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. 


            Icelandics are naturally gaited.  They not only walk, trot, and canter, but they also tolt (a very smooth, running walk) and

skeith a 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.


            Combine 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.


            Icelandics 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

 small 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.


            Doug 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 hills.  "Gletta 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 situation, Gletta

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." 


            For a 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. 


 In Iceland, 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 from Iceland

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."


            The 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

 a lot of time "tuning them up".  You just get on and"> go."


            In Alaska, 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!"


            Competitive 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 competitions.  "Grima 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!)


            These men 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.