Icelandic Horse Connection


My lazy little mare is finally getting fit and turning into a nice riding horse! We did a 20 mile endurance ride yesterday and Gola was A Horse With A Mission, very excited at the start and just powering along for the whole ride. It was a beautiful route, over very "English" countryside with gentle chalk hills, lots of pasture, old hedgerows and some pretty little villages (Ridgeway ride, near Swindon). We had to slow down for the last 2 miles as this ride had a maximum speed of 8mph but Gola felt as if she could have gone a lot further and quite a bit faster.

She passed the final vetting with no problems, but by that time it was very windy and pouring down with rain, so her heart rates were pretty bad (48 before and 56 after the trot-up), but as all horses were tucked up with cold and some even shivering during the vetting, I am not too worried about this.

That was our first "proper" ride of the season and I'm very pleased we passed.

A very happy Jana and Gola

Story by Jana Crewett

Jana and Gola

Jana and Gola, Icelandic Horse
(Photos from a 15 mile Pleasure Ride in February, 15 Miles at 7.1 mph. Photos copyright Eric Jones.)

This shows my little mare Gola frá Húsey and me during our first successful attempt at a 30 mile ride on 25.4.99, at Epping Forest near London. It was hot, it was boring (we did about 25 miles without meeting another horse) and Gola had one very loose shoe after 28 miles, but she passed with a respectable speed (7.2mph) and heart rate (50 - not bad considering she hadn't been walked or cooled off but spent all the time between finish and vet at the farrier having a shoe replaced!).

Jana and Gola
The photo was done by a professional photographer, "copyright Peter Orr".

John Parke and Remington

John and Remington, Icelandic Horse

This is a photograph the ride vet took of Remington and me in front of the assay office in Shakespeare, New Mexico at the finish of the 285 mi. Renegade 5 Day Ride. Don't we look happy to be done?

My Icelandic horse Remington passed the three thousand career mile mark at Randy Eiland's Renegade Ride in New Mexico a week or two ago. This ride covers 285 miles over five days, from Texas accross southern New Mexico to near the Arizona border. Miscellaneous things I recall (from Renegade, not the whole three thousand miles):

Day I, a fifty five miler, started near El Paso, Texas and followed much of the same ground we covered in a 100 miler last November. Most of the ride was sandy with an enormous number of rocks in the hills near the end. Many riders were troubled throughout the five days about how to protect their horses' feet from rocks with pads or Easyboots without having problems with sand intrusion. Temperatures reached the 90's. I rode with my buddy Richard Fuess and his stallion Jake. Jake's easy moving gaits are so beautiful to watch. We were very impressed with the near infinite variety of thorny bushes and cacti defining this part of New Mexico. Our rig arrived at camp later than we did, no doubt helped by the fact I had disabled both the brakes and the lights of Richard's 38 ft. trailer by accidentally pulling the plug off the connection cable earlier. Many people helped us with blankets, hay and especially beer.

Day II, a sixty miler, started with an intense rock field for the first ten or fifteen miles. There were some hills although the whole day, like the other days, had a cumulative climb of only around 1,500 ft. according to my altimeter watch. I began to count the rocks. I think there were 9,028,806 rocks on the trail overall by my calculations. Randy may have a better count. Assistant vet Nancy Cryder (sp.?) was very friendly, helpful and generally adorable. (Head vet Barney Fleming is always those things too but maybe too grizzled to call adorable.) We saw a lot of dead cows. We rode into Columbus, the site of Pancho Villa's infamous raid, after dark. I was too tired to go raiding the bars accross the border with most of the other riders.

Day III, also a sixty miler, mostly followed the border. US Army units were constructing a new road and were very accomodating about stopping their machinery to let us pass. Still, John Teeter had a big adventure which Stephanie will probably describe in her next post. After lunch we climbed some more hills with more rocks. I began to name the rocks. Ugly names. The weather started to get stormy. There was rain and even snow at the finish for some people. Short little Remington looked so cute getting down on his knees to reach the water at the bottom of the tank two miles from the finish, I took out my camera to take a picture. It broke. Watering your horse within two mile of the finish, by the way, is an example of the kind of horse management that works at multi-days. You have to do things that may not be necessary today but will help the horse for the next day. When Barney finished checking Rem for completion, I told him he had just vetted in the world's first 3,000 mile Icelandic endurance horse. I sure wished my camera hadn't died twenty minutes earlier.

Day IV, a fifty five miler, headed back to the Mexican border with a climb through the rocks. The border here consists of a two strand barbwire cow fence with a cowpath on our side. Not very intimidating. By noontime, I began to talk to the rocks. Ada Carr was very helpful at the lunch vet check like she was every day. She began to sound like she wants an Icelandic, too. We rode through Little Hatchita, an interesting mining ghost town. I finished after dark again and had a temper tantrum over something minor, thus violating my cardinal principle that any critical comments at a ride should be expressed in a brief, calm manner and be accompanied by either a constructive suggestion or offer of assistance to busy ride personnel. Oh well, consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, or something like that per Emerson.

Day V, another fifty five miler, started with another climb through rocks. The rocks began to talk to me. It's good there wasn't a Day VI. Later, Kat Swigart from our list said to me that she hadn't noticed any rocks. I remember feeling glad that her father was at the ride to take her home. After a long day we finished at the ghost town of Shakespeare, a registered National Historical Site with a 150 year history. After Nancy vetted Remington in, the town's owner and last remaining resident Janaloo Hill gave me a personal tour while Nancy played with Rem. I was having too much fun to notice that my trailer ride to our final base camp at the fairgrounds in Lordsburg had just left. We were now faced with at least a one hour wait for the next available trailer as it was getting dark, windy and cold. So I re-tightened the girth, climbed back up and said to Remington, "Shall we?" He voted with his feet and trotted down the hill to Lordsburg. As we proceeded through Lordsburg looking for the fairgrounds, I observed that many neighborhoods needed urban renewal but was glad most people kept their dogs tied up. I finally stopped a drunk on a bicycle at an intersection to ask directions. He told me to turn right and go on down the road until I hit the fairgrounds, right behind the Fiesta Club. It's funny what non horse people use as landmarks. We got to camp after dark just in time to go to the awards banquet .......... at the Fiesta Club.

The banquet was wonderful. Sharon Dumas was the overall winner on time, overall Best Condition winner and a very happy girl. Randy had humorous things to say about everybody and passed out lovely Tarahumara Indian pottery cooking bowls as ride awards to the twenty seven horse and rider teams, including us, who managed to complete all five days. Randy's rides, like other multi-day rides, go to the core of what endurance riding is all about. I just didn't have the heart to tell him that his Renegade Ride was the site of the completion of the AERC's first 5 mile point to point Limited Distance Ride by Remington and me.

John Parke
Solvang CA

See the story on Endurance.Net

We've just returned from the Mt. Charleston endurance ride north of Las Vegas, Nevada. I took both Skjoldur and Remington. The idea was to enter both horses in the 75 mile ride on Saturday. Although Remington has done 100 milers before, Skjoldur had never gone more than 55 miles in one day. This ride is also known for its constant ascents and descents (one rider told me she would bet there isn't more than 5 feet of flat terrain on the whole ride), so I thought it would be a good test to see if the horses are fit enough for Tevis.

I didn't have a rider for Skjoldur, so I ran an ad on the endurance list! There were many responses from people who wanted to try an Icelandic horse. Lori Cox from Flagstaff, Arizona, was the first to contact me so we made arrangements to meet at the ride. Lori has ridden endurance for years on her two Arabs. Lori told me she lives near someone with an Icelandic. Anybody know who this might be?

The original plan was to get to the ride site at noon Friday so the horses and I could get some rest. Oh well. After spending a full day on business in LA, we finally arrived in camp at 3:30 in the morning Saturday. I fed the horses and changed clothes because I still needed to see the vet for the pre-ride exam. Start time was at 5:30 a.m. Lori came out of the darkness at 4:30 a.m. and asked if I was John Parke. I said, "I think so." How's that for a blind date!

I made some oatmeal for breakfast but never had time to eat it. Once we sorted out what tack goes where in the dark and introduced Lori to Skjoldur, we set off in a rush about ten minutes past the start time. What an auspicious beginning. The entire ride was single track through wilderness. The first part went up and down over seventeen ridges before the climbing got serious. The trail twisted back and forth thousands of times through the pinon pines and juniper. It was very exciting to do this at full speed. Lori said, "I've got to get one of these." She and Skjoldur even led Rem and me for the first ten miles. We eventually reached a beautiful meadow surrounded by huge, gnarled ponderosa pines. The view of the nearby snow-streaked granite peaks was spectacular. We then headed back to the first vet check.

Each of the four vet checks was back in camp after a three mile climb. This ascent into the vet check makes it harder for the horses to pulse down. The mandatory hold times wouldn't start until the horses reached criteria of 64 beats per minute. (If you don't reach criteria in 30 minutes you and your horse are pulled.) Remington took a few minutes to get down to 64 while Skjoldur reached criteria right away. Lori told me he checked in a 48! It went on like this all day. Skjoldur must have a very big ticker.

Lori was a great sport all day. She spent a lot of time talking with Skjoldur. She loved his super smooth ride. We trotted most of the time because the rocks, sand and constant ups,downs and turns kept us from cantering. Lori even got off and ran some of the time like I do. Me, I kept falling asleep in the saddle.

We still had a 13 mile and then an 8 mile loop as it neared dark. Lori suggested that we put Easyboots on the horses since Skjoldur was beginning to act a little ouchy from all the rocks. We put them on and it made all the difference in the world. We did the 13 mile loop through some difficult canyons in an hour and a half. We had done each loop at least one mile an hour faster than the previous loop. Unfortunately the last loop started down a steep ravine in the pitch dark. We walked this on the horses. We both figured we were better off on them than off since we couldn't see anything. When we hit the trail back to camp it was time to fly. We got in around 11:15 p.m. in seventh and eighth place (of course, only eight horses finished). The horses passed their post ride vet check in great shape. Skjoldur had done his first 75 miler. Lori helped me put the blankets on and feed the horses. Lori told me her friends said she was crazy to want to go 75 miles on a strange horse. I told her they were right. I gave her a hug, congratulated her and said goodbye. I went to bed at midnight and slept very, very soundly.

John Parke

Hi John, as I always have "problems" with other riders and sometimes vets (I'm not doing endurance with Soti but other kind of "long-distance-riding competition" - slower speed but finding the way using a map) because Soti has often rather high "breathing rates" I was really looking forward to your answer to Hope's question - but now I'm "confused".

You said: "they receive full body clips, including the face, before every endurance ride and even during lulls between races if they are going on serious conditioning rides. Remington has been clipped at least once a month for the last three years."

How can you do that? Don't you have a winter when it's cold and/or wet? Do you keep him in a stable when it's raining or is he (almost always) covered by a blanket?

You said: I have heard about panting in Icelandics but have not observed anything excessive in my horses.

I also know few (!!) Icelandics that never show that panting - without any difference of being "conditioned" or not - but with Soti I can ride and ride and ride ... - he will be "panting". (Well, I don't clip him).

Hello Ursula,

We live in a relatively mild climate. I cover Remington with a waterproof, breathable insulated blanket when it is rainy or particularly cold. This is a minor inconvenience.

A couple of years ago a young lady brought the Icelandic she was riding over to me and me if I knew what was wrong with it. The horse was breathing really hard and had an elevated pulse when I slapped a heart rate monitor on it. It had also been galloped for the last half hour, had a heavy winter coat and was wearing a noseband cranked really tight. Under those adverse circumstances no reasonable person could have come to any conclusions about that horse's respiratory system or the breed's breathing ability in general.

Three months ago while I was giving Remington a little break, I starting bringing Skjoldur back into condition so that I could campaign him this year as well. One afternoon we rode up a trail which climbs 3,200 feet in six miles. He was really huffing and puffing. Since he hadn't been clipped for a few months, I couldn't tell if his heavy coat was the problem or whether he was still a little out of shape. So I clipped him and went back the next week. He did much better.

My point is that you have to isolate all of the potential variables before you can judge the breed's, or even a particular horse's, inherent respiratory ability. My two horses which I use for endurance are compared at vet checks not to other Icelandics but to the couple of thousand Arabian horses which have been specifically conditioned for endurance racing in this country. Yesterday both horses completed an endurance ride featuring 9,270 feet of cumulative elevation gain according to my altimeter watch, the most I've ever measured for a fifty mile ride. We galloped in at the finish, passing four other horses in the last mile and a half. Neither horse displayed any unusally heavy breathing at any point. (Skjoldur's only problem was that he kept tolting when he would be trotted out at vet checks; the boy needs more training for this at home.)

Hope asked me what I do to combat heat and whether vets at endurance rides were knowledgeable about the "special respiration" of Icelandics. I don't know whether Icelandics as whole have a breathing problem or not. I just know I've never seen it in Icelandics which have been conditioned and clipped to put them on an equal footing with other horses asked to do the same work. I've been told over and over again for the last four years what my horse or Icelandic horses supposedly can't do. I've learned never to apologize for some flaw in Icelandic horses until I'm convinced it really exists.

It sounds from your post that you are doing competitive mounted orienteering on Soti. I would think Icelandics would be perfect for this. I enjoy the personality of older Icelandics and really admire you for giving your 19 year old the chance to share something you like and show what he can do. Please tell us more about your rides. If a little transatlantic detective work might help, I would be glad to try to figure out any specific respiration issues you notice if you don't mind providing more information.

John Parke

Three things make an enormous difference for cooling my Icelandics. One, they receive full body clips, including the face, before every endurance ride and even during lulls between races if they are going on serious conditioning rides. Remington has been clipped at least once a month for the last three years. Second, they do a lot of hard conditioning work in the heat and hills. Skjoldur has only raced at multidays as a mount for other members of my family but has been conditioned for a good two years. Third, I use a sponge and scoop to wet them down at water stops and try to avoid overriding them. Although strategy number one is a response to the unique hairiness of Icelandics, strategies two and three are common to Arabs and other horses.

Vets who haven't seen Remington before sometimes think he is too fat or that the tolt he does at first when I trot him out is some kind of lameness. We have had no problem with vets who have seen him more than once or twice. I don't mean to sound stupid or rude but I am not sure I am knowledgeable about Icelandics and their special respiration. I have heard about panting in Icelandics but have not observed anything excessive in my horses. I wonder how much supposedly unique Icelandic rapid breathing is really nothing more than a lack of clipping and adequate conditioning. This would seem to be more a rider preparation issue than some handicap in the breed's cardiovascular system. I apologize in advance if this offends anyone.

John Parke

By Ellen Hansen

I just read your very interesting article about clipping Icelandics and the "huffing and puffing"...I just wanted to share my findings with my gelding Nokkvi fra Enni. We live in BC, Canada and have few hot days...his winter coat is usually gone by early June and he is shiny and then we finished the conditioning after a three to four month winter break or very light riding. He always breathes very hard in the beginning of a ride and then slows down after he is warmed up a little bit. All in all he always breathes more or faster than my other horses (Icelandics and Non Icelandics) but NEVER or rarely sweats, no matter how much we ride or how fast the average speed is. We ride about four to five times a week, usually one to two hours with one weekly three to four hour mountain ride. He is very well conditioned and in top shape, has no more hair than other breeds, is healthy and still breathes more, yet doesn't sweat. So I personally decided that this is just his personal way to deal with the stress of exercise and wasn't too concerned about it.

I don't do Endurance or CTR, although I'd love to - but we are too far north and I don't feel like traveling thousands of km to compete. Still we do conditioning and and riding equivalent to these disciplines and I find Icelandics to be absolutely wonderful for it. How did you make your choice to do Endurance on Iceys instead of Arabs (which everybody seems to favor)?

I'd love to hear some words from you.

Ellen and Sorti, Icelandic Horse

A photo of Sorti fra Bitru, my beautiful Icelandic gelding that has quite a story to tell, too.


On John Parkes" inspiration, I went to an endurance race this weekend past to check out the endurance ride scene. I was impressed big time. It was a blast.

I went into it as a green horn entirely. I had read a book on endurance racing and I of course had read the Congress Quarterly articles that John had written about endurance riding. That night I arrived to register for the race, I walked about asking newbie questions of everyone as I clutched that Quarterly issue to my breast and read and re-read the epistle that John Parke authored on riding hills in particular. On arriving at the race site, a State Park in Illinois, I checked in and placed myself in their hands declaring that I was a total newbie. People at the ride were real good at getting me set to go in the race. They had a riders meeting the evening before the race to go over aspects of the race that was to start the next morning at 5:00am.

I had picked our most fit horse to take to the race. I took a 10 year old gelding named Ljufur. The rules of the race necessitate that you have a fit horse. There is a maximum time limit set for the distance of each race you enter which means that you have got to keep moving along the course of the race at a good clip.

This endurance racing is not a sport for fat pasture pet-horses. In fact, you should see some of the fitness of these horses that do this race circuit regularly.

The real front running horses are specimens to behold. They mostly look like lean long-distance Olympic runners. Muscled and defined without an ounce of fat extra. This is not a sport for American Quarter horses! In fact, of the 50 or so horses, I am not sure there was one AQH there. I imagine that they have too much muscle to pump blood through to survive in endurance racing.

There seem to be two groups of riders within the ride. One group consists of the front runners who are trying to come in first or with placings. These people and horses follow the curcuit of endurance rides nearly full time. The second group of riders is just trying to survive the course of the ride with a horse that is judged to be fit and sound by the race vets at the end. The big constraint for either group of riders is that you make it the whole distance of the race, without previously being pulled from the race by the race vets. At the end, you still must complete the ride with a fit and sound horse at the end. If not, you rode the distance for naught! This endurance racing is really fun to be in the middle of. You have to keep your head in the ride all the time. The twin constraints are always over you. You must keep moving along to come in at the end under the maximum time limit for the distance of the ride, yet you have to gauge it so that you do not run your horse down physically such that you would fail the vet check at the finish line.

From what I could see, about a quarter of the 50 or so people riding were pulled from their races by the race vets. So it is not easy to complete even with horses that are fit. Certainly you would just embarrass yourself to show up with a fat pasture horse.

I chose a short distance race. I picked what they call a 30 mile limited distance race. The maximum time allowed for the race was around 6 and a half hours. There were other distance rides going on at the sametime. Regardless, the maximum time limit necessitates riding along at about a 6 mile an hour clip. How you pace your ride depending on how you chose to pace yourself with walking and also the required vet checks which hold you in the middle of the races. Generally you are moving along at a good trot or tolt much of the time you are riding.

My strategy was to ride a conservative ride holding back. There was a pack of people bringing up the tail of the ride fighting, as it were, to be the last one in with a fit horse. That worked fine as a beginning strategy. I survived the race with my horse still fit at the end. In the end I was quite satisfied. Even though I was dead last, our ride was better than about a quarter of the horses that started the race.

In the first half of the 30 miles I was real comfortable with the folks I was riding along with at the rear of the ride. We were moving along doing our ride at the rear talking and commiserating as we went along. To my surprise, all of my compatriots at the end of the ride were pulled during their vet check halfway through the ride. When I started out again after the midway hold time for vet checking I was by myself at the rear of the 30 mile ride.

Right before the ride started, I got goofed up with my ride time by getting advice from someone who was riding a 25 mile. With great certainty they told me that I had 6 hours to finish the 30 miles of my ride which according to them included the 45 minute vet hold in the middle. In fact the ride gave about 6 hours 50 minutes for the 30 mile ride.

On my wrist watch I had my timers ticking away while, newbie that I was, am pacing my ride for coming in under 6 hours. I rode the first 15 of the ride in 2 and a half hours. Then they held people for the midway vet check for a mandatory 45 minutes. So I left the midway point with what I thought was less than half of my allotted time for the 30 miles left. My horse was doing really fine at that point.

However, I thought for the second half of the race, I had to pick up my rate to come in under what I thought was my maximum time of 6 hours. So with the Epistle of Parke in my mind, I was really reading the roll and lay of the landscape. Either walking up or down hills or tearing up and down hills according to their gradation, jumping off and walking where ever the hills dictated and also jumping off at stream crossings to sling water on my horse to help cool him and keep him from dehydrating.

The trail went through a mix of woods with ravines and creeks and also around prairie edges running along a river with its bluffs. The trail itself was generally a mess. It has been raining buckets here in the mid-west in the last couple of weeks. Low spots on the trail where greasy with mud. Horses and riders were covered and soaked with mud.

At one point the 50 milers caught up and passed our 30 mile ride. One guy who came up behind me while I was tolting along on the roll of a part of the trail up in the prairies. He stayed behind me for a while and called ahead to me complaining in a fun way that I was not working hard enough blazing along in tolt on my horse. So I converted to trot for him just to show that we also can suffer like everyone else.

This guy was riding along with his wife at the head of the 50 milers. We rode along together at my speed and we talked for about five minutes. I got off my horse to walk a hill at one point and these folks passed by. The hill was short and when I remounted I joined up behind them again.

Their horses were awesomely fit. Hers was a Spanish Mustang and his an Arab. They picked up their speed again and moved along at a ripping trot. I rode along with them again for another 5 minutes bringing up their rear at their speed. It was too fast for the fitness of my horse but I wanted to experience the rate that the front runners were going at. We did fine but then at a point I slowed down to not over run the condition of my own horse.

I did not know it then but it turned out that this guy I was riding with was the national champion endurance rider last year. Also on the ride was this years high miles rider, with over 1200 miles so far successfully completed in endurance riding for the current year. They rode their own rides and I rode my own ride at the end of the line.

In the end, at the end, I was real satisfied to have finished fit, particularly riding along thinking my 30- mile time limit was the limit for the 25-milers.

Endurance riding with an Icelandic horse was a real curiosity for people at the ride. People were real pleased that we came to the ride and they were also quite pleased that we survived the ride. A lot of people came by afterwards to congradulate us, impressed with my mountain horse.

Best Regards from Iowa, -Doug Hamilton

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