider, so that it is always pushing a little at the bit. The willingness will also show itself by the fact that the horse will go ahead without sticking to other horses, and that it will continue even when tired. The willingness may well approach the uncontrollable as long as it does not exceed this limit."

She writes:
"This untamed will, this reservoir of power, which must not be confused with fear or nervousness [I added the bold], is what makes our small horses appear so big. If you have ever tried to cross an Icelandic desert on a tired horse, you will appreciate the enormous value of this strange gift."
She goes on to note that horses in Iceland are more "willing" than those bred in Europe. To score a 10 the horses should be "'Live volcanoes' with a large power reserve and indefatigable energy."

Disposition is defined as "It is obviously important for a horse to have a good character, to have the ability to learn, to be cheerful and courageous, docile and cooperative. The disposition is so critical that the value of its will to run is wholly dependent on the character of the horse. We do not, after all, want surly, nervous or stupid 'live volcanoes'".

Monday, April 25, 2016

Amazing Jumps for an Icelandic Horse

This Icelandic is just flying over some amazing high and technical jumps.  Every body seems to be having such fun.  Welsh cobs and other jumpers of this size sell for $25,000 to $50,000 or more.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Theodore Roosevelt and the Power of the Sugar Cube

Theodore Roosevelt understood that feeding a well timed treat could help the horse adapt to novel situations.  His young horse Renown was extremely frightened of automobiles encountered during rides in Washington DC.  On one ride the young horse behaved better than expected upon meeting a large red automobile.  “In fact,” as Roosevelt explained, “he behaved so well that I leaned over and gave him a lump of sugar when he had passed the object of terror—the old boy eagerly turning his head around to get it.” 

In the video below, Roosevelt is riding his thoroughbred Sidar.  At the end of the ride, he rewards Sidar with a sugar cube, probably for approaching the huge, scary, oldtime film camera.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Bath Day for Blessi

Blessi loves baths. The wash rack is on the opposite side of the stable from his paddock. The 4-minute walk back from the wash stall took 30 minutes. We had to stop and visit anybody who was tending to their horses. Blessi got 4 grass breaks and 3 cookies.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Blessi is Ambassador for the Haflinger Breed

Blessi is standing next to the resident Haflinger, who is such a sweetie. Haflingers are shades of chestnut from light to liver chestnut color, originally come from Austria and northern Italy. They are a Medieval breed--a cross between Arabians and the native Tyrolean ponies.
Because of his size and coloring, Blessi gets mistaken a lot for a Haflinger when we are at open shows and clinics. (To somebody knowledgeable about both breeds, the differences are obvious.) Blessi is such a brave, bold chestnut that he is probably one of the best ambassadors for the Haflinger breed.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Chestnut Horse Coat Color Related to Temperament

Blessi takes me through fire at a police horse training clinic.
“Oh my mare is a fiery redhead” or “My chestnut gelding is hard to train” are comments that you’ll hear owners say about their chestnut horses.  But are these statements supported by science?  Interestingly researchers have found that genes influencing melanocytes that determine coat colors are related to certain behavioral traits in other species.  For example tortoiseshell and calico cats are really divas.   But what about horses?

JL Finn et al adapted the Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire (a validated dog behavior survey) contained 90 behavioral assessment questions.  Over 900 responses were returned from owners of Arabians, Australian stock horses, ponies, Warmbloods, Crossbred, Thoroughbreds, Irish Sport horses, and Quarter Horses.  The researchers used the 477 responses returned by owners of bay and chestnut horses (stallions were excluded).  The greatest influence on behavior was gender, age, and breed.
There was basically no difference in ease of handling or training between chestnuts and bays. Chestnuts were a bit more difficult when their feet were picked up by strangers but the researchers felt that was due to a sampling error.   However owner reported results seem to indicate that chestnuts are bolder than bays since they are reported to approach new objects more readily. 

“The current results suggest that chestnut horses are more likely to approach objects and animals in their environment, regardless of their familiarity. This is particularly worth noting as prior to domestication and selection, the vast majority of horses expressed the bay phenotype and the increase in coat-colour variability is widely considered a direct consequence of domestication (Cieslak et al., 2011Ludwig et al., 2009Pruvost et al., 2011). As a result, it is possible that selection for the chestnut phenotype may have inadvertently involved selection for boldness as well.” 

More research is of course needed to confirm these results.


Friday, April 15, 2016

CNN Sports carries photologue of Icelandic horses

Here is a link to Rebekka Guðleifsdóttir photos that CNN published on their site.  The gallery documents "The Original Horse of the Vikings.  Sorry I can't figure out how to embed these photos so you'll have to use the link below.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Sir Ivan and Blessi

Here's a reason why you might want to use a Western saddle on an Icelandic horse. Sir Ivan Leskov rode Blessi brilliantly in the Society for Creative Ananchronism equestrian games two years ago. A Western saddle is a bit more stable when the rider is wearing armor and carrying weapons.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Do Icelandics really require less food or is it hypometabolism

Icelandic horses on glacier from Cornell
Collection circa 1900
When you reduce the food to 30% of what they are normally fed, thrifty breeds like Shetlands (and I would imagine Icelandics) go into a state of hypometabolism in which the body metabolism slows down and other physiological changes occur so the pony can maintain its weight.    This is a primitive adaptation to enable wild animals to adapt and to survive seasonal variation in the amount of food available.  Most domestic horse breeds have lost this ability.  

So when you severely reduce the amount of food for Shetlands (and probably Icelandics since they are so closely related), you may be inducing hypometabolism, not putting them on a diet.  The study does not mention if the reduced core temperature, lowered activity level, and reduced heart rate has any impact on the comfort level or  long term heath of the horse.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Fatality Rate in Thoroughbred Horse Racing

I admit that I love reading about the champions in the horse racing industry such as Sea Biscuit,
Race at Churchill Downs Wikipedia
Phar Lap, and Man O'War.  And there is just something awesome about watching the footage of Secretariat pounding down the back stretch.  However I recently came across the statistics published by the Jockey Club of horse fatalities per 1000 starts.  
Hummm, when the stats are reported as 1.61 deaths per 1000 starts that does not sound nearly as bad as the 484 horses who died in 299121 starts in 2015.  Another study indicates that the fatality rate is double if one includes injuries during training.

 If you check the charts, 790 horses died in 2009, 727 in 2010, 713 in 2011, 709 in 2012, 643 in 2013, 583 in 2014. The number of starts have declined steadily over the 8 year period also from 395897 in 2009 to 2999121 in 2015. My personal opinion is that 1.6 horses die from fatal injuries every 1000 starts is still too high. Can you imagine if we said 1.6 horses were going to die every 1000 dressage classes? Or every 1000 Icelandic horse classes? Or barrel racing starts? 

Here is a link to the report

Jockey Club Table of Fatalities per Year

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Blessi Has an Easter Carrot Hunt

I hid carrots and cookies under a drum, saddle pad, 2 fly masks, 6 Easter napkins, bucket, salt block holder, and my straw hat in Blessi's paddock.  Blessi found them all in less than 30 minutes.  As you can see by the highlights on this video, he moved from one "egg" to another in a seemingly planned search pattern.  I swear this horse is part Labrador retriever.   He seemed to immediately recognize that anything new in his paddock would conceal a carrot (or a small quarter size peanut butter cookie).  Blessi was in an absolutely blissful mood for the rest of my visit.  Happy belated Easter to everybody!
Sorry the audio on this production is a bit out of sync with the video.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Saddlebred by Icelandic Cross

Here is Iceman, an Icelandic by Saddlebred cross, owned by Bo Wright Stables.  Wright is riding Iceman in a number of speed racking and single footing competitions (all seem to be kegshod or wearing horses shoes of usual weight) and winning blue ribbons.  Considering the competitions are in Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and other speed racking states,  Wright and Iceman, 14.2 hands, are doing a fantastic job competing against the Saddlebreds and other, bigger  gaited breeds.   Go Iceman!  Note I don't recommend cross breeding Icelandics but this is a successful cross, which is probably why Iceman is a breeding stallion at Bo Wright Stables. 

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Were Women the Painters of Paleolithic Cave Paintings

Reproduction of horse painting with hand stencils from
Pech Merle Cave, France
Source: Wikipedia
I think that women always have had a special relationship with horses, which includes drawing and painting them. While researching the clip on animated paleolithic cave art, I came across the research of Dean Snow at Pennsylvania State University. He proposes that about 75% of the artists drawing animals in such caves as Altiamira Cave, Spain, and Lascaux Cave, France, circa 30,000 to 17,300 years ago, were women. Up to this time, most researchers and art historians assumed all cave artists were men-- probably involved in the creation of hunting magic. 

Snow bases his proposal on the way men and women's hands differ. Usually the length of the index finger and the ring finger are roughly the same for women. The ring finger is longer than the index finger on most men. Hand stencils (pigment is flicked around the hand to create an outline) frequently occur as part of paleolithic cave art. Analysis of the outlines of these hands is how Snow determined that most of the artists were women, possibly female shaman involved in hunting magic.

Of course, there are alternative ways to analyze the same date. R. Dale Guthrie analyzed the measurements of palm widths and thumbs to conclude that the artists were adolescent boys interested in powerful animals and big busted fertility goddesses (think Venus of
Willendorf).   Source: