Wednesday, March 7, 2012

An Eye for Horses


Did you know it's "Read an e-book week"? To celebrate, my first book, A Good Horse Has No Color: Searching Iceland for the Perfect Horse, published in 2001 and long out of print, is now on sale for 50% off at Smashwords.com. That's $4.99. Can't pass it up at that price.


A Good Horse Has No Color has always been popular with Icelandic horse owners. But much of what I write applies to any breed of horse. This excerpt, for example, about my first ride on my horse Birkir in Iceland, was reprinted in the coffee-table book Heartbeat for Horses by Laura Chester and Donna Demari in 2007:


...Behind me I heard a rise in the conversation, then hoofbeats. The woman rode up on the darker horse and handed me her whip. I had seen other Icelanders ride with one, longer than a riding crop but a bit short for a dressage whip. This one had an engraved silver cap on its handle. I took it like I had expected it, and gave the horse a tap. Immediately he picked up a nice slow tolt, as if he’d been merely waiting for me to ask. It was a confident gait: His back felt soft and rounded and comfortable beneath me, his head was high, and his neck arched. His forelock blew back past his ears, and his dark mane rippled over my hands. He seemed to be enjoying himself, glad to be about, though not in any great hurry. I must have been smiling too, for the woman looked at me and beamed. She said something I didn’t catch, and suddenly we were cantering up the hill. The horse had a fine, rolling canter. At the crest, we resumed the tolt, turned, cantered up the near hill, and tolted back to the barnyard. The horse stopped easily next to its fellow, and we got off. The rain was picking up again. Someone took the two horses into the stable. Another suggested coffee, and we all dashed for the house.

When we came back out, the rain was still steady, but inside the barn it was warm and brightly lit and comforting. A raised center aisle separated two large pens full of horses, each haltered and clipped to a rail. They stirred and stamped when we entered, and I looked along their orderly ranks for Birkir. Amazingly, I picked him out at once, the light bay with a star, and walked down the aisle toward him feeling as if he were already mine. Sigrun approached him from the rear, and the horses parted, leaving room for me to step into the pen and join her. We stood at his flank, looking him over, and he turned his head to watch us, his neck arced high, his ears pricked with curiosity. He had a dark, liquid, inquisitive eye, soft and friendly. Unlike Elfa, he was completely at ease around us. He did not sidle away when I reached to pat him—on the contrary, he poked his nose forward, dog-like, to the limits of his rope, as if looking for attention. I scratched behind his ears and ran my hand down his neck and along his smooth wide back. His mane and tail were thick and dark, his black stockings neat, his hooves well-shaped, his coat a glowing red. He seemed larger and sturdier than most Icelandics I’d seen, and it was clear he was in excellent health.


“He’s beautiful,” I said, and meant it. I was filled with desire, suddenly, to own this beast—filled with awe that it was possible to own a creature so fine, so alive—surprised that anyone would actually let me take him away…


Birkir fra Hallkelsstadahlid has been part of our family now for fifteen years. You can visit his home farm on the web at www.hallkelsstadahlid.is. To learn about Icelandic horses in general, go to the Icelandic Horse Congress's website at www.icelandics.org or take a virtual ride on my friend Stan Hirson's video blog, Hestakaup.com. Another good way to get to know Icelandic horses is by reading my friend Pamela Nolf's blog about her horse Blessi: blessiblog.blogspot.com


Finally, a nice surprise in my email this week was a note from 16-year-old Asha Brogan, who created a book trailer for A Good Horse Has No Color as an assignment for her high-school journalism class. Watch at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ike2e3wugk. As she explained in her note, she was unable to borrow an Icelandic horse, and so had to make do with a Welsh pony. Not quite the same, as anyone who has ridden an Icelandic horse will tell you.


(Middle photo of Birkir fra Hallkelsstadahlid by Jennifer Anne Tucker and Gerald Lang.)

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