Breeding Versatility


            I very much have appreciated Ragnar Eriksson's writings about the versatility of Icelandic horses from his remembrances of growing up on his father's farm in Iceland during the 1950's and farming with these horses and also that in Ragnar's sense that versatility is still very much in the breeding. 


            One of the things that attracts me to this breed is that culturally the breeding is so related to how the horses work.  The breed is so much about how the horses go as riding animals.  That the breeding of these horses and the essential esteem for these horses is still so related to horsemanship and riding utility.  In Iceland, horse breeding is still evidently about the utility of how horses go. 

            Always, when in the company of Icelandic horsemen, as someone naively gushes on about how pretty a horse may be or gushes on about one color over another color, the Icelandic remonstrance is quickly there, "you don't ride the color". 


            This Icelandic kind of cultural sensibility about horses contrasts with so much of horsemanship and horse breeding here in North America today.  In North America where the breeding of horses has been so driven by color-people or by show-people so determined to push aesthetic standards which in too many breeds has removed their standard entirely away from any utility originally conceiving most breeds. 


            In North America, as a culture we stopped methodically using and then breeding horses for reasons of utility after World War II.  From World war II, as our soldiers returned to their farms with the help of government farm programs and loans, our farms, ranches, and farm communities mechanized completely.  At that point the great horse herd of the US horse economy up to that point was then slaughtered out. One relative I have traded his last set of work-horses for a new refrigerator then.


            Methodical breeding beyond that time has mostly been in the hands of our show breeders whose primary concern lays so much with the moment in the show ring; and, too often with the horse being only valued at the end of a lead line!


            I am always amused by the breed fairs which are held throughout North America where show stallions can only be presented on their beauty in hand, because obviously they can not be ridden!  It is almost laughable!  


            By contrast, Baldvin Ari, Baddi shipped us a stallion, Sorli fra Bulandi from Iceland.  This Sorli had been a highly regarded adult stallion in Iceland having been shown and bred widely with solidly high marks across his building, riding and now BLUP breeding scores.  I think he is the second or third highest rated stallion with probably one of the highest BLUP in North America now.  Yet to the credit of this breed, this fine guy is ultimately ride-able.  Ultimately versatile.


            We use him as a riding horse and we find him to be a fine prince of a character, unflappable, straightforward, easy, dignified, noble, willing and ultimately sensible in nature.   As a breeding animal, I find this quite engaging as the contrast that it reveals about the Icelandic horse.  This is also the culture of horsemanship that the Icelandic horse comes from.


            Simply on practical terms, I must say that I look forward to boiling up the highway going to town on this black breeding stallion, just to go in for coffee and do my errands!  We're known around town like at the drive-up bank windows, the malls and the square. This Sorli is a regular out on the town.  


            So, yes, to the question.  Yes they can be an all-around horse.  Yes also, there is a range of talent and character, but all-around horse is a core in the nature of their breeding to date.  Absolutely.  However, I would also be the first to temper my saying this to naive people new to horses or to people just new to the breed. 


            A horse for all people and persons?  Not really.  Horsemanship resides in the rider so please, "buyer beware" as you go about finding any horse for yourself.  Look around, talk around, learn about the breed, work first at establishing your own horsemanship and then the good horse will find you.  But please do not buy the first horse you see or necessarily from the first person you talk to!  In process, you will come to learn what versatility is and find it here in this breed where it is preserved. 


                        Best Regards!  Doug Hamilton