by Jennifer Hamilton
In Europe where the Icelandic horse
is a popular breed,
Icelandic horses are known as the "Ferraris" of the
horse world. Icelandic horses have
earned this reputation for good reasons.
Like a good sports car, these horses offer a full range of speed and all
the fun of a smooth, responsive ride.
Although a relatively new breed to this country, the Icelandic horse has
many wonderful qualities to offer the American horseman.
are naturally gaited. They not only
walk, trot, and canter, but they also tolt (a very smooth, running walk) and
flying pace). These two, tolt and flying
pace, are lateral gaits. In the tolt,
the Icelandic horse can reach speeds up to 25 mph and in the flying pace, 35
mph. "It's something akin to
overdrive," as a gentleman friend of mine describes it. Icelandic horses also have a low center of
gravity which makes them sure-footed and agile.
these '5-gear options', and maneuverability with a willing, friendly, sensible
temperament and you have a very sporty equine.
Bred to retain both the full range of gaits and an excellent character,
they are a truly versatile breed. The
same horse is capable of being a multi-talented riding mount, as well as a
driving horse or draft animal.
are a smaller breed of horse. They
average in height between 13-14.2 hands.
For some people, their 'user-friendly' size makes them non-threatening
and approachable. However, in our
country where the myth
"bigger is better" reigns, a
horse can be perceived as "not enough horse" for a man.
That is certainly not the experience for the following men
who own and enjoy their Icelandic horses.
Hamilton, a Midwest farmer, owns 10 Icelandics in Iowa. Doug does a lot of trail riding with his mare,
Gletta. On a
trail ride with other breeds, Doug enjoys the attention he gets as he glides
along on this flashy, zebra dun mare.
Not infrequently, Doug finds himself leading rides as Gletta guides other horses through creeks, slides and the
is a terrific trail mare. You just point
her and she goes. Yet she takes good
care of me, too. If I get in a sticky
is so level headed that she will
get us out of trouble."
Justin Vandergaag, a student in New Jersey,
qualified in 1993 to compete representing the United
States at the European world games for Iceland
horses in the Netherlands. Justin takes competition seriously. He works very hard at training and preparing
his mount for shows. "Icelandics,
even though they are easy to ride, are challenging to ride well. I enjoy the challenge of retaining and
refining the clarity of each gait, while changing speed."
native Icelander living in here America,
Icelandic horses are a natural choice.
Stephan Sigurdsson grew up riding and training
Icelandic horses in Iceland.
Stephan has lived and worked his adult
life as a building trades contractor in the United
States. He keeps a small herd of Icelandic
horses out his back door in uburban Connecticut.
most of the top trainers and competitive riders are men.
During the summer of 1993 Stephan joined up with
a group of riders who came over
to demonstrate Icelandic horses at
the Hampton Classic in New York. They were well received at the show. "Our demonstration showed that our small
horses make exciting mounts. Their
clean, smooth gaits, their speed,
and their willingness all combine
to make Icelandic horses an engaging ride for the serious horseman."
Icelandic horse is ideal for the casual rider as well. John Dey started
riding at 45 years of age. "My
father was in the mounted U.S. Calvary until the 1950's, so I have had a life long fascination
with horses. I must confess that my
experience with Icelandic horses has spoiled me completely." John works as a commodity broker. Riding his stylish gelding, Oddi, provides a much needed break for him from his
job. "I may not get to ride for
weeks, but with an Icelandic you don't have to spend
lot of time "tuning them up".
You just get on and"> go."
Kevin Arseneau uses his Icelandics for hunting
caribou, bear and moose. His horses
carry him and his hunting party into the bush and then pack out the dressed
game. "These horses are strong,
tough, little buggers. They'll go the
distance for you." However, most of
the time Kevin is out pleasure riding with his family, if they can keep up with
him! "Of course, my favorite thing
to do is tolt...fast!"
trail riding is Ed Hilgaertner's favorite equine sport. Ed is over 6 feet tall and a dead ringer for
Clint Eastwood. He and his blue dun
mare, Grima, have done very well in California
is great. Her first choice of gait is
tolt. That makes going long distances
much easier on me and her!" Their
success as a team has won them respect in the competitive trail circles. "No body laughs at my mare and me.." (We're
reading your lips, Ed!)
come from all walks of life and from all over the United
States. Their level of horsemanship is
varied. However, for each of them the Icelandic horse has proved to be an
important part of their lives whether for recreation, business or both. The verdict from these men is unanimous...
"The Icelandic horse does indeed make
!a good looking man's horse!
About the author:
Jennifer Hamilton and her husband, Doug, import, raise,
train and breed Icelandic horses on their farm in Fairfield,
Iowa. For more information about the breed,
write or call them at Prairie Garden Farm, 2140 227th, Fairfield,
IA, 52556 Phone: 641-472-8422.