Monday, December 1, 2008

Change for the Icelandic Horse

We are at a point of great change within the Icelandic Horse breed. We have reached the cross roads; one going down the path of mechanical devices and manufactured gaits, and one leading to natural horsemanship and natural gaits.

Which path will you take? It may be a hard decision for some. For many people, it will involve change.

Are you afraid of change?

We are creatures of habit. People generally *like* status quo. Humans are made to recognize familiar objects and experiences. That's the logic of our brains. We can use a minimum of brain power to function with "familiar" things, rules, and order, which can be taken care of subconsciously. That leaves conscious brain power to deal with "different" or new things.

Sometimes "different" can be perceived as "dangerous" or disconcerting. Just part of the human makeup... leaving the comfort zone. The level of danger can be based on if you are isolated, alone, or the size of your companion group. Higher danger is in smaller groups or for the isolated human.

The tendency is that outgoing, confident people are more willing to consider and accept change, and move towards making changes more easily.

Change involves work. It's not easy, and it takes time, energy and effort. This explains why most people loathe change. Change can be viewed as opportunity or threat.

What some people see as a benefit can stress out others. Most people have a natural curiosity about change but at the same time, can be spooked by it. There are people at the low end of tolerance of change and at the other, the confidant ones, who love it.

"It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit from the old order and only luke warm defenders in all those who would profit from the new order. This is partly due to the incredulity of man who do not truly believe anything new until they experience it."
~~Quote from the Italian Machiavelli delivered in 15th Century.

There are four distinct phases of change: denial, resistance, exploration, commitment.

These can be broken down into seven phases: shock and surprise, denial and refusal, rational understanding, emotional acceptance, learning and practicing, realization, and integration.

Most people look at change in a negative way. For them, change may mean learning new things, increased pressure, potential loss of position, fear of the unknown, or even a challenge to their personal beliefs or way of doing things.

Six reasons for fear of change:

1. Fear of the Unknown
2. Self Doubt; Afraid of Losing
3. Self Isolation and Agonize Over Decisions
4. Forget That We Always Have Options
5. Focus on the External World to Define Our Identity and Worth
6. Handcuff Ourself to Stuff

In each generation there are a few individuals or a group who step from the old patterns and push the boundaries of current limiting beliefs and structure.


We are standing up for the Icelandic Horse, and insisting on improved training methods.

Some individuals will never be change makers, but kudos to those who are, as that's how we progress and how we reach higher levels in our society.

People like to hang on to the familiar, even if the change will be beneficial, something "different" is harder to accept or deal with. The denial and refusal stage also includes "hanging on"... hanging on to the old, familiar way, resisting the new. Change can disrupt work patterns and teamwork.

The middle part of the process of change is "letting go"... letting go of the old ways. A successful "letting go" includes confidence that the new way will be more personally beneficial and for the greater good for the whole. This is where there is a willingness to consider change.

Active acceptance, the final step in positive change, is mental and emotional acceptance and implementation of change. People learn, practice, and exercise; the more positive responses they get (correct answers), the more vested in the new changes.

You do not have to be afraid of change!


We are the Change Makers who are making things better for the Icelandic Horse; moving away from mechanical devices and manufactured gaits, over to natural horsemanship and natural gaits.

Which do you value? Blue ribbons? ego? winning? or fairness, empathy, two-way communication with, and consideration for, your horse?

Read the Change Maker:


Anonymous said...

Hi Judy, this comment isn't about the post -- but I've been trying to join the Icehorses Yahoo group & can't seem to get my account working properly, so I'm putting it here.

I'm writing about something you posted to the group--a letter from someone talking about the Icelandic horses not being ridden in the arenas, but instead riding on the paths around the barn... that describes the situation at the boarding stable where I am at as well, but the most important reason was not mentioned in either the letter you got or in your response: horse boredom.

I know that some people don't want to tolt in the arenas because they feel they get better tolt on harder surfaces, but for my husband and I and many others, that's not the issue. Our goal is that we do everything we can to keep our horses interested--and riding only in arenas does not make for a happy Icelandic, although we do our best to make arena time fun with a wide range of obstacles, jumps, toys, etc. (For me, it's clicker training that keeps my horse from hating the arena).

My sister has a dressage TB that is quite happy/ relieved to ride in the arena for YEARS, but I have made a "deal" with my Icelandic horses-- they will do things in the arena a couple days a week but only if they get at least equal time out on trails. Many times, riding *around* the barn is as close to "out on trails" as we can get. Riding around outside the arena means there is always something different, different directions to go, way more to see (they get to look at the other horses, barn cats, and the like) -- it's just far more mentally stimulating.

We moved to the barn we're at--despite having horse property at home--because it provides a much richer environment. For my husband and I and our five horses, if the footing was reversed--heavier footing on the paths, dirt roads and harder footing in the arenas, we would STILL be riding outside the arenas. In fact, that would be a much better situation. For us, it's not the footing--it's the tediousness (for the horse) of riding in arenas, despite our best efforts at making it as diverse and exciting as possible. That said, I will be paying more attention to how much time I spend doing faster things on the harder surfaces (although in our case, we are at the beach so *everything* is covered in sand).

Also, you will be interested in some video I hope to post soon of a Kids Only Icelandic Horse Show we just put on last week. It was a fantastic demo of the breed--the hilight was an obstacle course of horse-eating things (tarp "mountain passes", a "campsite from hell", even strange animals they had to stand quietly next to) and attendees agreed that had this been any other breed show, these objects would have been far more challenging for horses that hadn't been specifically prepared for it.

The kids also did Pick-Your-Best-3-Gaits classes, some more traditional "games" like flag races and weave poles, and unlike officially sanctioned shows, the kids were able to ride unregistered horses. A horse that you know--my husband's horse Andi--is unregistered (although we hope to fix that)--so this was his first "show", and one of the local kids won two of the classes with him, beating out a couple of very pricey Icelandic competition horses : )

I am not AT ALL against sanctioned shows and have been participating in them recently (as a novice, which is all I'll ever be), but I believe alternative events are *also* extremely important for promoting the breed here in the US.

But we are also hoping to add some things to some of the sanctioned shows that *reward* more than just showing strong gaits. For example, the USIHC includes "optional" classes that can be run in a sanctioned show which include things like in-hand dressage. We would like to see the kids especially be encouraged--and yes, win official ribbons--for developing a training relationship with their horse that can include work in a halter and even at liberty, and does not necessarily involve tolt.

One other thing -- and hopefully I can say much more about this when I can figure out how to join the Yahoo group--I think that you may not be recognizing all of the ways in which things *are* changing, and that you--or some others in the Yahoo group--have a static view of trainers/training methods from, for example, Holar. Just 1 tiny example--I've been to two Jolli clinics recently. At the first one, he made us watch a Parelli video, and the first thing he did was make everyone take off their nosebands "to see what we've actually got." At the most recent one, he took all the horses that seemed "unmotivated" (including mine) and we spent 3 clinic days doing nothing but "play" games like "race to the other side to the bucket of grain" and basically anything we could do that would cause the otherwise sleepy horse to WANT to move... and we weren't allowed to use any leg.

In the Jolli clinics, I was using the Myler combination bridle (the Parelli "cradle" is a variant of this), and was encouraged to continue. The culmination of the had Jolli saying that "natural horsemanship is the best way to effect the horse's mind, classical dressage is the best way to effect the horse's body--an approach that somehow combines these two is very useful" These were not empty words trying to appease a US audience--he is known for trying to incorporate change, new ideas, etc. into Holar. (I just returned from 10 days in Iceland)

A trainer I have worked with is a Holar grad, and each time someone from Holar comes to do a clinic, she is astounded by how much has changed--by how many new "tools" they bring, and by how the things that were standard when she was there have evolved.

What happens at Landsmot and WC is not *any* indication of what is happening in the mainstream Icelandic horse world, and by mainstream I am including sanctioned shows in the US and clinics and training practices that are what you consider "traditional" Icelandic training. In other words, what is considered "traditional" is itself changing.

That it isn't changing in all of the ways that you would prefer is not the point I'm making--the point is that it is NOT the static, unchanging approach that many have claimed it to be. Most people who are at the novice/intermediate levels in Icelandic competitions are not looking to WC/Landsmot for inspiration and guidance. They are looking to thoughtful local practioners, and those include *some* of the people you criticize most harshly. Pictures do not tell the whole story. Spend a year with some of these people and a different picture emerges.

--Thanks, Kathy Sierra

IceRyder said...

Hi Kathy:

>>I've been trying to join the Icehorses Yahoo group & can't seem to get my account working properly<<

You can join the email list by sending a blank email to

Or you can join by going to:

and clicking onto the "Join" button.

Let me know if you have any problems (email me at iceryder @



IceRyder said...

>>you will be interested in some video I hope to post soon of a Kids Only Icelandic Horse Show<<

Excellent; looking forward to it!

IceRyder said...

>>I believe alternative events are *also* extremely important for promoting the breed here in the US.<<


The current type of showing for Icelandic Horses is detrimental to the marketing of the breed in North America, which is one of the reasons why the numbers in the breed have not grown over the past dozen years or so.

>>the USIHC includes "optional" classes that can be run in a sanctioned show which include things like in-hand dressage.<<

Great! Perhaps when you get on the list, you can tell about the program and describe the process for everyone.


Rebecca said...

I am from another horse gaited world and I also leaving the mechanical aids aside. I love the horses (my boys) I have, but after they are gone I am done. potential stallion for my mustang, for when my boys are getting aged. I am not fond of the "modern" breeding of horses, they aren't what their founding father horses were like. I am however looking for a I am looking at single footing horses and icelandic horses. I am leaning towards the icelandic horses because of their heights. I was wondering if you have heard of any icelandic crosses. My mustang is gaited to a certain point. She can perform a flat walk but nothing faster, I'm not an speed junkie. But when others are trotting I still would like to be in gait. Any comments/suggestions/direction would be great

IceRyder said...

Check the archives of the IceHorses list. I think there is a discussion now about crosses and other posts previously.