North America has several breeds of easy gaited horses; horses that gait naturally.
In the Icelandic Horse world, we see the horses being forced to gait through heavy contact, nosebands, dig and pinch saddles, shoes, boots, whips, concussive practices, etc.
From an article about Marketing the Icelandic Horse:
Looking to other similar gaited breeds, coming into popularity in the mid 20th century along with the Icelandic Horse, we have the Peruvian Paso and the Paso Fino. Currently, their recorded numbers in the US are: Peruvian Paso 14,000 and Paso Fino 50,000.
There is a large gap between the numbers of Peruvians and Finos, that we wanted to find out why and what made the difference. It has been interesting and insightful to research the breeds, their history, and their marketing in the US, and to try to find some answers that may be helpful for the Icelandic Horse.
Each of these three breeds (Icelandic, Peruvian, Fino) had individual horses brought into the US prior to the middle of the 20th century, but it was in the 1950's and 1960's (post-war) when each one got their breed identity in North America.
For the Paso Fino: "Awareness of the Paso Fino as we know it today didn't spread outside Latin America until after WWII, when American servicemen came into contact with the stunning Paso Fino horse while stationed in Puerto Rico." The January 2004 cover of the Endurance News magazine sports a full page, color picture of a Paso Fino.
For the Peruvian Paso: "As part of their recovery in 1945 from the Chilean War, Peru made an all out effort to preserve their treasure, the horse, almost lost due to the war. Peruvians made a serious attempt to record the horses' fabulous history and guard their legacy. It was at this time they decided to have shows, form an association and start a stud book. However, in terms of historical continuity because of political problems, their isolation and the war, Peru has been at a disadvantage."
The difference between the horses coming to the United States is that the Paso Finos came with American servicemen and were mainstreamed into the American horse culture, easily sliding into wearing western tack, trail riding, becoming family horses, working cows. Acceptance of the Paso Fino Horse into the American horse culture was facilitated by this initial introduction.
In contrast with the Peruvian Pasos, the Peruvians were brought to the United States "guarded" (so to speak) by their trainers, and the mystique and mythology that goes along with it. It was said that "Peruvian tack has evolved with the horse for 500 years and most closely suits its conformation, riding style, and unique beauty of the horse for which it was created. The breed associations have continued to observe the tradition of Peru, and the Peruvian tack remains mandatory at most shows."
The number of Paso Finos grew rapidly, while the number of Peruvian Pasos limped along.
During this time, the Icelandic Horses were also first imported to North America, taking more of the same route as the Peruvian Pasos, entrenched with their own trainers and tradition.
Again, by recorded numbers we have Paso Finos at 50,000, Peruvian Pasos at 14,000, and Icelandic Horses at 2,000, for approximately the same time period of about 40 years in the US.
Rocky Mountain Horses, first organized in 1986, approximates 6,000 horses.
The Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse Association was established, March 22, 1989, As interest and awareness of Mountain Horses grows, so does the role of the KMSHA. It has grown from "a handful of horses" to over 1000 members, and nearly 6000 horses registered.
Fjord Horses and Welsh Ponies came into North America about the same time and they log in with 7,000 and 40,000, respectively.
What is the answer to increase popularity of the Icelandic Horse in North America?
The horses must be naturally gaited, meaning no need for manipulating gait by shoes, boots, saddles, whips, nosebands, sitting on the loins, heavy contact.
The horses must be easily rideable by novices (who are mostly attracted to the breed).
The horses must not *need* icelandic-style trainers (certified; professional; holar graduates, etc.) to be ridden.
The horses must not *need* special tack to be ridden.
The riders must not *need* icelandic-style trainers to learn how to ride the horse.
The horse must easily adapt into North American western riding style.
The horse must improve conformationally and in natural gait to compete with the naturally gaited breeds of North America.
"Why do people think a horse needs bit contact to gait. Mine don't! I don't get that. Am I wrong? I just don't see how their mouth and neck is gonna make them move their feet and joints differently. Unless tension creates gait. Which isn't natural is it? Or is it...
When I think about gait I think about myself. I can walk differently and in certain shoes that pinch or when my toenails are cut too short I walk funny. But if you led my mouth I would raise my head and stop thinking of much but how I hate your guts for not allowing me to have a nice ride and be tense and I guess yes, that would alter my gait but not necessarily for the better!
I mean contact is one thing but why do you have to be ridezilla??!!"
A response: Because they've never learned anything different...
Another response: Yes, that's one reason.
At this point though, I'm highly suspicious that there are other reasons. I'm very suspicious about some great big SECRET conspiracy, going on, right under our noses about the HONEST gaiting ability of many horses in many breeds.
Scenario for you: You buy yourself a very expensive *gaited* horse. But, when you get said horse home, and attempt to ride said horse, in gait, said horse either can't or won't do said gait. Sound familiar to anyone?
So, you think, hum, maybe that guy / gal I bought this horse from was right and I really do need to use the bit, tack, shoes, trimming method etc., that they used and told me to use. OR, it must be my faulty riding or the wrong tack.
So, you begin to question your own good horse sense at this point. After all, the horse seemed to gait great when ridden by the seller / trainer and even did great for you when you tried it out at the place. But, you are thinking, at the time, just wait till I get you home, you darling thing, and I get this awful bit out of your mouth and get you comfortable. You feel like a hero at that moment.
Reality land sinks in. This horse can't gait without artificial aids. Mechanical FORCE! So, what are you to do? All horse's that are touted to be NATURALLY GAITED are NOT! It takes a keen eye and some serious experience to see the difference between a forced gait and a truly natural inclination to gait.
Then, if the naturally gaited horse is ridden using mechanical methods this further complicates things. Did you check out the trim? Does the horse's gait depend upon it's SPECIAL TRIM or SPECIAL SHOES? These things happen all the time to good honest buyers who don't have a clue what they are REALLY SEEING.
Some of them are very embarrassed by being taken in and so resort to the same methods that the seller used to fool them in the first place. Sometimes the seller doesn't know any better and assumes all gaited horses require such methods in order to gait.
Quotes used by the people in the discussion:
"Be who you are, say what you think, because those that mind don't matter, and those that matter don't mind."
"Intelligent people talk about ideas. Average people talk about things. Small people talk about other people."
“PERHAPS the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not yet sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favor; a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.” ~~Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776.
This is a beautiful chestnut Icelandic Horse gelding with flaxen mane and tail. The colors of his tack are gorgeous, with the turquoise saddle pad matching the breast collar and the bridle. He is carrying a Myler sweet iron, but the reins are attached to the sidepull.
Riding to the post office at -10. We decided to skip going to the library. It is supposed to be -20 over the weekend. I don't know where global warming is- Alaska's record highs occured back in the 30s.