Don’t Call Me Pony
Many years ago a wise financial adviser cautioned me to “never invest in anything that eats.” I felt at the time that he was warning me about procreating which, in the opinion of my friends, was a very good idea. In retrospect, he was speaking about putting money into animals (not children): things such as cows, chickens, goats and/or horses. While ignoring this sage advice, one of my less-than-clever purchases (in order to avoid taxes), was a share in a racehorse. The stallion soon died of hoof and mouth disease, or some such thing. Numerous years of other dubious investments passed and shortly after my retirement I bought an Icelandic horse. Much like buying a boat, I quickly came to find out that the initial purchase (i.e. the horse itself) was merely the beginning of the money drain. One must have a big barn and special food and Cornell trained veterinarians and custom-made French tack of the finest leather. One must buy a trailer for the horse to lounge in while a huge gas-eating truck pulls her around the countryside for Sunday excursions. This list could go on forever. In the example of the boat, you can simply sink it. Not so the horse. I soon appreciated that adviser whom I had fired years before. As an analogy, let’s say you wish to take up golf. You buy a set of clubs and then discover that you must also build your own course. It’s much like that. Except that you really don’t fall in love with the clubs. Again, not so the horse.
The Icelandic horse is a hardy breed of animal taken to Iceland by Norse settlers in the 9th and 10th century. To prevent the spread of disease, once a horse is exported from Iceland it is never allowed to return, not that you would want to buy it a plane ticket anyway. The harsh climate of Iceland eliminated many horses through cold and starvation and so, in Vermont, they often feel as though they have gone south on a well-deserved vacation. On the coldest of winter days, they will simply walk out of their heated barn and stand happily in a pasture of snow and ice. You’ve got to love that resiliency. And so, I bought two.
Many a little girl or boy always wanted Daddy to buy them a pony for their birthday. The Icelandic horse would have been a wise choice. These horses can be thought of as the Labrador Retrievers of the equine world with a personality to suit: friendly, docile, easy to handle, self-assured and basically spook-proof. Some horses are bred for pack and draft work, others for work under saddle and still others for horsemeat. I constantly remind my own horse of this when she is being difficult. “One more slip up and we’re going to a barbecue,” I’ll say. With typical Icelandic names such as Melkoa Fra Grytu and Gjoksa Fra Olafsbergi the names do not roll easily off of the American tongue. Imagine the Lone Ranger belting out “Hi Ho, Numi Fra Poroddsstodum” at the end of every show. It just wouldn’t work.
So, why is it a horse and not the misnomer of a pony? The Icelandic will measure on the average about fourteen hands, which is fifty-six inches tall from the ground to the highest point of the withers. Their weight, bone structure and carrying abilities mean that they can be classified as a horse. The ability to do work separates a horse from a pony. The legs are short and sturdy with a unique wild full mane and tail. In addition to the standard gaits of walk, trot and canter/gallop the Icelandic horse has two additional movements that are completely unique. The tolt is a smooth gait without suspension and the same lateral footfall as a walk. It is entirely genetic with the gene having been bred out of most other horses except for the Tennessee Walker, Rocky Mountain horse or the Paso Fino. The entire weight of the horse and the rider is sometimes balanced on only one of the horse’s four feet. It is difficult and demanding but the Icelandic can perform it with effortless grace. Fast and exhilarating it is simply why people fall in love with riding this breed of horse. The flying pace is the other gait and even with Icelandics, only the very best of the breed can perform this. My own horse, Gjoska, is five-gaited and will scare the riding pants off of you as she can quickly accelerate to speeds up to 30 mph in a matter of a few strides. Envision a 200-hundred pound muscular Viking bearing down on you with this wild looking horse while swinging a sharpened broad axe. You run away terrified. You never make it.
Responsive, loyal, fun and tough as nails, the Icelandic horse is becoming increasingly popular in the United States. I urge you to Goggle Vermont Icelandic Horse Farm on the internet for more information. The farm featured there is in Waitsfield and the site will give you a ton of information on riding opportunities and pricing. Locally you should call Jana Meyer-Hoyt who is an experienced trainer from Germany and arrange for lessons in nearby Bridgewater at 603-856-6697. Finally, Jess Haynsworth is an enthusiastic young woman in Warren at Mad River Valley Icelandic Horses. She specializes in children and may be contacted at 617-962-0065.
Take the kids! Take your wallet and good luck!n
See you around the track!