North of Sumas, WA, across the Canadian border, and nestled in the quaint countryside of Abbotsford BC, is the Tuskast Icelandic Horse Farm. Owned and operated by Christopher and Nathaly Jones, it's a breeding and training facility for purebred Icelandic horses. In Canada, the Icelandic horse community remains small -- in the whole country there are only about 1,200 such horses.
A random Google search for an "off the beaten path" experience led me straight to this gem of a find. Itching for another adventure, I couldn't possibly pass up the opportunity to ride an Icelandic horse through the Canadian countryside.
Raised in Texas, I have some horse riding experience, but I'm no *Wild Horse Annie. I'm just a horse lover, a quick learner, and stupidly fearless considering I once suffered a minor injury when bucked off a horse!
I arrived at Tuskast early one morning and I was greeted by five chocolate labs barking from the balcony of the house. I was unsure I'd arrived at the right place until Nathaly opened the door and invited me in for coffee. As we sat down for a chat, she introduced me to her young assistant from Germany, Caro Van de Wint, who had grown up with her own Icelandic horses back home.
Each member of Nathaly's family contributes to the success of the business. She runs tours, kids' camp, lessons, and trains the younger horses. Her husband, Christopher, is in charge of all business operations and farm logistics. Their daughter, Chanel, takes over the final training and preparation of the horses for competitions and breed evaluations. She also serves as hoof- care specialist, also known as farrier.
In their native land, Icelandic horses -- the purest breed in the world -- have no known predators; therefore, they're naturally curious and unafraid of people. In Iceland, they have no disease, but they've suffered devastating outbreaks in other countries, so Icelandic law prevents horses from being imported into the country and exported horses are never allowed to return.
Historical literature dates Icelandic horses as far back as the Viking age. They are highly venerated in Norse mythology. It's even believed that Odin, chief of the Norse gods, owned an Icelandic named Sleipnir. Prized possessions and indispensable to the medieval Icelanders, these war horses were often buried alongside their fallen riders.
Their physical structure -- well-proportioned head, short muscular neck, deep chest, strong legs, great stamina and endurance -- make them an ideally hardy breed able to withstand harsh winter temperatures. They're a bit smaller than other breeds and not much bigger than a pony. But due to their temperament, personality, and absence of the word "pony" in the Icelandic language, they're always called horses.
Icelandic horses have a distinct characteristic that other breeds lack: two extra gaits. Like other horses a healthy Icelandic walks, trots, and gallops. But five-gaited Icelandics can also perform the tölt (left hind, left front, right hind, right front) and the flying pace (a lateral gait with a moment of suspension between footfalls; left hind and left front, suspension, right hind and right front).
I had the opportunity to walk and tölt with an exquisite mare named, Salka. We crossed rivers, forests, and farmland. With each step of the way, I learned to trust the intelligence and intuition of this divine creature -- truly amazing.
After the ride, I decided to extend my stay and spend time getting to know Nathaly and Caro a little more. We had lunch and talked about all sorts of things. Since there was some more work to be done on the farm, I offered to help out by feeding and walking the horses and I also took the opportunity to play with them.
My adventure at Tuskast Icelandic Horse Farm was exactly what the doctor ordered. The Jones family and their lovely assistant, Caro, are truly genuine folks eager to share their passion for Icelandic horses to the rest of the world. That's what makes their business successful and what made my experience all the more special. Lucky me.
Al-Mughamara! -- Carla
For more information on Tuskast Icelandic Horse Farm please visit: http://www.tuskast.com
Velma Johnston a.k.a. "Wild Horse Annie", was an animal rights activist and champion of the wild Mustang. One fateful morning on her way to work, she followed a truck loaded with injured horses on their way to a slaughterhouse. From that moment forward her life path took a different direction. Learning about the harsh roundups and cruel treatment of the horses, she spent the rest of her years challenging powerful ranchers and Congress to free them. Her dedication and perseverance led to 1971 passing of The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act. She is a national hero.