Icelandic Horse Connection

Icelandic Horse Connection Newsletter #163

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One of our most favorite pictures:
Riding Starri with the neckrope.
Trish and Starri, Icelandic Horse, riding in the neckrope.

A Short Part of the History of the Icelandic Horse / Pony:

The Icelandic Pony (aka Icelandic Horse) didn't start out as it's own breed, but resulted from a mixture or cross-breeding of different types of horses / ponies.

The Icelandic Horse (Icelandic Pony) is, most likely, a product of a combination of several European pony breeds. Tracing the exact ancestoral lines of the Icelandic Pony may not be entirely possible, but we can assume that the original stock were probably from the British Isles and Norway.

The British Isles and Norway have several breeds of ponies including: Connemara Pony, Dales Pony, Dartmoor Pony, Eriskay Pony, Exmoor Pony, Fell Pony, New Forest Pony, Shetland Pony, Welsh Pony, Highland Pony, Nordland (aka Lyngshest) Pony, and Fjord Pony.

The pony breeds from these areas are fairly similar, being short and stocky, acclimated for colder temperatures, with short extremeties (including ears) and heavy winter coats. Some of these pony breeds may be descendants of the Celtic Pony which was native to those areas at the time.

The Vikings colonized Iceland around 900 AD. The ponies that were taken with them had to be small enough to fit in their boats, which were open, to make it from one continent to another. A low center of gravity was probably a plus for the trip, and may have kept some horses from falling overboard.

Possibly the boats included the Fjord pony and a group of ponies from the Lotofen Islands. Additional later settlers from other areas such as Scotland, the Orkneys, or Shetland brought their own ponies.

Some resources indicate that there may have been Mongolian blood involved in the creation of the Icelandic Pony, along with Fjord and Tarpan. These have blended into one breed, but various types and sizes can still be seen. Some of the Icelandic Ponies are gaited; some are not.

There has been molecular biology research on the genetic relations between horse breeds in Norway. One research project dealt with four Norwegian horse breeds, the Dales, Fjord, Norwegian trotter and the Nordland / Lyngen; and included two British breeds, an English racehorse, an English Standardbred, a Shetland pony, and a Mongolian horse.

The comparison described above showed that the Shetland pony and the Icelandic horse are closely related, and both more related to the Nordland / Lyngen horse than to any breed in the study.

For the past 1000 years, the resultant pony has been isolated on the island from any further mixed breeding.

There was quite a limited gene pool, much more so since the 1783 volcanic eruption that killed approximately 10,000 people and about 3/4 of the island's livestock, in addition to devastating the vegetation. Deaths were caused by volcanic haze (cloud of volcanic gases and particles), contaminated vegetation and water, and famine.

As the grasses withered, and then started to recover, much of the livestock would not even eat the new growth, actually dying of starvation. Some were poisoned by the fluorine, some may have gotten "tedra teeth" which is brittleness caused by the ash, resulting in inability to effectively masticate. Heavy ash can also lead to bone development problems.

The most moderate calculation indicates a number of 19,488 horse deaths due to the volcanic eruption. That would have left about 7,000, throughout the island, therefore the last 200 years have had little opportunity for expanding the genetic pool. Considering the pocketed areas of settlements, proximation would have further limited the gene pool.

Gait Definitions:

Running Walk: The running walk is a square gait, done in a neutral body frame, with two foot / three foot support, four beat, even set down, even pick up.

Tolt / Rack: The tolt, same gait as the rack, is done in a slightly ventroflexed frame, with one foot / two foot support, four beat, even set down, lateral pick up.
Gait chart for the easy gaits of gaited horses.

How to remove the halter from under the bridle: http://iceryder.net/halterremove.html

Transition to Natural Trim and Good Feet

For years, our horses feet (first shod and later barefoot) were trimmed by farriers and had appeared "adequate" -- meaning no MAJOR foot problems. But the horses were tender on rocks, often a bit "off" right after a trim, and one had sporadic thrush in his very deep grooves.

I also was dis-satisfied by the farriers' explanations for why they trimmed the soles. So when our farrier moved away, and the horses needed trimming before we had located another well-recommended one, I decided to do a touch-up myself.

I went on-line for instructions and tools, and fortunately came to Pete Ramey's invaluable site (www.hoofrehab.com); I ordered his inexpensive book ("Making natural hoof care work for you") and found it captivating! His natural method made such good sense!

I was encouraged that after my first attempt at trimming (following Pete's instructions: letting the sole be the guide, adding a generous "mustang roll", and definitely not cutting into the sole), the horses stepped out fine; and I was amazed that after only the second trimming, their heels had started to de-contract and the horses were becoming more comfortable on rocks than ever before.

Needless to say, I am still trimming!

And the horses' feet are still improving!

Icey's previously withered frogs have become wide and lush; his previously deep grooves that encouraged thrush became dry and wide as the heels de-contracted (by over an inch), and they have become much less deep as his feet have restored their natural concave shape (so never thrush anymore); the bad vertical cracks that for years had plagued Rose's feet have disappeared, and her long-term club foot has now largely recovered; and Svala's previously good feet have become true "gravel-crunchers".

After a few months of trimming, it became clear that my friend's chronic foundered horse was not being trimmed properly by her farrier, who was leaving an enormously long toe and very high heels. [That prevented her from recovering, although she had already been removed from the grass that was the primary cause of her problem.]

So, following Pete's instructions, plus invaluable advice from Paul Chapman through his Yahoo site (BareFootNaturally), I began trimming Glaesa's badly foundered feet (x-rays had showed 30 degree rotation, and the "white line" was stretched out to nearly an inch).

After taking her heels down (by nearly an inch over two trimmings) and resecting the toes of her detached hoofwalls (by nearly that much), she was walking quite happily. She soon became 100% sound and within seven months her old hoofs were completely grown out and replaced by fully attached new ones. That was pretty exciting!

Is this trimming trivial? Certainly not. But it is quite do-able!

And there are wonderful resources, including invaluable more-recent articles on Pete Ramey's web site (a must to read), great web sites of others, and excellent Yahoo groups with very supportive people. Also, there are always exciting new things to learn.

I personally could not get comfortable with the heavy farrier's rasp, but found that a cheap Stanley wood rasp from home Depot worked great for me. And through the AbrasiveHorseHoofTrimming Yahoo group I recently learned about angle grinders speeding and easing hoof trimming, especially for us middle aged ladies; after a few times using one, I have become a convert.

Let me also convey that I am not a horse-person by trade; rather I am a Professor at Johns Hopkins, where my main exercise is typing on a computer keyboard. So if I can make my horses much happier by trimming their feet in the natural way, you can too! Give it a try!

Yours, Barbara Sollner-Webb

PS: If you might like to converse about this with me, please e-mail (bsw@jhmi.edu) or call (410-955-6278).

The Sensation Treeless Saddle.

Relieve yourself and your horse of saddle fit problems!

Try the Sensation: http://nickerssaddlery.com/

Nickers Saddlery, The Sensation Saddle, Pad.

More information and pictures in the next issue of the Icelandic Horse Connection newsletter.

Icelandic Horse Jig Saw Puzzles: http://iceryder.net/fun/index.html

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