Category Archives: Horse History

Horse Lessons

meeting the boys

 

As much as I talk and write about horses, I’m not much of a rider. I can’t claim the crown of being a horsewoman. I ride too infrequently and never get to know one horse long enough to really learn to speak horse. This has left me a perpetual beginner and an eternal learner in the equine world. Still I have learned much from the horsewomen I know.

From Karleen I learned to halt the horse by breathing out, sitting deep and looking up.

From Beth I learned the horse is a mirror.

From Helga I learned the power of a collected walk.

From Disa I learned to smile and dust off your pants when dumped from the saddle unharmed.

From Bev I learned to only ride as fast as the slowest rider in the group.

From Kat I learned a cheerful attitude relaxes horse and rider.

From Karleen I learned equilibrium by riding a horse bareback.

From Helga I learned transitioning from walk to trot to tölt.

From Bev I learned to listen to my instincts.

From Claudia I learned to sit the trot.

From Karleen I learned to sing in a tölt.

From Helga I learned an Icelandic saying: “I like my horses fast and my men wild. “

From Esther I learned you’re never too old to enjoy a canter across the mudflats of Lake Hop.

From Christina I learned how to let the horse go.

From Beth I learned that horses can heal you.

HelgMeKatAtSea

For weekly writing prompt: Student, Teacher

How to Fly: An Amateur’s Guide

Buckskin Dun Icelandic

I believe I can fly

How Moldi Taught Me to Fly

In Icelandic, the horse’s name Moldi sounds nice. The d has a soft “t” sound, the el is basically dropped. Of course, the subtleties of pronunciation are lost on us. We call out his name like a fungus: “Who’s riding Moldy today?” He hasn’t held that against us, though. His name means earth-colored and Moldi is a robust dun gelding with an eel stripe and a black and white mane, which nicely shows off the Norwegian Fjord DNA of Icelandic horses.

I was originally scared of Moldi. He was one of Disa’s horses and she trained primarily competitive horses. Moldi was not one of those, but the first year we came to the farm he was still very young and hence not completely trained. Horses like that—green and frisky—I eye warily, but Kat takes them on with no problem. In Iceland, she exhibits a cowgirl bravado. She rides with a confidence that she doesn’t have back home. She got off Moldi that first year and said breezily, “What a sweet horse,” scratching him under his chin like a kitten.

It wasn’t until Moldi was about ten years old (and well-trained) that I rode him. Not only rode him, but paced him, by accident. Pace is the fifth gear in the Icelandic horse, also called flying pace because the horse’s feet leave the ground laterally at once and the horse is actually suspended briefly in the air, flying over the ground. The Icelandic word for this gait is “skeið” (pronounced something like skaith, I think), which is funnily close in my mind to the word for Cheers, “Skál” (pronounced something like skauth, I think).

So one dark and stormy day I rode out with Christina and we were going fast and she rode slightly behind me giving me instructions that were partly obscured by the wind. She called out to me in her cute German accent, “Tauwri, do….and bring him …..Tauwri…then he’ll….just…Tauwri.”

“Wha???” I kept saying. I felt like the dog in the Gary Larson cartoon—all I heard was my name.

I wanted to canter, natch, and kept asking Moldi for it and he kept trotting faster and faster until it felt strange and I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t sit to this fast trot and I couldn’t post to it either. I tried my thin arsenal of riding tricks: leg on, leg off, sit forward, sit back, tight reins, loose reins. Then I just let out my inner John Wayne, “He-yah, inspired by the recent viewing of Stagecoach (Bev brought the video with her this year so we could study the trick riding).  “H’yah, h’yah.” But Moldi increased speed without going into a canter. Christina rode up next to me, said, “Tauwri, he’s pacing. You’ve got him in a pace!” She said it as a compliment, as if I meant to do this. Nice. Pacing clocks in at 25 miles per hour, about the speed of a Model T Ford. But on a horse it feels like flying. Skál to skeið!

Moldi, who flies

Moldi, who flies

Moldi and Me

Moldi and Me

courtesy of tolt.net

How it’s done
Courtesy of tolt.net, Flying C Ranch

My Horse History

In the beginning there was the horse

The first time I came across an Icelandic horse was on a website. I was bored at work and clicking listlessly on a new search engine called Google–this was 1998. I had just taken up riding again after a twenty year hiatus, and every Saturday I went round and round on an overused school horse, a retired, tired Thoroughbred, trying to get it to walk, trot, and canter. I loved the big old horse but his spirit was gone, and when I dismounted my knees would buckle and ache as I dropped from the lofty height of his withers to the ground. My learning curve as a rider was long, my improvements almost imperceptible. I was frustrated.

Icelandic Horse

Staring Back at Me

I didn’t know I was searching for another breed when I stumbled upon the website. But what I sensed immediately was that the Icelandic horse was different. For starters, they are five gaited. They are all descendants of the original stock of Viking horses (not unlike the people), with absolutely no interbreeding for over one thousand years. And they are treated like horses, not pampered and petted, but left to fend for themselves in the mountains half of the year. This makes them hardy, healthy, and long-living. The country views them as a national treasure, prohibiting all other horses from entering the country, and once an Icelandic horse leaves the island, it is never allowed back in. Tough emigration policy.

It’s hard to say why certain topics, objects or places resonate with people. Why some people may gravitate toward the African continent, or, say, all things Italian. But at first glance of the pixelated Icelandic horse, my heart leapt. I was a girl again, smitten with love, nothing short of obsessed. On the site was a picture of a dark bay with a noble head, a strongly boned face, and a wild mane. It was a horse (and I am being careful here) that I felt some past kinship with, as if I had dreamed of this place and this animal’s face. It was standing in the green tussocks of Iceland, a place that looked forbiddingly desolate and yet oddly familiar. Usually I only believe in past lives after my third drink but there I was, midday and procrastinating at work, staring at this dark horse that stared right back at me. We reconnected. It had been centuries.