The Versatile Icelandic

I first rode an Icelandic horse five years ago. I knew from that first ride (when I didn’t stop smiling for four hours), that they are a special breed. Icelandics are calm, willing, strong, powerful, friendly, hardy, curious and smart. They have five gaits. They are smooth and fast! They are great trail and endurance horses, as well as fun competition horses. Icelandics can fox-hunt and are pony club favorites. Icelandic drill teams are always eye-catching; with their long, flowing manes and tails and high lift in the front, they are big crowd pleasers. Yet there is more - honestly, they never cease to amaze me.

About a month ago, through a very strange set of circumstances, a new Icelandic came into my life. Herkúles from Dalalif is no “ordinary” Icelandic. Herkúles does not tölt. He does do a lot of other things!

Last year I began the arduous task of building a 250 meter oval track and 300 meter pace track for Icelandic competition. There are specific regulations to consider, and one of them is the type of fencing. I have never been a fan of rope, so I began searching for lightweight, durable fencing that would not interfere with the judges’ views of the track. After some intensive internet searches and inquiries, I settled on a company headquartered in England, called Duralock. Their representative in the U.S. (Joe Carr) is a FEI eventing judge. Joe did everything he could to help me ascertain what kind of fence would be best and arranged special shipping to have it arrive in time for our sanctioned show in September. We talked so frequently that he seemed an old friend.

In mid-July Joe sent me a picture of a sales ad for an Icelandic horse. He saw the ad at an eventing competition and thought I might be interested. Smart man – I am always interested in an Icelandic! I called the owner and after watching some videos, decided to buy the ten year old gelding. I knew that he was trained differently than most, but figured we could teach him to tölt, or I could sell him as an eventer, jumper or dressage pony. He came from excellent breeding.

Curious to know more about him – I did a little “fishing expedition.” I contacted some friends in my Icelandic circle and was a bit surprised and disturbed to learn that his beginnings were not auspicious. He evidently had quite a buck! When the Icelandic trainers abandoned hope for him as a riding horse, they sent him to a dressage barn and lost track of him. Somehow, he ended up  with a young girl who did three day eventing. Her mother assured me he was no longer a “bucker.”

Herkúles arrived at Harmony about a month ago, in early September. I admit I had no small amount of trepidation when I first put a saddle on his back. He was obviously energetic and powerful and I was ready to be tossed off. Fortunately, what I experienced was an elastic, willing horse with excellent training and a canter that is a dream to sit. He did not show any inclination to tölt. Perhaps he can be taught, but I decided within the first few minutes that I would not try to change him. Surely, I could improve my dressage skills with this horse.

Next came our foray over fences. So much fun! As a former “jumper rider” this was my comfort zone. Herkúles never hesitated for an instant and has a BIG jump. I have always known that it isn’t the size of the horse that makes a good jumper, but how they use their impulsion and tuck their legs. Anyone remember Teddy O’Connor? I was beginning to realize I had a novelty in the barn.

Two weeks later, I showed him to International Icelandic Sport Judge, Jens Füchtenschnieder, who proclaimed him a “fantastic horse.” Jens ordered me to ride him in his trained discipline and not change him. So…I started looking for opportunities for Herkúles.

We are fortunate to have a large show facility in our area: Maffitt Lake Equestrian Center. There are many shows of various levels hosted there; from the highest levels of hunter/jumper and dressage to local schooling shows. I decided to enter Herkúles in combined training and dressage at the next local schooling show. A perfect opportunity – no pressure. He was a star! Two blue ribbons in our eventing and dressage debut. A clean jumping round and a respectable score of 67.77% in our first dressage round. Yes, we started small, and yes, we have much to improve. Still, did you know that Icelandics can jump? Did you know they can compete with the “big horses” in the dressage ring? I certainly didn’t! I have long been impressed by their myriad of other skills but now I stand in awe. Such a special, special creature is the Icelandic horse.

Love, Virginia