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: