Icelandic Horse Connection

Marketing the Icelandic Horse in America

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This information was first presented about five years ago to help Iceland in their marketing of the Icelandic Horse in America. It wasn't understood at that time, and we hoped it would be understood after the not-so-good results of the icetolts.

The Americans who have read the original text, this condensed version, and / or the full version are now using information from the report, doing surveys, taking a stand, and separating from problem situations. They are at the point of reaching an understanding of the implications of how to effectively market the Icelandic Horse in North America, specifically for our horse culture.

It was about six years or seven years ago when we first talked about thinking outside of the box. Oh, gosh, it was unthinkable back then.

We were definitely ahead of our time, and caused quite a few raised eyebrows (to say the least :-)) along the way. At times, people didn't like hearing what was presented and offered... but it's always good to remember: don't shoot the messenger!

It's easier to see, at this point in time, that the information was valid. Hindsight is 20/20 :-).

Horses, politics, organizations, and egos don't mix well. It should be about the horse, pure and simple.

Organizations (and the politics and egos that go with them) hold back progress. Look at what we've been able to accomplish without an organization! We're way ahead of the game, leading the pack!

Altho the report was originally intended to help Iceland, comprehension and use of the information in this report by North American breeders is serving to help the domestic breeders market and promote their horses.

Information Compiled
By Judy Ryder Duffy

International Marketing

Successful international marketing involves anthropology (the study of culture) of the intended market. Successful marketing includes learning about the customers, then translating that knowledge into a strategy for a competitive product.

Cross-cultural marketing is defined as the strategic process of marketing among consumers whose culture differs from that of the marketer's own culture at least in one of the fundamental cultural aspects, such as language, religion, social norms and values, education, and the living style.

If marketers want to be winners in the cross-cultural marketing arena, they must create the marketing mix that meets the consumer's values.

Marketing tactics used in one country may not work in another.

Marketing the Icelandic Horse in America is much different than marketing the Icelandic Horse in Europe. In America there are thirty breeds of gaited horses and high-level experienced gaited horse owners, breeders, trainers.

The key to success in a foreign environment is to know how to listen to what is needed, to know how to reshape the product to meet those needs. Adapting the product is key number one!

Firms must conduct some form of cultural analysis to provide an understanding of consumer behavior in the targeted market. Cross-cultural analysis is the systematic comparison of similarities and differences in the material and behavioral aspects of the culture.

The following are aspects of cross-cultural marketing:
  • [] Product
  • [] Price
  • [] Promotion
  • [] Distribution
Things to consider:
  • [] Does my product meet the cultural needs of the market?
  • [] Does the price fit in with competitor products?
  • [] Is the product being promoted culturally appropriately?
  • [] Do we have knowledgeable and effective distributors?
Relevant Motivations:
  • [] What needs are fulfilled by the targeted audience with this product?
  • [] How are the needs presently fulfilled?
  • [] Do members of the culture readily recognize these needs?
Product Adaptability

Product acceptance is affected by culturally based attitudes towards general use, and by change. If a product demands a change different from general use of similar products, your product may need to be adapted to minimize the differences.

In terms of marketing practice, the following points should be guidelines for marketers to minimize the possible cross-culture marketing mistakes:
  • [] Develop cultural empathy; recognize, understand, and respect another's culture

  • [] Be culturally neutral and realize that difference is not necessarily better or worse

  • [] Never assume transferability of a concept from one culture to another

  • [] Get knowledgeable*cultural informants involved into the decision making

    *Knowledgeable people would be those who have a much broader knowledge base than customers who are already using the product whose knowledge is limited to the product and not the general market.
Voice of the Consumer (VOC)

The "voice of the consumer" is the term to describe the stated and unstated customer needs or requirements. The voice of the customer can be captured in a variety of ways: direction discussion or interviews, surveys, focus groups, customer specifications, observation, warranty data, field reports, etc.

Stages of Product Life Cycle
  • [] Development
  • [] Introduction
  • [] Growth
  • [] Maturity
  • [] Saturation
  • [] Decline
  • [] Withdrawal
Many products stall out at the "Growth" stage for lack of meeting cultural needs.

Capitalize on market demand by adapting products and services to clients' requirements.

To "win" offshore requires knowledge of what to sell, when to sell it, and how to sell it in offshore markets. What the marketers sell at home has an invisible overhang on what it will sell and how it invests overseas. For example, marketers tend to export their marketing and engineering viewpoint and processes along with the product without adapting them to the needs of the target market.

Thinking Outside the Box
  • Willingness to take new perspectives to day-to-day work.
  • Openness to do different things and to do things differently.
  • Focusing on the value of finding new ideas and acting on them.
  • Striving to create value in new ways.
  • Listening to others.
  • Supporting and respecting others when they come up with new ideas.
Project management today is not quite the same as it used to be in past decades.


Foreign markets vary widely among themselves and in comparison to home markets. Marketers who understand and implement this awareness into their operations are capable of becoming successful.

The Basics or Fundamentals of "How"
  • [] Separate the product from services and add-ons.

  • [] Find a market (niche / segment) and adapt a product / service to that market

  • [] Be proactive and anticipate your customers needs

  • [] Be the first to "attack" this market and you will realize a significant competitive advantage (first to market rules, leaders dominate, followers pick up the scraps)

  • [] Who is your customer and what does he / she want or need?

  • [] What comes first the market or the product / service? (The market)


  • [] Trying to adapt a market to your product / service ("Build the temple and they will come"). It is much more difficult to try to adapt a market to a product or service.
The two very primary basics or fundamentals are:
  • [] Product: you must have a product that people want or need

  • [] Price: your product must be made available at a price your market is willing to pay
Classic Mistakes / Learn From Others
  • [] Biggest mistake marketers make is to create a product/service first and then promote it (market/sell it) to see if it "will fly" - very costly (hit or miss)

  • [] Don't think because you believe your products and services are fantastic that your customers will share your same sentiment

  • [] Don't sell your product/service until you know your market(s) / customers will want to buy it

  • [] It is much better to be market (customer) oriented than product / service oriented

  • [] Diverse or heterogeneous organizations will know how to market and sell to diverse or heterogeneous target markets

  • [] Homogeneous organizations will suffer and possibly perish

  • [] Develop a product / service to meet or exceed the needs of this market

  • [] Then market and promote your product / service to the pre-defined target market (niche / segment) and monitor the results.
Separating Product from Services and Add-ons

To start a new marketing strategy, it will behoove the plan to separate the product of the Icelandic Horse from any services such as trainers, farriers, professional riders, judges, clinicians, etc., and also from any add-ons such as tack and saddles. Sell the horse first! Let it become popular within the horse culture (like the Paso Fino) before tacking on services.

How does all of this relate and transfer to the marketing of the Icelandic Horse in North America?

About The American Market


There are currently over 7 million horses in the US, compiled of approximately 100 breeds, including about 30 gaited horse breeds. This is intense competition!

Recreational use of horses is the fastest growing segment of the horse industry, involving almost 3 million Americans and an economic impact of more than \\$28 billion, including almost 317,000 full-time jobs.

The world had an estimated 61 million horses in the mid-1990s, of which over 10 percent were in the U.S. The AHC Foundation completed a study in 1996 of The Economic Impact of the Horse Industry in the United States. The equine industry as a whole, including racing, showing, recreation and working horses, involves 7 million horses and approximately 7.1 million participants, including over 1.9 million horse owners. Millions more show horses or ride for exercise and recreation.

The most popular horse is the Quarter Horse. AQHA has registered 3.7 million American Quarter Horses and serves more than 300,000 worldwide Members.

The most popular gaited horse is the Tennessee Walking Horse. A report by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture said there were 190,000 horses in Tennessee in 1999, the third-highest horse population in the nation. The breed has a total population of approximately 500,000 registered horses.

Currently, the USIHC reports approximately 2,000 registered Icelandic Horses, altho we believe, from an informal study in 2000, that there may be about 3,200 Icelandic Horses in the United States. (Some horses have not been registered by choice, others were from abandoned herds, some caught in litigation.)

Looking to other similar gaited breeds, coming into popularity in the mid 20th century along with the Icelandic Horse, we have the Peruvian Paso and the Paso Fino. Currently, their recorded numbers in the US are: Peruvian Paso 14,000 and Paso Fino 50,000.

There is such a large gap between the numbers of Peruvians and Finos, that we wanted to find out why and what made the difference. It has been interesting and insightful to research the breeds, their history, and their marketing in the US, and to try to find some answers that may be helpful for the Icelandic Horse.

Each of these three breeds (Icelandic, Peruvian, Fino) had individual horses brought into the US prior to the middle of the 20th century, but it was in the 1950's and 1960's (post-war) when each one got their breed identity in North America.

For the Paso Fino: "Awareness of the Paso Fino as we know it today didn't spread outside Latin America until after WWII, when American servicemen came into contact with the stunning Paso Fino horse while stationed in Puerto Rico." The January 2004 cover of the Endurance News magazine sports a full page, color picture of a Paso Fino.

For the Peruvian Paso: "As part of their recovery in 1945 from the Chilean War, Peru made an all out effort to preserve their treasure, the horse, almost lost due to the war. Peruvians made a serious attempt to record the horses' fabulous history and guard their legacy. It was at this time they decided to have shows, form an association and start a stud book. However, in terms of historical continuity because of political problems, their isolation and the war, Peru has been at a disadvantage."

The difference between the horses coming to the United States is that the Paso Finos came with American servicemen and were mainstreamed into the American horse culture, easily sliding into wearing western tack, trail riding, becoming family horses, working cows. Acceptance of the Paso Fino Horse into the American horse culture was facilitated by this initial introduction.

In contrast with the Peruvian Pasos, the Peruvians were brought to the United States "guarded" (so to speak) by their trainers, and the mystique and mythology that goes along with it. It was said that "Peruvian tack has evolved with the horse for 500 years and most closely suits its conformation, riding style, and unique beauty of the horse for which it was created. The breed associations have continued to observe the tradition of Peru, and the Peruvian tack remains mandatory at most shows."

The number of Paso Finos grew rapidly, while the number of Peruvian Pasos limped along.

During this time, the Icelandic Horses were also first imported to North America, taking more of the same route as the Peruvian Pasos, entrenched with their own trainers and tradition.

Again, by recorded numbers we have Paso Finos at 50,000, Peruvian Pasos at 14,000, and Icelandic Horses at 2,000, for approximately the same time period of about 40 years in the US.

Rocky Mountain Horses, first organized in 1986, approximates 6,000 horses.

The Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse Association was established, March 22, 1989, As interest and awareness of Mountain Horses grows, so does the role of the KMSHA. It has grown from "a handful of horses" to over 1000 members, and nearly 6000 horses registered.

Fjord Horses and Welsh Ponies came into North America about the same time and they log in with 7,000 and 40,000, respectively.

American Riders and Riding Style

The largest population of riders is in the pleasure market which is, again, the fastest growing segment.

American horse riding culture, in general, is "western" in orientation, preferring western saddles, tack, and casual riding style.

To ride "western" has really little to do with the equipment you use, but it's a different approach to riding, and the ultimate goals are different.

Often the expression "western style riding" is used, but it's not just a style... style implies more that the difference lies in the outfit, but to ride western means a different way, a different method, a different philosophy, means somewhat different aids and cues.

The horse doesn't know whether it's a "western" horse or not. It will either move away from pressure or against it, depending on how it was taught, it will wring its tail if you annoy it sufficiently, it will gap its mouth if you pull too much on the rein, etc.

Western riding is a style which is aimed at allowing the horse to move in the most natural form.

As the larger portion of the potential horse-owning population of America ages into the "mature" years, it has more disposable income, ready to fulfill their childhood dreams of horse ownership.

Natural, Natural, Natural

The American (and world-wide) trend is towards natural horsemanship; for example the methods of Pat Parelli (Parelli Natural Horse-man-ship), John Lyons (Lyons Perfect Horse), and Bill Dorrance (True Horsemanship Thru Feel).

Everything is going "natural": riding style, tack, saddles, barefoot care, training, etc. At the big horse expos in the US, most of the clinicians are "natural" horsemen.

This natural trend fits in perfectly with the western horse culture of America. Breeds that use these methods are more attractive to potential customers.

Marketing the Icelandic Horse in Europe where there were no other gaited horses is much different than marketing in the US with 30 breeds of gaited horses and high-level experienced gaited horse owners, breeders, trainers.


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