I'm new here and should probably do a proper introduction at some point but there's one topic I quite want to talk about.
I'm Icelandic and when I lived in Iceland I had a horse. I'm now living in Scotland and I sold my horse before I moved over.
Back home the only horse breed there is is the Icelandic horse (I know they're actually a fairly large pony). Importing horses is completely illegal and even exported Icelandic horses can never return. So yeah a hardy, fun gaited pony is the horse for you if you live in Iceland. Even if you're a well over 6 foot guy. (I'm a 5'6 girl)
Anyway the yearly cycle of how you keep the horses back home is very different from anything I've seen over here or read about elsewhere. Basically I'm dealing with a huge culture shock.
First of all, a lot of stallions have a herd of mares they're supposed to breed over the summer. They're left together in a big field and do their thing. A herd of mares with a stallion.
The foals are born outside and usually unobserved. For example my uncle bred horses and we used to go roughly once a week out to the summer field where his pregnant mare was (in a big herd with a bunch of other mares, pregnant or with foals) and see if she'd had the foal yet. Then one week, yes! she had a roughly 4 day old foal with her :)
In the fall, when the foals are weaned they're kept in herds of similarily aged youngsters and while usually stabled for the winter, they're kept very hands off. I.e given as little human contact as possible and they're kept maybe 8 together in a big box. Then in the summer they're put into herds in big fields and left alone.
It's not until they're around 3 years old that you start touching them and getting them used to a halter and then build up to eventually starting to ride them a bit when they're 4 normally but they're not considered really ready for full use until they're 5.
The brood mares are usually outside all year. They can build up into very big characters over the years.
Anyway the broke horses being used for riding are also kept differently to what I've encountered here in the UK.
The "horse year" starts at around Christmas when you bring in the horses from the winter fields. They'll be out of shape then, really hairy and usually a somewhat fat. They're also barefoot and haven't been ridden for months.
In the stables they're usually kept 2-3 to a box. Except for the stallions which for obvious reasons get a box each. You can see an example of a stable here: http://www.eidfaxi.is/Media/w450/54353eb7eddeb8c.jpg
where they're two to a box.
Anyway you get them shod and work you and the horse into shape over the winter. It's also very common to pony horses. I.e If you have two horses and not that much time, you'll regularly go riding on one and ponying the other. It also makes it easier if you have a somewhat herd bound horse because he gets to keep a buddy with him.
Then in late spring or early summer you move them into the summer grazing fields. Which are usually farther away from the city than the stables. There they'll be in a herd of other riding horses and you go riding on the weekends and then go on multiple day long horse treks. The Icelandic style long horse treks require around 3 horses per person. The extra horses are driven in a loose herd when you're travelling. I.e if it's 10 people on the horse trek, you'll have 20-30 horses in the herd. Then you ride around 5-8 hours a day. Going quite fast usually but stopping regularily to change horses so you don't over tire any of them. Sleeping in huts at the end of the day and travelling over gorgeous landscape during the day.
Here's a picture of a ride like that
It's some of the most fun I've ever had riding like that. It's also a lot of fun managing the herd and something always goes wrong at some point. For example riding through a field that was supposed to be empty but has a stallion or meeting another group with their own loose herd going on the same road but in the other direction (having the loose herds mix would be very very bad)
Anyway in the late summer/early autumn, the horses are given their yearly break. The shoes are removed and they're turned loose in big herds in the winter grazing fields where they'll get to go fat and hairy and the whole cycle starts again in late December.
Also when it comes to grooming. I hadn't even encountered the idea of pulling manes and tails on horses. Back home we want the mane to fall over on both sides with an even part in the middle. The tails are cut if they get long enough to drag since that'd be dangerous and the whispier bits of the forelock and mane can be cut too to neaten things up a bit.
Oh wait it's quite common to shave a 5 inch wide strip just below/under the mane if the mane is really thick but that's it really.
That's not even going into the different riding styles or dealing with gaited horses vs. non gaited and all that.
Anyway I find it really interesting learning about how horses are kept in different parts of the world. Now I'm in Scotland Im for the first time seeing rugged horses and with that shaved horses and roached manes on cobs. Not to mention different horse breeds! I pretty much rode my first non-Icelandic horse 2 months ago. Heh..