Wednesday, June 1, 2005

A Horse is a Horse

... except when it's an Icelandic horse.

More on that in a second.  I should note that last night, I felt like I might be getting sick again.  Damn and blast.  I also stayed up till midnight, just to see for myself whether this whole "24 hours of daylight" thing was true.  Sure enough, by midnight, the sky had managed something on the order of a light dusk, and I had all reason to believe that it would quickly turn to dawn without all that unpleasant darkness in between. 

Blackout curtains are a necessity in Iceland.

So, the horses.  Icelanders are extremely proud of their horses -- and really touchy about the breed.  All the horses that were first brought here (Norse horses, I guess).  Every single one.  No non-Icelandic horse is allowed in the country.  In fact, if you bring riding gear into the country, you have to have a vet's certificate saying it was specially cleaned and disinfected before you can bring it in.  They say that a plane had to stop for refuelling here and it was carrying Arabian horses -- the horses had to be put to sleep before they allowed the plane to land.  Damn serious about keeping the breed pure.

One of the ways the horses are special is that they have five gaits.  In addition to your standard walk, trot and canter (gallop), they also have tolt (a trot variant) and pace (which I didn't see in action, but the graphic chart makes it out to be kinda like a gallop).

Woke up this morning for my day of horseback riding and whale watching (the tour which had originally disappeared from the computers, but ultimately found its way back).  Got picked up by the horse riding place, taken out there, given a brain bucket, and put on a horse.

My horse was named Horry.  To tell you the truth, I thought he looked like trouble from the start, but I brushed that feeling off.  I mean, he was a perfectly good trail horse.  Sure, he was bigger and differently-colored than all the other horses, but they assured me he'd be fine.

We started down the trail (through a field studded with bits of lava) with our horses in a single-file line.  The horses walked.  Horry behaved.

At one point, the trail split.  Our guide (who had been silent to this point) said we were going to split into two groups -- one would continue walking, and the other would go a little faster.  "How much faster?" I asked.  She said no cantering but we'd trot and tolt.  Well, you haul ass all the way out here to see the horses with their special gaits, might as well try one out.  I turned Horry toward the faster path.  He didn't want to go.  The guide is giving me the helpful advice to pull on the left rein.  "I AM pulling," I said.  She told me to knee the horse as well, and he finally went.

And we're off, in a single file line again.  Five horses.  We walk, then trot or tolt for a bit, then walk again.  Each time we pick up speed, Horry goes to the faster gait, but hangs back a bit from the horse in front of him.  Once, I nudged him to pick up speed, and he (obediently?) went into a canter for a few seconds.  I knew this was prohibited -- although it was fun and Horry clearly enjoyed it -- so I pulled up on the reins and pulled him back in line.

Next time we did the pick up speed thing, and Horry passed the horse in front of us.  I apologized, but there was nothing for it.  Horry wanted to be number two in line -- right behind the guide.  He was pretty good for the rest of the trip.

We stopped at a small creek to rest.  We all dismounted and held the reins while our horses grazed and drank.  I noticed that everyone else kept a loose hold on their reins while their horses just stood there and ate the nearby grass, while Horry kept pulling the reins (and me) so he could eat the grass HE wanted.

We mounted back up and started down the path again.  Horry was fourth in line.  We started a trot or tolt, and Horry hung back a bit.  Because Horry was hanging back, the fifth horse nearly passed us.  I nudged Horry, "Are you going to let that horse pass us?"  Clearly not.  Horry shifted into a canter and started barrelling ahead.  Ahead of the that horse.  Also the third and the second.  By this time, I was pulling on the reins calling "Whoa!" (knowing full well that "Whoa" is probably not the correct term in Icelandic).  Horry had the lead horse in his sights and refused to slow.  The guide turned her horse to block his path, and Horry was forced to stop (although he ended up stepping into the number 2 horse as he did).  The guide said, "We'll have no more of this," and immediately swapped horses with me.

We both dismounted (she was holding Horry by the reins at this point -- to prevent further funny business) and I mounted her horse.  Well, I tried.  I put my foot in the stirrup and tried to jump for it, but I couldn't get high enough to get my rump in the saddle.  I got down and tried again.  I noticed that my foot, which was still in the stirrup, was trembling wildly.  I guess that when Horry refused to stop when cantering away, I'd been a bit terrified, and my body wasn't letting me just laugh it off.  I took my foot out of the stirrup and -- at the guide's direction -- took a few deep breaths.

I said to the new horse, "Are you a good horse?  Are you going to be calm?"  The guide nodded her head and said slowly, "Ya."  I said, "Am I going to be calm?"  The guide nodded and said, "Ya" again.  I got on the horse.

This horse was great.  Receptive to every little touch of the reins.  Totally did exactly what I wanted him to do.  Got in line and stayed there.  I said to the horse, "Now, you keep your eyes on that tuckus and don't take them off till we get back to the ranch."  (Have you seen "Frisco Kid"?  Oh, never mind.)  We walked.  We trotted.  We tolted.  Horse was great.

As we were going along, I heard this little clink-clink noise.  It was sorta keeping rhythm with the pace of the line.  Once my horse pulled back just a touch, I saw where it was coming from.  The shoe on the rear hoof of the horse in front of me was coming off -- flipping with each step like a little horsey flip-flop. 

This concerned me.  I don't know much about horses, but the term "threw a shoe" came rushing to mind, and I figured that if that shoe came flying off, me and my horse would be the obvious target.  I did not like this idea.  I thought I should call the problem to the attention of our guide.

Now, keep in mind, the whole ride has been totally silent.  We were told that raising voices excites the horses, and we didn't want to go there.  I put on my most nonchalant voice and said all conversationally, "Y'know where that sound is coming from?  Your horse's shoe is just flipping along."  The guide said, "I heard it."

We didn't trot or tolt much more.  We pretty much walked all the way back.  Right near the end, we did a little trot, and I could swear I heard a little "ping" which I imagined to be one more of the nails coming out. 

Made it back to the ranch safely.  They gave us all little preprinted diplomas signifying that we'd successfully completed a trail ride on an Icelandic horse. 

I felt like I'd actually earned mine.

1 comment:

andreakingme said...

Yep. I think you earned that diploma in more ways that one, Twitchy Foot.