Iceland, Shopping for Horses

Buying Horses for Americans



Judy Morton, of far northern Calif. wrote,<<..I especially loved your winter
story of the gathering of horses on a previous post of yours.
So, could you please fill us in, as to what horse did you end up
buying and what is he/she like. Is there another Icelandic saga here?>  >



     Well yes, I have some sagas but my sagas are not nearly so interesting as the real sagas.  Sagas the way we use the term in modern English too often read as long and boring.  So I am not much interested in posting my own here too much.  I know that I can get long and wordy, but I did see some things along the way... in looking for horses. Along the way I rode short of two hundred horses.  I sampled and ate some bad-horse meat in several forms along the way while I was there too.  (I think I punctuated that correctly?... good bad-horse meat too! )


            In mid-winter I took off for three weeks to Iceland to visit friends and to look for trained, safe, sound horses that I liked who would be good for Americans.  It is cold and slow in Iowa, so I went before things would get real busy with Spring work ahead.  It is the same schedule for Icelanders on their farms right then. 


            I traveled to four areas of Iceland and stayed with friends visiting along the way.  Before on my trips to Iceland I have been there in the Summer months.  The look and the nature of life in Iceland is considerably different in Winter.  In summer the energy of the country is much alive with the nature of the long days and the near 24-hour sunlight.  The place is lively in summer months where people seem to do about a life and a half each summer day.  In summer on the farms, you will see farmers finish their early evening chores by going out to start hay mowing and then go on to bed.  In the summer, the place usually calms down at something like 1 o’clock in the morning and people are up again moving around by 7 or eight in the morning.   It is a hard working country and this can be seen in the faces of a lot of people during the summer.   The natural cycle of things with winter in Iceland is that winter is when the country seems to recharge itself for the new Spring and summer coming.  The pace of the days, because of the low sunlight, is more towards re-charge.  In ways, people looked a lot more fresh in the dead of winter than I saw them in the dead of summer.  There seem to be more time for family, eating, talking, and sleeping. Time for catching up in a more restful way inside this time of year.


    So, while I was there, I was looking for good horses.  There are lots of horses in Iceland.  The challenge is finding good horses in the way that you may want them and finding farmers or trainers who will sell them to you.  It is not an easy process actually.  They have their own domestic sense of what they want in a good horse.  They also have a huge domestic saddle horse market and it is growing.  There has come to be a solid market inside Iceland for really nice horses as well as the European markets.  There is a lot of desire for horses that are really nice saddle horses.  But this sense of what is nice or what is good can be different from what many people would want in America. 


            In looking for good horses, you always run up against the difference between what is good to a cultural sense and what might also be wanted also in a different sense.  It is not necessarily a thing of right or wrong, it can just be different.  It is a lot of work to sort it out sometimes. 


            At times I would be riding something that I was really liking, but then also thinking that this would never work for America.   For things to work, there is a blend that is needed between training and character.  For many of the Icelandic riders, what we would want in a horse they would see as boring and be called lazy to them.  Yet in Iceland, there is a domestic need for good horses like these too.  There are two sides to it.  The challenge to figure out in a particular horse is where boring or lazy  might become stubborn and bad.  Good horses always are wanted.  It is one of those things that once you know what you want, you know it when you ride it.  The challenge is to find it! 


            I have a lot of stories to tell about trying to find this intersection between what is good and good and bad in a horse there.  This could fill a chapter or two.  It also is about personality and character in people as well as horses. 


            We have been in horses a while and we have been with Icelandic horses for a while.  We have done this a lot and we know something of what we want.  In going around, I am pretty clear on this.  On this trip, I would tell folks what I wanted. Trained, easy to tolt, safe horses, which in our case, that we could teach middle-aged novice riders to ride on.  That is part of what we do here.  At the same time, the horses need to be for horse-people.  This is all a tall order to fill. 


            There will be a time in America where we will want a better more ground covering, sensitive animated horse.  But for now it is something else that most of us need.  It is this kind of  easy safe trained tolting horse that we need now mostly. 


            However, as I went along, what became more interesting for me to see was which horses the different trainers would bring out for me to try as I traveled around looking for good horses.  Of course, also in the process, I am looking for good people as well as good hoses there too. 


            There is something also telling about people in the process as it goes along.  It is quite interesting to see the range of possibilities in horses and people!  On a practical level, horses and horse-traders are the same around the world.  I was enjoying watching the horsemen as much as trying to figure out their horses. 


            When someone brings out a stressed overly-sensitive pop-eyed horse for me to try that is clearly not the horse I am interested in, what is going on in their mind?  Are  they thinking I will maybe not see this?  Or maybe it is that “hope springs eternal” and that I will just fall in love with it anyway.  Or is there a streak of sadism more than cynicism running here in this trainer?   Aspects of condescension, arrogance and egotism are always there to figure out also.  In the process at the same time, it is to figure horse nature and human nature .  This is age-old stuff! 


            Most horses right now in the winter there have just come in from pastures and paddocks and have not been ridden.  So truthfully, they are not being shown to me in their best form.  Some are stiff with disuse and do not necessarily show their gaits the best now at this time of year.  Given this, even with natural tolting horses, the rider does need to know something of how to help them go well in tolt.  With horses that are less easy to tolt than the so called natural tolter, many of them will require a little more attention to riding them in tolt easily and well.  Most horses are actually like this.  Even the natural tolter you ride today will be stiff or pacy or trotty with disuse tomorrow and also can be ridden poorly and turned into a trotter.  Part of the challenge is to figure where they show themselves on this scale of things. 


            I came to understand something that was going on with some of the horses that I was being shown.  I came to see also in some of the times that a horse was brought to me to ride and try,  some horses would required a lot of attention to riding clearly in gait.  In this, there was a cultural experience going on too. 


            Most Icelanders that ride a lot are use to doing the little things that you do to help shape a horse to go better and more cleanly in any gait.  A horse that is a little trotty or a little pacy often is sat on and quickly formed under seat to go better, almost without thinking about it in Iceland.  On these horses, if you point out that they are harder to ride, there is often a blank look because it is so much a part of their riding to just quickly assess, shape the horse and ride cleanly away that they hardly even think about it. 


            One time this dawned on me when I was riding two horses in a row at one farm, both real nice but one slightly towards trot and the other slightly towards pace.  As case studies, I was enjoying getting them to form to go better in tolt as I was riding.  It dawned on me that, while I was enjoying this horse training moment that they each presented, that these were not horses for the American market because they require too much attention to forming the picture to make it go right.  They were subtly and nicely trained mares with real good characters for America, but they required too much to ride easily in tolt.  So it was.  On I went. They actually were great horses in ways.  I am sure the owner thought I was a fool.  Yet, I do know why he thought they were good horses.


            So in the end, I had 14 horses that I found for America.  They were shipped here about three weeks afterward.  There were some more that I come in shipments afterwards.  It is hard to pass up a good horse, when you find it! 


            These are parts of what I saw in Iceland on one of my trips there.  There were some others too.  Those are other stories...  


                        -  Doug  Hamilton