“I went for a ride and never looked back,” she says. “Since then, I’ve always owned an Icelandic horse.” When she moved to New Zealand in 2003, she couldn’t bear to part with her four-legged friends. She started out with a one-year-old stallion and a gelding. In 2007, Jennie bought a mare, which was born in Iceland, and started breeding herself. Later she bought another stallion in Australia. Currently, she has seven Icelandic horses in Mauku on the North Island where she lives.
Interest in Icelandic horses in New Zealand seems to be increasing. “In the past months, we’ve had a new member nearly every two weeks and there have been quite a few horses changing hands,” says Jennie. She’s on the board of the New Zealand Icelandic Horse Association, called IceHNZ, which has around 50 members. “We can’t cope with demand for good riding horses because we don’t have enough well-trained horses or specialised Icelandic horse trainers.”
The first Icelandic horses came to New Zealand in the 1990s from Germany and France. Most of the horses are imported from mainland Europe. New Zealanders would like to import more horses directly from Iceland but it’s a long journey and very expensive, especially because the horses must first be kept at a quarantaine station in the UK for three weeks and afterwards in New Zealand for two weeks. Jennie hopes this can be changed to cut the cost.
IceHNZ was founded by a couple on the South Island in 2006 and Jennie joined a few years later. The association’s first task was to register all the horses on WorldFengur, the studbook of origin for the Icelandic horse. “They had no official papers, so that was first thing that needed to be done,” says Jennie. “Most horses are now fully registered and microchipped, and two years ago we started a studbook.” The association also educates members about how to care for and ride Icelandic horses.
While Icelandic horses remain relatively unknown in New Zealand, horse culture is widespread. “It’s comparable to that in England,” says Jennie. Racing, polo and show jumping is popular, as well as riding for leisure. “Everybody rides tall horses, apart from children, who ride ponies, but even they are bigger than the Icelandic horse.” Getting rid of the “pony stamp” is one of the association’s main challenges. “It looks strange [to New Zealanders] to see adults riding what they call pony-sized horses. We deliberately don’t use the word ‘pony’ because their character is not of a pony, of course.”
In Jennie’s experience, once people try riding an Icelandic horse, they fall for the breed. “The trekking business on the South Island is playing a big role in promoting the breed,” she says. “People are amazed at what the Icelandic horse can do. They can’t believe how sure-footed they are.” Jennie thinks Icelandic horses could also be used for sheep roundup. “New Zealand is a bit like Iceland. It has more sheep than people!” She laughs. “There is still lot of promotion work to do. We need to set up a good demo team to show what our spirited and gaited Icelandic horses can actually do.”
The Icelandic horse copes well with the New Zealand climate. “On the North Island in wintertime it’s usually around 10 degrees [C; 50°F] and a little bit of night frost. In the summertime it’s around 25 degrees, sometimes up to 30, but there’s always a sea breeze,” says Jennie. The horses are kept outside year-round, except on hot sunny days when they go into the stable for shade. “I try to ride nearly every day,” says Jennie. There are some great areas for riding around where she lives. “On our property, the tracks are limited but half an hour from here there’s a beautiful forest where you can ride for hours and hours. And there’s also a black-sand beach near here.”
The New Zealand Icelandic Horse Association are now a partner of HORSES OF ICELAND.