When traveling in a foreign country, it helps to know the language, making the trip less confusing and frustrating. So it is when shopping for an Icelandic. Learn not only what the toll and flying pace are, but also be able to recognize and differentiate these gaits when you see them performed. Know what it means when a horse is a "natural tolter", and so on. Familiarize yourself with common Icelandic Horse training and handling practices. Conversations with breeders and/or those selling horses will be much easier on both of you if you know a little bit about the breed in general. For example: Unlike "big" horse breeds, Icelandics are not bred nor trained under saddle until 4 or 5 years of age due to their slow maturing. Knowing this, if you were to inquire about a 5-yr-old gelding, you would already realize this horse would be un-trained, or at best, greenbroke. A little, basic background information on the breed will also make it easier for you to convey to breeders and sellers specifically what kind of horse you are looking for. Where to find all this information? German-born, Canadian trainer, Christine Schwartz, has written several excellent reference guides on the subject of Icelandic Horses. See her website:http://www.angelfire.com/bc/valur. There are also quite a few internet sites now which can provide additional information and pictures.
Talk to as many Icelandic owners as you can, -- including, if possible, those folks not involved with breeding or selling horses. Talking to people who ride and use their Icelandics the same way you would use them can be very enlightening and helpful. Icelandic owners like nothing better than to talk about their horses, experiences, and what they've learned along the way. You can pick up a lot of useful information just by picking up the phone, or switching on the computer and E-mailing folks. When you contact breeders/importers, ask if they have sold any horses near you. Ask on our national email list: IceHorses Email List. This is also an excellent way to see how satisfied customers are with a particular farm's horses and service. Request sales videos from those farms selling horses. This not only provides you with a means of viewing horses without travel, but it will help you familiarize yourself with individual farms in terms of the stock they raise, train, import, and/or sell as well. However, it is not advisable to purchase a horse off of a sales video alone. You really need to visit the horse in person and see if you "click". Icelandics really look to having a "person" of their own, and the importance of this bond cannot be over-stated. Meet the horse you are considering. It will be well worth it! Which brings me to step three:
Visit as many horses as possible to give yourself a feel for the breed. You will be amazed at how unique each individual within this breed is. Icelandics can differ greatly in appearance, type, and conformation from one another! Better yet, RIDE as many horses as you can before purchasing. Like everything else, the tolt and temperament varies from horse to horse. Perhaps you might want to combine your Icelandic horse research with your next vacation by travelling to the Vermont Icelandic Horse Farm in Waitsfield. This stable, located in the unbelievably picturesque Green Mountains, offers Inn-to-Inn trekking on Icelandics, as well as daily rides by appointment.
You can keep abreast of up-coming events featuring, or including Icelandics that may be close enough for you to travel to by joining the USIHC and the Canadian Icelandic Horse Federation (CIHF). Each of these two organizations publish a quarterly newsletter which includes up-coming events where Icelandics will be promoted, as well as advertisements of horses for sale and breeding farms.
Toronto's Winter Fair in January, Columbus Ohio's Equine Affaire in April, and Louisville Kentucky's Equitana in June, are just a few of the events which offer Midwest spectators a chance to see the Icelandics live and in action.
It's still not time to get the checkbook out! Instead, ask yourself some questions: What are my primary ambitions with the horse -- pleasure riding, competition, endurance, jumping, driving? What is my budget? Am I willing to buy young stock and wait for them to grow up? Can I train the horse myself? How important are things like size, color, age, and gender to me? Do I want a 4 or 5-gaited horse? Will other members of my family be riding the horse, such as children or grandchildren? What is my skill level when it comes to riding? (Keep in mind that "invisible velcro" that kept you effortlessly on a horse as a child might not be as reliable as it once was!) Will I be riding by myself most of the time or in a group? What kinds of things will the horse be routinely exposed to at our farm -- wildlife, livestock, traffic, dogs, water crossings, etc. etc. The answers to these questions will help you describe to sellers what kind of horse you are looking for, and what will be expected of the horse.
Next, sit down and write a list of the 5 most important attributes or characteristics the horse must have for you to purchase it. Your list will probably begin with "good temperament", followed by "smooth, clear, easy-to-get tolt." Maybe price will be ahead of those two. Maybe it's important to you that the horse be thoroughly trained, schooled in dressage, or stand absolutely still when you get on and off due to a physical limitation you have. Perhaps you have to ride alone most of the time and need a bold horse that will go willingly out on his/her own without being herd or barn-sour. Maybe you've always dreamed of having a chestnut with flaxen mane and tail and have vowed this will be the color of your next horse .... Whatever matters most to you. However, if you find the gaiting aspect of the Icelandic "package" to be number #4 or #5, or even not on your list at all, perhaps it's time to re-evaluate your reasons for wanting an Icelandic. After all, there are a good number of nice, sweet, small, un-gaited horses out there for a lot less than what you'll pay for an Icelandic. Likewise, if temperament is low on your list, it's wise to remember that one has to live with a horse first, and ride him second!
This list will be the basis of your search for that "perfect", first Icelandic. When you find a promising horse, refer back to it and see how he/she measures up. Hopefully, doing so will prevent you from being tempted to buy a horse simply because it is close by, or a "bargain", when in reality, it isn't what you really want, or isn't suitable for your purpose(s) and/or skill level.
Finally, perhaps the best advice when shopping for an Icelandic is to take your time, look, look, look and learn, learn, learn! If you do your homework and know what it is you want before you go searching, you will stand a much better chance of finding that ideal Icelandic for you ...