Buying in Iceland: If you choose a Breeder in Iceland, make sure they are familiar with the North American Market and you will save lots of time by not looking at the wrong horses. An 'easy' horse in Iceland might be too much horse and too little training by our Standards. It is important to have an English speaking Breeder or Translator friend in Iceland if you go there!!! Of course in Iceland you will have a great selection and will be able to develop a feel for these horses' special temperament and background, since you can see how they are kept and trained. Most Breeders there will be of assistance with the Import formalities or refer you to Import Companies. Some People in Iceland specialize on helping North American Buyers find the right horse - one of them is Lukka at Langhus Farms (on the right with Sproti fra Langhusum). She has helped many happy owners to find one or more good horses - check our her site Langhus Farm
Icelandic Horses are very smart and independent, they will co-operate because they learn to respect you, and because you respect their specific temperament - they are not a push-button type horse that can be "broke", but if you appreciate a thinking horse that will always keep a bit of independence and will bond on a level of cooperation and mutual understanding - an Icelandic is the one for you!!
We also need to consider that this Breed does have a huge variety of types. You need to assess exactly what kind of horse you want to own. Do you want a horse that is laid back and bombproof or a horse that shows more willingness and might be more of a riding challenge? Do you want to find the perfect Trail Partner, Family horse, Show Prospect, Breeding Prospect? Do you want a domestic bred animal or are you looking across the waters to get your Icelandic Horse? Do you want a young animal or a fully trained one? Do you want a mare or a gelding? Do you want all five gaits, four gaits or maybe are you happy with a horse that mainly shows a smooth and secure Tolt? Are you prepared to put in the effort that it takes to learn about the gaits and how to ride them well?
If you ride Western style and want to simply switch to a smooth ride, without having to learn a different riding style - you might be able to find a Natural Tolter that even learned to neck rein. My recommendation however would be to look in another Breed (Tennesssee Walkers, Rocky Mountain Horse or other Single Footing Breeds) ; there are many North American Gaited Horses out there that can give you a smooth ride and are often trained for the Western Pleasure type riding style.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN AN ICELANDIC HORSE?
Growing up naturally: Icelandic bred horses grow up in big herds with fairly limited contact to humans, so they are very hardy, strong, nature smart and show natural respect for people. Domestically bred horses have a lot of human contact and could be disrespectful if the owners/breeders didn't pay attention to that issue. In general it is always better to choose a horse that was growing up in a herd environment and had as much pasture space and horse interaction as possible, to ensure a socially well adjusted horse that has enough daily exercise, to strengthen bones and muscles of this growing horse. If you buy a young horse and can't give it that kind of environment, look for a Breeder who can keep it in the herd for a minimal fee, till it is old enough to begin training and come home with you - this will benefit your horse immensely.
Ready to Buy?
before you buy a horse make sure it passes the Purchase exam, possibly including a test for Bone Spavin, executed by a licensed veterinarian of your choice and that the horse is up to date with regular deworming, basic vaccines and farrierwork.
you will need a Sales Contract with the following points: clear description of the horse with Registration Number, Price, Payment Conditions, possibly Suitability Guarantee. If you buy a pregnant mare you need a Stallion report signed on her registration papers (if Canadian registered) otherwise just original papers (some Breeders will take care of the Transfer, then you will need a copy of the papers). Make sure everything important is clearly defined in the contract.
arrange for transport with a reputable company if you don't do it yourself, and remember, the cheapest deal is usually not the best one for your horse!
Training under the Saddle: In recent years there has been an more Dressage type work present in Icelandic Horsetraining, but many Icelandic bred horses still receive a different kind of training under the saddle. Most Icelanders ride with little lower leg contact and often Icelandic trained horses don't receive the kind of Ringwork that a Northamerican rider expects. They often get ridden FAST with little emphasis on stop, bending or yielding, and this speed might be intimidating for Northamerican riders. Domestically bred horses generally receive more basic groundtraining, Ringwork and are used to much more lower leg contact. If you are set on importing an Icelandic style trained horse, and don't have the riding skills to put some "refinement" on such a horse, make sure you have access to someone who can help you with it. You should be prepared to attend Clinics where you can learn about the Gaits - most regular coaches do not know anything about Gaited Horses. I do not advise to buy a Youngster unless you are prepared to have a knowledgeable trainer start the horse and if you are well versed in handling Youngsters. Too much can go wrong if a young horse is started by the wrong person and it is very hard to 'fix' problems later; whereas a well started Horse can be a delight for many years.
Quality and Price: The best way to determine a horse's quality in relation to price is a) by looking at its competition results or training history or b) to have an evaluated horse or evaluated parents c) look at the pedigree and d) to take into consideration the age-old "demand and supply". Scores help to assess an animals strong and weak sides, and together with the pedigree are especially important for selecting Breeding stock. One has to understand what the individual scores mean. In Iceland it is much more common to have horses routinely evaluated than in North America.
Summer eczema - some imported horses develop an allergic reaction to certain insects, and they respond to these bugs in varying degrees. This is called Summer Eczema and virtually identical to the Sweet Itch that many domestic breeds can get as well. Symptoms include rubbing of mane, tail and other areas to the point of loosing all the hair and developing open sores. More common on the East Coast and any humid area with high insect load. The only way to deal with it effectively - cover the horse totally (specially developed blankets available) when outside, keep inside during days of high insect volume or at dawn, night and dusk every day. Find out beforehand if the horse has this condition and ask yourself if you are prepared to put the effort into it. Buy domestic bred horses; although in Europe the domestic stock sems to have SE as well, in NA this seems not to be the case yet.
Bone Spavin - while this condition can affect any Breed, it seems safe to say, that it has a high occurence in the Icelandic Breed. A recently published extensive Study about Bone Spavin on Icelandic Horses in Iceland, suggests that the predisposition is genetically based, and cautions against using horses for Breeding that show Bone Spavin before age 10. The genetic component makes it important to use only healthy Breeding Stock and to test all mares and stallions. A new rule for Evaluations now makes it mandatory for stallions 5 years and older to have X-rays taken before they are evaluated. A step in the right direction! We at Moondance take this subject very serious and regulary X-Ray our Broodmares (biyearly) and Stallions (yearly). If you buy a horse make sure to include a Spavin test (Flexiontest plus X-Rays) in the Prepurchase Exam!
Selecting a Horse: On this continent distance is a big consideration, but with the small selection of Breeders, and the big investment you are going to make, it is worth to check out all resources available. The Internet is a great source for this and the Breeding Associations or Breed specific Magazines (I have some Links on this webpage, too). It is important that the Seller is honest and responsive to all your questions. The horse needs to be registered with the national Breed Organisation. Preselect a few horses before you go and try them out if possible. Spend the extra time and money to make sure you will find a companion that will stay with you for a long time. Talk to as many knowledgeable people as possible and if available take a trusted person that knows something about the Breed when you go to select your new horse....sometimes we get all hooked on the wrong horse and a second opinion of a valued person will help us to see things more in perspective. Don't buy a horse for color or a pretty head ( I have seen it many times), it is much more important to have a good horse in all the other aspects.
take the chance to improve your "gaited riding skills" as much as you can and take the chance to meet like minded people on Gaited and Icelandic Horse Shows, Trailrides, Seminars and Clinics. If a Horse does more than one intermediate Gait (Trot, Tolt), and possibly a Flying Pace, it will be more of a challenge to ride properly.
If you look for a Pleasure horse, make sure it is secure in the Tolt (Pace is not important for pleasure riding) and select for personality and how it feels to you. Here you don't look for scores but for the value of feeling safe and having clear, secure gaits that are easy to ride and don't disappear after you take the horse home. Because of the big demand for these horses, they are not necessarily that much cheaper than their evaluated cousins! Imported Horses are more expensive than domestically bred horses if you buy them from a Breeder. If you import yourself it might seem cheaper, but import and transport can add up considerably.
once your horse is home, give him some time to settle, it might take months for an imported horse to overcome the impact of the journey and the totally new environment its body and mind has to cope with. Some horses even get a bit deporessed when they come from Iceland. If you bought a trained horse and have a suitability guarantee it is usually about a month's time to find out of this horse is still right for you. Don't get impatient and start it easy with your new horse, spend lots of time with it, get to know it on the ground (TTouch is a great way to get aquainted with a horse and make it feel comfortable with you!). After a couple of weeks it should be settled in enough to seriously consider problems a real issue. Ask knowledgeable people - especially the Breeder - for help and be honest to yourself if it just doesn't work out.
become a member in the Breed Association and participate passively or actively in whatever you can. We are all connected by our Love for the Icelandic Horse!!! Associations connect people all over the continent; they are not just political constructs to make our life complicated...local chapters will make it possible for people to participate in fun events or serious competitions, and feel connected in their joy with this very special Breed!
Picture by Lukka
People often wonder why these horses have such a high pricetag on them - prices are already comperatively high in Iceland and therefore it is no "moneymaking scheme" when their price in Northamerica is high, too, especially for imported horses! As there have been a few "big buck breeders" going out of business in the last year, the market has been flooded with cheaper horses. Reputable Breeders are now forced to lower some of their prices, which will make it very hard for any Breeder to properly raise and train their young horses without a loss.
General Handling: Icelandic Horses are typically not handled much as Youngsters, this is especially true for their native country, but also for many domestic Breeders. Although their calm disposition makes it usually easy to teach these horses new and scary things, we need to be aware of the fact that we might need to expose them gradually to things we would consider standard procedures. Here at Moondance we expose our Youngsters to situations like trailering, being stalled, washed, clipped, trimmed, dewormed, and we aim to develop well mannered horses that 'know the ropes'.