"Horse Culture" - culture shock
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..
wow, iceland seems to have a really cool culture. Id love to go on a riding holiday there sometime. What are icelandic horses like to ride? I've never ridden one. Also what style do you use. (i find this really interesting, it never even occurred to me that you would have different horse care cultures)
Yeah I hadn't realised either that there were such different horse care cultures. I'm continually being surprised by things that everyone here (in Scotland) takes for granted. Like the idea of putting rugs on horses. I'd never seen that before.
Riding Icelandics of course depends on the individual horse but overall they're pretty stable usually. As in there are no natural enemies for them in Iceland so they're not too easily spooked on average and very easy to handle on the ground.
They're also usually very sturdy and sure footed with good hooves and can cope with very bad ground no problem.
They're big personalities and you can't bully them into doing things, have to work with them and on treks you don't want a 100% obedient horse since if you're asking it to go over a river where the horse knows it's not safe for example you want them to refuse to go. Usually the horse knows the terrain and what's safe better than the rider.
They're pony sized, usually between 13-14 hands although they can get up to 15 hands these days. They naturally want to get fat and slow down in the autumn, i.e there's something in their biology that wants them to prepare for the winter. Not quite hibernating but yeah filling up the reserves. They also get really hairy.
With good reason, here's a herd that's wintering outside:
They're so well insulated with their double fur (they have the wooly inner coat and then longer guard hairs) that the snow doesn't melt on them there.
As for the riding style. I think it's probably most similar to a saddle seat thing. I'm not sure though. You have long stirrups and you don't post the trot. The most common bridle is just a plain snaffle. They're gaited and the rack type gait they have is called tölt. They also do flying pace (really really fast pace under saddle) but only for short distances.
The tölt is very comfortable and fun to ride. It's a 4 beat running walk type gait and it's a continual project usually to try to improve the gait in your horse. I.e trying to extend the range of speed from very slow to very fast and to get the rythm more even and the head carriage better etc.
That's been another culture shock for me because I'm used to spend so much energy on the tölt and now I'm riding horses that can't even do that gait! but instead there's a lot of focus on trot and precise transitions between canter walk and trot etc. which is fun to work on too.
Although really nothing yet has given me the same feel of gliding along on a lot of horse power as riding a fast tölt.
Here's a pic of a competition tölter. The hobby horses usually don't lift their legs quite as high. You can see he's being supported by only one foot at that stage in the gait.
Wow! That's really interesting. I never heard of that type of riding (herding and rotating) or where it was common to keep two horses in the same box.
I would really like to ride an Icelandic one day...
The herding and rotating is a really fun way to ride. Although you have to be careful where you go since you can't go with a loose herd of horses everywhere. I.e going through towns wouldn't really work.
However you can travel quite far in a day since you can keep going at a fast trot or tölt pretty much the entire day. You can't spend any length of time walking (unless the ground is very bad of course) because the herd would get impatient or spread out and start grazing.
It's an art to drive the herd properly. The job of the people in front is to stay in front, no matter what. Since the loose horses always 'follow the leader'. The job of the people in the back is to keep the herd moving (can't crowd them too tightly though) and to gather back into the herd any horses that might decide to wander. Which can happen, especially if you're going through farmland where one of the horses used to live. You never ride in the middle of the herd since that'd be dangerous.
You also often take along young green horses you want to condition up along on these sort of trips and just let them run along in the herd. They learn then both how to be in a herd like that and to cope with lots of different ground without having to worry about being ridden.
I was actually surprised when I saw a stable over here and there was only one horse to a box! When I had my horse we kept them three to a box. It was a stable with 10 boxes in total. My uncle owned two of the boxes and they were all designed for 3 horses per box so he had space for 6 horses.
Anyway yeah, over here seeing them always just one to a box, my initial reaction was just being worried that they'd get lonely being on their own that much. Usually the box-buddies are really good horse-friends and groom each other etc. and then hang together as well even when they're released into bigger herds. However I get that usually the bigger horses aren't raised in herds as much so maybe aren't as used to being constantly around other horses. I.e don't have the horsy social skills to be together that much.
To be honest I wish I could be back with the Icelandics now. I really love them. At the same time it's fun trying out different horses right now though and I think it'll make me a better rider over all.
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