Thursday, May 22, 2008

Horseback Riding

The history of the Icelandic Horse can be traced right back to the settlement of the country in the late 9th century. Viking settlers brought with them their best horses, from various origins, though mostly of Germanic descent. Some sources say that the Icelandic Horse is a descendant of a Northern European breed, “Equus Scandinavicus”, while others claim that the horse is closely related to the English Exmoor pony. Although the origin of the breed was mixed, today this is one of the most purebred horse breeds in the world, due to its isolation. The breed has remained pure for over a thousand years and thus today there is only one breed of horse in Iceland – The Icelandic Horse. The Icelandic Horse has played a key role in the life of Icelanders from the beginning. In heathen times the horse was highly regarded and renowned in Norse mythology. Several of the Norse Gods owned horses that played major parts in the mythical stories. The most famous of these mythological horses was Sleipnir, the eight footed pacer. The influence of the Norse myths can still be seen in Icelandic horsemanship, as many riding clubs bear names of mythical horses, as do several horses in modern day Iceland. The horse is also often mentioned in the Icelandic Sagas where it played a vital role in the time of Viking warfare. The Vikings treated their horses with great respect and to a warrior a good horse was indispensable. A slain warrior would often be buried alongside his mount. For centuries the horse was the only means of transportation in Iceland as well as being the most important working animal in the days before machinery. Therefore the horse was called “the most useful servant” and it literally followed man from birth to grave, fetching the midwife as well as pulling the coffin to the cemetery. When the first automobile arrived in Iceland in 1940 the horse rapidly became redundant.However, a few enthusiastic individuals who were interested in the horse’s riding abilities kept breeding good horses and Iceland’s first horse breeding association was formed the same year the automobile arrived, but up until that time horses had mainly beenbred with strength and stamina in mind, rather than riding abilities or gaits.