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.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Learning Polo from Nacho Figueras

Some friends have ridden my Icelandic horse Blessi and fooled around with a polo mallet. I was interested learning more about the sport. What a wonderful way to learn by watching Ignacio "Nacho" Figueras from Argentina explain the game. Ignacio was rated the second most handsome man in the world several years ago---behind Robert Pattinson but ahead of Brad Pitt. Oh, he rides a horse beautifully also.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Get One of World's Most Handsome Men to Promote Icelandic HorseIC HORSE BREED

This all started with Conan O’Brien. Put Conan next to a horse and instant hilarity results. Previous Conan videos feature him dressed as Fabio riding Martha Stewart’s Friesian and starting a race at the Santa Anita track by calling “It’s a pony party.” So when I found a video of Senor F. (reason for alias will shortly become apparent) teaching Conan to play polo, I thought I had won a Trifecta which I could share with my Facebook friends.

At one point in the video, Senor F. asks Conan if he would like to wear a safety helmet. To me the polo helmet has an attractive masculine vibe. It looks like a pith helmet and a football helmet mated while everybody was distracted by the running of the Kentucky Derby. Conan has a different view, “I want to look cool. That is more important than safety.” Upon seeing himself in the polo helmet, he swore “I would rather be killed.” OK, I admit I laughed out loud at his dead pan delivery--as I did multiple times during this video. But research shows that falling off a horse without a helmet is equivalent in force to being hit by a car. If you wear a helmet during a fall, you are five times less likely to have a traumatic brain injury.

I decided not to share that video but I thought all my Facebook friends deserved the opportunity to admire Senor F., whose appearance, frankly, took my breath away. And his equitation skills are world class. Since some of my friends have played around with my Goodwill, bargain polo mallets and my Icelandic horse Blessi, I decided to share that anecdote with a video of Senor F. explaining how to play polo. He promotes polo as a sport that riders can enjoy at multiple levels of expertise. Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States from 1901 to 1909, agreed, “Polo is a good game, infinitely better for vigorous men than football or golf.” Theodore wrote multiple letters discussing the bitting and conditioning of his polo pony named, believe it or not, Pickles.

Truly it is not part of my public persona to burble, rhapsodize, or rave over the appearance of actors, models, and athletes. OK, that is a lie. I do gush and swoon in my own thoughts. And my girlfriends and I may choose to discuss over glasses of wine the aesthetics of male physiognomy in the film we just viewed. Fortuitously I chose to describe Senor F. as follows: Per a Vanity Fair poll, “X was rated the second most handsome man in the world several years ago---behind Robert Pattinson but ahead of Brad Pitt. Oh, he rides a horse beautifully also.” OK, I gushed via proxy.

So I posted on Facebook and shut down the computer for the night. When I checked Facebook the next morning, Senior F. had not only liked my posting but, much to my surprise, shared it on his Facebook page along with other postings about his family and personal accomplishments. (Senor F. seems like a very nice guy who just happens to be drop dead gorgeous.) And to my utter amazement, his fans shared my posting 14 times--modest exposure for the Icelandic breed in Facebook terms but huge in my personal Facebook attempts.

Face it Blessi, I am not certain that many readers noticed your cute photo or even your breed while
distracted by the sight of Senor F. To me you have the coloring of Robert Redford during his younger years, the poise of Cary Grant, the athletic ability of Tom Cruise, the humor of John Cleese, and the rugged good looks of Harrison Ford. If I only had the riding ability of Senor F, we could make beautiful, classic, MGM dancing movies together. As it is, I limit us to screwball comedies. So I will continue to gush frequently and in public over you.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Conan Learns to Play Polo

Conan learns to play polo from one of the top players in the world, Nacho Figueras.  The video is hysterically funny but I don't support the not wearing helmets because it makes me look stupid remark.  Anyway, this video is the start of a series of posts of "How to inadvertently get one of the world's most handsome men to do promotion for the Icelandic horse."