Monday, December 31, 2018

Grass Is Always Greener

Icelandic horses seem to invent every opportunity to escape....and look for the greener grass.  Notice how one doesn't care that the other horses have been led away.  She has her grass.  But once the halters are on, "It's a fair cop.  But did you know there is grass over there?  And there?  And there?  Just in case you missed it..."

Thursday, December 27, 2018

An Advent Calendar for Icelandic Horses and Friend

What a cool idea from Koedbloed Kim.  Build an advent calendar for your horses containing special treats for each day.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Merry Christmas from Iceland

Sean Parker Photography provides this beautiful video of the Northern Lights highlighting the horses waiting for their Christmas surprise at a church in Iceland.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

A Pony for Christmas

Irie gets her pony for Christmas.  And she already has a name picked out.  The Labrador Retriever is very happy for her.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Naughty Ponies at Christmas

Who can pull Santa's sleigh and ring the Christmas bells better than than the rocking Christmas ponies?

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Coming Home at Christmas

Another great Christmas video.  After all, grandparents are teddy bears.

Friday, December 21, 2018

2019 World Championships for Icelandic Horses Berlin Preview

Here's a preview of the 2019 Icelandic Horse World Championships in Berlin.  It looks like the event may be combined with a larger equine show.  Anyway, enjoy the footage of the Icelandics.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Blessi's Favorite Snacking Place

This is Blessi's favorite place
most summers. The outdoor washrack behind the barn ensures lush grass. Beau the mini and Tessa would really like to join Blessi.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Wendy Williams' The Horse: Review Part II

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. 

Above 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. 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, December 15, 2018

Wendy Williams' The Horse: Review Part I

Above 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 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 definely 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 its 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. 

"Traditionally, we've thought that horses only function via a kind of computerlike binary code of positive and negative reinforcement--the carrot or the stick. 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.  Hint:  This book would make a fantastic Christmas present for any of your equine oriented friends or family.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Lonely Little Pony

Blessi wants one of these for Christmas that goes into the people barn.  I wonder if Amazon makes one in XXXXX Large.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Hafflinger Success in Working Equitation

Andalusians and Lusitanos have a natural advantage in Working Equitation because of their slow, collected canter. But many different breeds of horses can be successful in this sport. Here are Chesna Klimek and her Haflinger Pip winning Intermediate Ease of Handling at a Working Equitation clinic in the Pacific Northwest. She and Pip also won the Dressage and Speed trails. And this was only their second competition in Working Equitation!

Chesna and Pip are legends in the Pacific Northwest. They compete and win at Grand Prix dressage (if I remember correctly), speed jumping, extreme trail, trick training, bridleless riding, and more, There is nothing these two can't do and do extremely well.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Working Equitation Icelandic Style

In Working Equitation, "the aim of the sport is to preserve and perpetuate each country’s type of equitation, as well as the various working equestrian traditions and the tack and attire which each nation brings to the sport." Julie Malik on the Icelandic Horses for fun group identified the national attire of Icelandic herders as "woolly sweaters and bright orange fisherman raingear." Here is a video to prove it.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Blessi and Judy Try Working Equitation

My friend Judy rode Blessi in an introduction to Working Equitation clinic given by Jordan Banks at the Paddock Woods stable in Gig Harbor WA. "The discipline of Working Equitation (WE) was created to celebrate the partnership between horse and rider, with a focus on classical horsemanship and use of the horse for ranch work." During a competition, each rider will compete in a dressage trial, an ease of handling trial, and speed trial.

What a wonderful clinic to audit. I learned a lot about how to better ride obstacles. And the dressage horses really seem to love finding a purpose for why they are asked to do all those transitions and movements. And all breeds of horses including gaited horses are welcome in the sport. A Quarter horse, Fjord, Haflinger, Icelandic, Gypsian, Andalusian, and Friesian cross were at the clinic. 

Note If you start the trial in tolt however, the rider should maintain that gait. Poor Judy! Blessi kept switching between tolt and trot. He didn't help her out with any precision moves at this clinic but most importantly the two had fun!

If you are in the Seattle area, you should check out this clinic and sport. You can find the dates for any future clinics on Jordon Bank's facebook page or web page at Golden Horse Dressage.

Since the "aim of the sport is to preserve and perpetuate each country’s type of equitation, as well as the various working equestrian traditions and the tack and attire which each nation brings to the sport," I wonder what the tack and attire should be for Iceland?

Here is a link to the WE webpage:

If you are in the Seattle area, you should check

Monday, December 3, 2018

ýruskjóttur New Icelandic Horse Color

A color new to Icelandics, and horses in general, has appeared in Iceland--ýruskjóttur or speckle piebald.  Ellert at Baldurshagi, an offspring of a bay dun and a blue dun, is the first to exhibit this color.  Theoretically it should not be possible to get a pinto offspring from two solid colored horses.  He has passed it on to to several offspring.  Breeder Baldur Eiðsson hopes this new color will become established in the Icelandic breed.

Genetic testing at University of Bern confirms that this is a new color mutation in horses called coat color allele W21 related to the "dominant white."  Ellert is colored like a  bay dun with primitive markings including the dorsal stripe, black mane and tail, with lots of white specking, a bald white face, and eyes that are a combination of blue and brown.  

Use this link to access some great photos:

Due to IP issues, you'll have to use the link below to view the new color.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Were Women the First Cave Artists

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

Photo source: Pech Merle Cave Painting Wikipedia

Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Human Face as Canvas

Imagine a world in which your face becomes a canvas for you to paint without limits--a living rose, waterfalls from your eyes, a lava creature.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Argentia Polo Riding Boots

I have a terrible time finding tall riding boots that fit.  My calf is short and wide but my arch is tall.  Well I found my favorite pair ever in a vintage store---Argentina Polo Boots.   Adjustable Velcro along the calf ensure the fit is comfortable.

At first there was some pressure on my ankle bones.  I looked up how to break in mounted police boots and learned how to bend and fold the boots to help the boots break at the proper place at the ankle.  Plus I started using some of Blessi's self wrap elastic to cover the ankle bones.  They now
fit like a dream.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Power of the Candy Wrapper

I am absolutely amazed how much attention horses give to the crinkle of peppermint wrappers. As I was grooming Blessi, somebody walked by and unwrapped some celophane candy. Here is the resulting picture--such a proud head set. Normally I don't put Blessi in the cross ties when grooming but there was a lot of activity at the barn. Lot's of activity means many unprotected tack boxes. So better the crossties than 20 minutes helping to pick up scattered brushes, hoof picks, etc, or worse getting into a tug of war battle in the middle of the aisle over a bag of treats.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Power of the Sugar Lump

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.”

The first 20 seconds of this video shows Theodore Roosevelt riding his thoroughbred Sidar in 1912. When he dismounts, he feeds Sidar a sugar cube, probably for approaching that scary, huge old time film camera.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Barn Swallow

This summer I found a dead bird in Blessi's runout shed. It was such a pretty bird, dark blue with an orange chest and built for speed. I had to look it up--a barn swallow. When I scooped it up for burial, Blessi was all kind of interested as to why Mr. Barn Swallow was not moving.
Did you know that barn swallows are usually monogamous during the breeding season but can practice polygyny? Perhaps Mr. Barn Swallow wore himself out taking care of multiple wives. Barn swallows nest and raise their young across the US in May through September and then migrate to Central and South America for the winter. Per the Bird Web site, "The killing of Barn Swallows for their feathers was one of the issues that led to the founding of the Audubon Society and the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act."

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Horses Use iPads to Learn

Blessi would love his own iPad. I can see him playing equine computer games for hours. The technology is here. Japanese researchers have developed such a device that enables horses to discriminate between sizes and shapes and earn carrots. Horses, probably because of their viewing angle, have some difficulty in distinguishing between objects close to the same size.

"As far as shape difference is concerned, the ponies’ performance didn’t vary much from that of chimpanzees and humans, Tomanaga said. Still, there were a few trends regarding the kinds of angles and shapes that were specific to the species, he said. For example, ponies had a harder time distinguishing “closed” shapes—like O or D, or squares and triangles."

Thursday, November 15, 2018

1930s Vintage Film of Iceland

Thought you might like this vintage news reel about Iceland from the 1930.  About midway, the narrator talks about the "Icelandic ponies."  Pay special attention to how the horses are tied up in the absence of trees---one horse's bridle is tied to another horse's tail down the line of horses.  I can't think of another breed that wouldn't flip out in that situation.

For some reason, I can't embed this video, but here is the link.  Definitely worth watching.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Horse Color and Behavioral Traits

“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 really are divas. But what about horses?

JL Finn et al adapted the Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire (a validated dog behavior survey) which contained 90 behavioral assessment questions. Over 900 responses were returned from owners of Arabians, Australian stock horses, ponies, Warmbloods, Crossbreds, 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 influences on behavior were 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 chestnuts 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., 2011, Ludwig et al., 2009, Pruvost 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.

In the photo, Blessi and I are riding through fire at a police horse clinic. My friend Judy was riding a black Icelandic mare, who did just as well as Blessi.


Sunday, November 11, 2018

Blessi and the Rug

I have been trying to think why Blessi was so fascinated by the rug yesterday at the Pet Partner Certification. Then the solution, like a falling horse shoe, struck me in the middle of the forehead! The last time Blessi saw anything like a "rug" was the Easter Carrot Hunt in his paddock when I hid carrots and small peanut butter cookies under saddle pads, buckets, napkins, etc.

How sweet and typical of Blessi's thought process. He gets to go into a "house" for the first time and he immediately assumes that he has been invited to an indoor Carrot Hunt. "Of course there are carrots hidden somewhere under that rug if only I keep looking". (Hummm. wonder why he pulled up the masking tape on the rug since he has never "played" with masking tape. How did he even know that it pulled off the rug?)

And when he doesn't find a carrot under the rug, he assumes we are all there to pet and groom and talk to him--which is why he thought he needed to stay with the volunteer rather than walk by the neutral dog.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Blessi Passes Pet Therapy Test

Blessi and I passed Pet Partner Certification. I am so proud of this horse!!! In case you aren't familiar with the organization, Pet Partners "is the nation’s largest and most prestigious nonprofit registering handlers of multiple species as volunteer teams providing Animal-Assisted Interactions. With the highest caliber curriculum in the industry, Pet Partners trains volunteers and evaluates them with their pets for visiting animal programs in hospitals, nursing homes, veterans’ centers, hospice, Alzheimer’s facilities, courtrooms, schools and other settings."

I had to take 8 hours of computer-based training on how to be a pet handler plus pass a test. Blessi had to get a health certification. Then we had the team evaluation today.

This is a rigorous program. Both the handler and
the animal are scored separately. All exercises need to be conducted on a loose lead line. As handler, I need to be proactive, read Blessi's cues, and intercede if somebody needs coaching on how to interact with a horse.

Per photo 1 (the 5 additional volunteers aren't in camera range), the evaluation occurred at the Fleet Reserve Association Branch. As far as Blessi was concerned, he was thrilled to finally get to enter a "house." He was particularly interested in "kitchen" but he didn't have an opportunity to explore that area of enticing food scents.

Pet Partners offers certification for the team at two different levels--simple and complex environments. We are certified for simple environments, complex with full time organizational escort. Photo 2 shows us at the end of Exercise 5, Out for a Walk. Blessi scored a 1 (he needed a 2 for complex). Why you may ask did Blessi only get a 1 when he is so obviously walking on a loose lead line? Ha! Ha! Take a look at the mussed up rug in the back ground. As we were walking by, Blessi decided to roll it up. When I suggested that he not play with the rug, he started to rip the masking tape off the rug. Blessi had the room laughing so hard.

In Photo 3, Blessi is doing his back up 6 feet. What you don't see are his attempts to move chairs with his mouth to make the back up easier.

Blessi adored his full, restraining hug with volunteer Andria, one of the more complex requirements, shown in Photo 4.

Photos 5 and 6 show some of the complex situations in which Blessi just was an angel. He needed to walk through a crowd, have an object make an unexpected noise behind him, deal with volunteers portraying people with movement irregularities, have a couple get into an argument and then walk up for pets, have multiple people pet him. He just seeks out and thrives with this kind of attention.

The other exercise in which Blessi and I scored a 1, instead of a 2, was walking past a neutral dog. Blessi was fine walking past the sweet, old black lab. But he was late starting the walk because he insisted on staying and socializing with a volunteer and I did not set him up for success in the exercise by anticipating this.

All together there were 17 exercises. But Photo 7 shows Blessi's real challenge--"Leave the toy."

The Pet Partner Evaluater congratulated both Blessi and me on our team skills. But the real compliment was she asked after the test if her 6-year old grandson could come ride Blessi on his next visit.

Note we never officially became Pet Partners since I didn't pay the final membership fee.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Prepping for Pet Therapy Test

My friend Judy helped me and Blessi with some Intrizen crunches and preparation for the pet therapy certification scheduled for Saturday. Blessi is great with neutral dog (thanks Chica for playing that role), hugs, people arguing, ear touching, etc. However as Judy and I discovered when practicing, Blessi and I are not going to do well if there is any hay on the floor of the Fleet Reserve Association Branch.

Monday, November 5, 2018

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.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

A Tatoo of Blessi's half brother Leiftur fra Búðardal

How awesome is this? A tattoo of an Icelandic horse. This is Leiftur fra Búðardal, Blessi's much better known younger half brother. Blessi is 20 and Leiftur is 19 and still competing in pace races at 100 m. How awesome is that?

I didn't get this tatoo.  Stefon uses it as an illustration on his Facebook page and he gave me permission to use it on Blessiblog.

For those visiting Iceland, Stefon does amazing tattoo work. The studio is located near Reykjavík. How awesome would it be to return from Iceland with your favorite horse tattooed on your shoulder? Or if you want a delicate cross and necklace around your ankle or a forest across your back or a raven on your hip? Check out Stefon's work.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Is an Electoral Vote in Wyoming Worth More than One in California

There is a chart being passed around on Facebook stating that a vote in Wyoming is worth 380% more than a vote in California. To try to understand why somebody made that statement (and you may totally disagree with it) I did quite a bit of research on the electoral college. If you go to Wikipedia (I know not the best source but good for a quick review) article on the history of the Electoral College, you can see how the electoral college has been chosen has changed over the years.

At the birth of our nation, citizens voted directly for electors, trusting the electors to make the best choice for president. The winner with the highest number of votes became President and the second highest, VP. In 1796, John Adams (Federalist) became President and Thomas Jefferson (Republican), VP, so that was changed. The original constitution also allocated 2 senators per state and a number of representatives based on number of inhabitants in which slaves counted as 3/5s of an inhabitant. So the number of electors has always been based on the number senators and representatives in Congress (each state gets 2 electors for its two senators plus the number of representatives in House). In the early 1800s each state could determine how electors were chosen. In the later 1800s the parties got to choose their own candidates. I have condensed pages and pages. In the early 1820s,most states introduced the winner take all electoral votes concept. If you read the Wikipedia link, you can see how interests of small states versus large states, slave holding states versus mostly non-slave holdings all impacted the development of the constitution while balancing the desire of the Founding Fathers to maintain a republic.

Congress regularly increased the number of state representatives until it was set at 435 in 1911 and has not been increased since (except when AK and Hawaii joined--two were added but later subtracted out.) These 435 representatives are allocated out to each state based on population determined by US Census every 10 years. Each state gets a minimum of 1 representative and the remained are allocated, not by direct proportion, but by some weirdly complicated formula that I thought somebody had hacked Wikepedia as a joke. But I confirmed on a .gov website.

The chart shared on Facebook states that a vote cast in Wyoming is worth 380% (or 340 depending on what you read) more than a vote cast in California since CA gets 55 electoral votes and WY 3 (2 for each senator and 1 for representative, which is the minimum number a state can have. Vermont and North Dakota also have 3 electoral votes). Actually that number is higher. The number of representatives for California was set in 2010 when the CA population was 37,253,956 versus WY population of 563,626 . The current estimated population of CA is 39 million; whereas WY population is estimated at 587,910.

The number of representatives could be increased again to account for the corresponding increase in population. This would impact the presidential election because of different voting trends for rural versus urban, blue states versus red states, so each party as an opposing stake in this issue. And the smaller states want to protect their interests also. But a quick review of the history of the electoral college indicates that its evolution has always been impacted by large state versus small state, impact on political party, interest in political parties controlling who runs, etc.

I tried to write this in a politically neutral tone but recognize the above two paragraphs could be interpreted as having a Democratic slant, which I am. Hope this helps.
Chart is from Wikipedia.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Halloween Horse

Draumur the Icelandic meets the haunted horse right before Halloween--another wonderful video by Kathy Sierra and Intrizen.
Halloween Horse from Seriouspony on Vimeo.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Helping with Certification for Pet Therapy

I volunteered to help with a certification for Pet Therapy animals. I got to play the lady in the wheelchair, be part of the arguing couple and later join the walking crowd for 3 dogs and 1 cat. Blessi and I are going to try for pet therapy certification. This group had a wonderful idea--trading cards for pet therapy animals. Wouldn't Blessi  look great on trading cards. Blessi has already been on some business cards.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

How to Get your Stall Mate to Remove Your Halter

Here's a great example of the cognitive abilities of horses. One horse has carefully watched how humans take off halters. Plus he is doing this for another horse--not for an immediate reward for himself (or herself).

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Policemen in Iceland capture house prowlers or amblers

This is how Icelandic policemen, who aren't familiar with horses, catch stray horses. Here is a rough on-line translation from the local police station Facebook page:

"So because it is Friday.

Some time ago called party 112 and suspected he was unauthorized to crawl around his house Kirkjuveg, but he had woken up to the panic of his bedroom window. Our people were touched in revolutions, as always, and came to the site shortly. These dishonest people were in the comfort of the feast on the grass in chewable notifier. Neither of the officers had come close to such creatures before one had ever seen the older men "gobbagobba" on such animals. There was anyway in the case of two horses that had exercise in the town break. Our men "gobbagobbuðu" anyway horses back in the stable and does so pleasant that this video was taken the night in question and can be heard on our men they found this.

Have a good weekend and be careful."

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Walking Hayricks Iceland 1908

From the book Iceland by Mrs. Disney Leith, London, Adam and Charles Black, 1908, p. 38.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Shetland Ponies Sailing to Shetlands

Ponies on sailboats....Icelandics on Norse knarrs...same idea just different millennium.  Emma Massingale sails with her two Shetlands Ernie and Albert to learn more about the island of their origin.   Blessi would love to be able to spend the night with his people herd in a tent--not sure about the sweathers.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Update on Horses of Iceland

The  organization Horses of Iceland works with concerned entities in Iceland and abroad to better market the Icelandic horse around the world.  In this video, Jenna Olm discusses the progress that has been made in the past two years.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Icelandic Costume 1880 to 1920

Here's the last major category of Icelandic costume for women--the skautbúningur and the kyrtill which were worn late 1800s and early 1900s. Photograph is from Wikipedia.

You can access more information and photos about Icelandic National costumes at

Monday, October 15, 2018

Norse Women Attire 1000 to 1100 AD

This is my best attempt to create garb for what a Norse woman would wear around 1000 to 1100 AD.
I am wearing an apron dress. I took off my turtle brooches and beads since there is always a good chance I could get my weapon tangled up in such adornment. Blessi and I are riding in front of historically accurate Norse tents used while traveling as we participate in a SCA tournament. I am carrying a quintain lance, which is medieval not Norse.

The second photo shows Blessi in the saddle blanket I made him based on the Lewis Chessman knights.

In my survey of historic Icelandic riding attire, I am still missing one major costume style. I'll have to look for public domain pictures of folks riding horses.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Historic Icelandic Church Attire 1840

Here's what Icelandic men and women wore while riding to church around 1840. The women, in riding chairs, wear faldbúningur, a style worn from the 1600s to mid 1800s. The women are wearing two types of hat; the one with the curved top piece is unique to Iceland. The men wore pantaloons or breeches. Source is an engraving by Paul Gaimard, found on Wikipedia.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

If I Was a Horse--Sing to Icelandic Horses

Federico Borluzzi took time during his tour of Iceland to play a song to the local horses.  As you can see, they are a respectful but appreciative audience.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Icelandic Farmer Attire 1911

Here is what a working Icelandic farmer wore about 1911. The farmer is bringing in hay from the fields. The photograph, called the Hay Train, is from Cornell University, Frederick Howell Collection.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Icelandic Riding Habit circa 1908

Got into another discussion about traditional Icelandic riding attire. Here is a watercolor of what the well dressed Icelandic woman would have worn around 1908. Photo is from Mrs. Disney Leith's book Iceland.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Lyngshest Horse Herding Sheep

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.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Hancock's 50 Facts on Icelandic Sheep

Icelandic sheep  Photo: Wikipedia
I keep finding some absolutely fascinating, almost crazy, information about Iceland, its horses, and other inhabitants. Edward Hancock has the same disease, er interest. He published his research on Icelandic sheep on his Blog Iceland Defrosted. Here are some of the 50 facts he discovered.

"#1. Sheep have a lot of very important business in the middle of roads. You will often see them having meetings. @CatTheobald

#2. Icelandic sheep have radars in their horns so they know exactly when to run in front of your car.

#14. Icelandic Sheep favour Twitter over Facebook, due to the confusion around facial recognition.

#15. Icelandic sheep have lead sheep called forystufe, who can operate GPS, and know the farmers phone number by heart.

#46. When transported out of Iceland, Icelandic sheep retain their accents. "

You can check out his web site for the rest of his crazy facts about Icelandic sheep

Monday, October 1, 2018

Horses of St Marks Basilica in Venice

One last post about Roman chariot racing....the horses of St. Marks Basilica in Venice (the originals are now inside the church) represent a Quadriga, or 4-horse team, used in Roman victory parades or chariot racing. These gorgeous sculptures are copper, not bronze and were probably made in the Roman Empire circa second or third century AD. Enjoy the video showing the beauty of these golden horses and the miraculous story of their survival as they were moved around Europe and Asia by conquest and war.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Training the Horses for the Ben Hur Chariot Scene

The end of the theater showing of the 1959 version of Ben Hur featured a piece on the training of the horses in the movie. Charlton Heston learned how to drive a 4-horse chariot team quickly because e learned how to drive a two-horse team for the film The Ten Commandments.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Chariot Racing Scene from Ben Hur

Here is the famous chariot racing scene from the 1959 version of Ben Hur. Both Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd drove their own teams with very little stunt double substitution. The horses were Andalusians and Lipizzans. Contrary to urban myth, no horses or stuntmen died during the filming although Heston and Boyd accidentally drove the teams through a $100,000 camera. The filming of 1925 silent version of Ben Hur was responsible for multiple horse deaths.

The arena was based on a plan of a Roman circus in Jerusalem. Cost to build the set was $1 million; cost to film the scene was another million. This scene alone accounted for about 14 % of total film budget.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Hobby Horse as Roman Chariot Horse

The latest remake of Ben Hur premiered last year. Who can forget the chariot racing scene from the 1959 version starring Charlton Heston? And how is Pamela going to relate Ben Hur to Icelandic horses?

Dr. Deb Bennett wrote an article in Equus magazine identifying the most historically important horse breed ever as the Hobby Horse. To briefly summarize...around 1500 to 1000 BC, Phoenician traders were taking horses with the gaited gene to trade for tin in what is now Great Britain. These gaited stallions were crossed with native ponies who had the speed gene to form the foundation for what became the Hobby Horse (in appearance think Icelandic or Kerry Bog). (Certainly the Norse would have taken some hobby horses from Northern England and Scotland to Iceland to contribute to the foundation of the Icelandic horse.)

Speed plus gait was an extremely desirable combination so the Romans (circa 43 AD to 410 AD) took hobby horses back to Italy for chariot races. Horses for chariot racing were bred from stock primarily from what is now Spain, Libya (northern Africa), and other areas. The training of Roman chariot racing started at age 5 and successful horses were know to race into their 20s.

As you can see by the Roman mosaics, chariot racing horses were much smaller than the horses we see in the movies. Some mosaics even depicted portraits of individual horses and their names. You can easily compare the more compact shapes of the hobby horses types versus the lighter boned horses from Spain and Africa.

So to be more historically accurate from an appearance point, some of the charioteers in Ben
Hur movies should be driving Icelandics representing the Hobby horse; and some, shorter Andalusians. Wouldn't that be a race to see?

Sunday, September 23, 2018

My "Breeding" Farm Tolting Treasures

You guys may not know that I started my own "breeding farm" Tolting Treasures a few years ago.
The farm produces one or two quality, "registered" foals per year which are donated for auction by local equine organizations. I have found this is a great way to have all the fun of breeding and naming Icelandic foals without having to know anything about lineages, horse conformation, gaits, etc.

I have even "bred" a replacement for Blessi. The photo of Blessi with the electric blue hair extension is from when I was experimenting to see where I could put the hair extension to discover if the farrier would notice (hence Blessi's googly eyes). I ended up putting the extension in Blessi's tail and the farrier never noticed until I pointed it out.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Tonka Walking Assistant Mini

Wow! It is amazing what horses can learn to do. This miniature horse Tonka helps his owner with balance. He had to learn how to ride elevators, get into and out of cars, enter and exit crowded
trams. In addition, he picks up car keys for his owner, positions himself to help her get up from a chair, and remains with her if she falls.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Horse in Norse Life

The Viking Heritage Magazine published an excellent overview of the horse in Norse life including horses sources, tack, burial customs, etc. Additional articles cover Norse musical instruments, tillers, rune stones, and much more. Illustrations are gorgeous.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Horses Using Symbols

Blessi in his custom made camel hair coat
Researchers in Norway trained horses (including one Icelandic) to indicate their preferences as to before the experiment).
having their blankets on or off by touching a symbol. All the horses learned the task in just a few days. Researchers tested understanding by comparing preferences to daily temperatures, putting on extra heavy blanket, checking degree of sweat. Warmbloods learned the task faster than coldbloods (but researchers noted some warmbloods had been exposed to positive reinforcement

"Positive reinforcement training has been shown to increase horses’ general interest in humans (Sankey et al., 2010) and their motivation to participate in training (Innes and McBride, 2008). Actually, such a change in behaviour was observed among our horses. When horses realized that they were able to communicate with the trainers, i.e. to signal their wishes regarding blanketing, many became very eager in the training or testing situation. Some even tried to attract the attention of the trainers prior to the test situation, by vocalizing and running towards the trainers, and follow their movements. On a number of such occasions the horses were taken out and allowed to make a choice before its regular turn, and signalled that they wanted the blanket to be removed. It turned out that the horses were sweaty underneath the blanket."

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Kids Fashion Shoot in Iceland

Cute kids, cute clothes, cute horses!  Here's a behind the scenes look at the fashion shoot the Canadian company Deux-par-Deux conducted in Iceland for its line of clothing.  And I always knew Icelandic horses were unicorns.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Teaching Camels to Play Soccer

What happens when you teach camels to play soccer? Everybody has a good time. Although one young camel has found a unique way to dominate the ball. Video from Safari in Bellingham, WA.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Playing Polo on Camels

Polo is the sport of kings, with a rich history going back 1000s of years. Today's top level polo horses are graceful, quick, dashing, energetic partners to their top notch, athletic riders. My friend Christine commented that Icelandics don't look much like the long legged, short backed, successful polo ponies--which is true. However I did find a version of polo played with short legged, hairy mounts that may be suitable for Icelandics.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Highlights from a Polo Match

Here are some of the action highlights from 2012 IPC Professional Polo Competition.

Friday, September 7, 2018

The Pony that Turned the Water on

A few weeks back, Blessi and I returned from a clinic. I took him to the wash stall to hose down his legs. I almost always offer him a drink direct from the hose. That day I was running a little behind schedule so didn't let him have a drink since he was going back to his paddock with a big tub of water.

It was a relatively hot day and Blessi must have been thirsty. After I shut off the water, he reached over to the taps and twisted one to turn the water back on (there was no shut off at the end of the hose). Now he must have been observing how this works for months because he turned the tap in the correct direction to start the water flowing. If you turn that particular tap too far in the open direction the tap itself falls off. So Blessi got his drink of water.

Blessi's actions remind me of an Icelandic horse story collected by Shirley Hibbard in her 1868 book Clever Dog, Horses, Etc. with Anecdotes of Other Animals. Under the section title I borrowed for the name of my posting, she quoted the following paragraph from The Scotmans newspaper article "Extraordinary case of equine sagacity".

"An almost unparalleled circumstance was noted at Muirhall, near West Calder. During the great heat that prevailed on a recent day, an Icelandic pony, the property of Mr. John Waddell, contractor, was for a time left to its own free will during the temporary absence of its driver. The pony, which had been driven for a considerable distance, and was seemingly actuated by a craving for water, was observed by the proprietor of Muirhall, and others who chanced to be in the vicinity, to deliberately walk a distance of fully fifty yards, and with its teeth turn the cock of a water-pipe projecting out of the road embankment, supply itself with a draught of the refreshing beverage, readjust the cock, and return to the position in which it was left."

Now Muirhall and West Calder at that time were noted for the quality of its breweries and distilleries, which may account for the absence of the Icelandic horse owner and, possibly, the trustworthiness of the witnesses. However, I was able to verify that The Scotsman published said article because I could see the title in an archives search of 19th century Scottish newspapers. Since I am not a citizen of Scotland, I could not view the individual pages of the newspaper to validate the actual quote. Interestingly, The Scotsman of that year published a newspaper article almost monthly about a new shipment of ponies direct from Iceland. Many Icelandics were purchased for use in the coal mines of that period. The book The Icelandic Horse by Arnarorsson, Sigurthardottir, and Guthlaugsson reports that 107,000 Icelandic horses were exported to Britain from 1850 to 1949.