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.