Little Viking Horse usually writes his own reports on the shows and whilst not doubting what an awesome horse he really is I thought his fans might find it interesting to hear a more balanced view of his achievements and some reflections on how far he has come.
Fleygur’s performance at the Spring Show was my favourite. Of course there were horses there that were more powerful, more flamboyant and more talented, but I was delighted with him.
I was delighted with his recent performance, not because he won his Intermediate Tölt class and came a very close second in the Intermediate Four Gait, although of course that was great, I was delighted because only a few weeks earlier we discussed withdrawing him from competitions all together, and this could have been his last one. He really pulled it out of the bag at this show and achieved some good scores and placings, but the main reason he will be back is that Fleygur seemed so much more relaxed and Roger wasn’t having to fight with him all the time. They have come such long way since their first ever show, the British Championships in 2013.
Let me wind back a little to give you a sense of quite how far he has come. When we bought Fleygur in 2009 he was our first Icelandic horse. He had been very well cared for (his previous owner was much more successful keeping his weight down than we are!) but he had not been ridden much for a couple of years due to his owner developing a back problem. When we tried him out he was difficult, he was an absolute gentlemen on the ground but the complete opposite when ridden away from his mare. I couldn’t believe my ears when Roger said ‘we’ll take him’. So why did we? Roger describes it like this
He was frantic. He shouted constantly for the mare and felt like he was going to explode at any minute but he didn’t, and he didn’t buck, bolt or rear and I just felt he wouldn’t. He felt really wound up but I thought he was a good stamp of a horse
I could add that as winter was approaching and his owner was keen to find him a new home as soon as possible his price had recently been cut in half and Roger always likes a bargain!
Fleygur continued like this for some months. He did everything you asked of him, but he was always anxious when ridden out alone. He didn’t spook but he lent on the bit and pulled, all the time. If you gave any release he would take off with you and I have never known any horse walk so fast on the way home, an uncomfortable short choppy walk. Even when I hung back on my cob, if you let him Fleygur would continue his speed march home disappearing out of sight round the corners. I once got so fed up with him marching home that I made him stop and insisted he stood still. If he moved I was determined to stand still longer, I now think that it was a silly battle of wills that was not really going to teach him anything, but I was so frustrated and uncomfortable it was what I resorted too. The thing is he stopped every time I corrected him but eventually he started trembling and I could feel him starting to boil over. I really thought he might go crazy so I jumped off and walked him for a bit. He immediately calmed down and I was able to remount and ride him home.
I stopped riding him. He was too strong for me and I didn’t like the amount of contact I needed just to have some sort of control, and anyway he was Roger’s horse!
After we had owned Fleygur for about six months Roger developed a sore back and the more he rode Fleygur the worse it got. In all other respects he was a lovely horse to have around. A real character, quick learner and a dream to handle on the ground, but this wasn’t going to work and Roger said we would have to sell him. Being the sentimental one I offered to swap horses for a while. I was hoping Roger would be able to sort out his back and we could keep Fleygur, so for three months Roger got to ride my lovely armchair Cob, Beanie and I was back on the horse that use to make me cry with frustration.
Over those months a number of things changed. We changed his French link snaffle for a Waterford, which he couldn’t lean on in the same way and gave me something to work with. We went to Iceland where we rode lots more horses and had some lessons. We asked everyone we met, in Iceland and back home about how to deal with horses that pulled. I tried really hard not to ‘pull back’ and to get him to relax but the progress was so slow I barely noticed it. We didn’t really know other people with Icelandic horses back then, and before the days of Facebook groups it was much harder to make and keep the links and find out what was going on.
We visited a Western Equestrian Show locally which seemed to be the antithesis of the riding we were doing with Fleygur, nice quiet calm horses all on a loose rein. It was clear that Roger was seriously thinking of going back to Western riding and buying a Quarter horse. At the event we met a human and equine physiotherapist who gave Roger a treatment and recommended he reviewed his riding position.
We decided we needed to know more about Fleygur and contacted his breeder for help, We booked a lesson with Janice Hutchinson at Siamber Wen Icelandic’s where we discovered that Fleygur had always had a good tölt, and that he use to have a nice trot too, though we had not been able to find it up to that point, but we also found out that he had always been an anxious type of horse. It appeared that Roger was right, he was a ‘good stamp of a horse’, but he did have issues!
Janice told me I might make a good enough rider in a couple of years time if I worked at it and although I had only recently returned to riding, I had ridden since I was six so I took this quite badly! The thing is, now I look back she was right, I am still working on it, but my riding is significantly better now. After her feedback I made a determined effort to stop ‘wiggling’ in the saddle and Janice made a significant correction to Rogers riding position too, which he has maintained ever since and his back problem has not returned.
We continued to research, got help and lessons from Fi Pugh at Old Hills Icelandic’s and that summer we took Fleygur and Beanie to the Gower Peninsular on holiday, and on one particular day riding over the Common at Cefn Bryn I commented to Roger that Fleygur really wasn’t pulling, even though we were heading back to the yard. We swapped horses and Roger rode him the rest of the way home. He announced that it was like riding a different horse. I was so chuffed.
Although this was a break through the problem wasn’t fixed and there were plenty more challenges to come, but now at least we knew that we could give some release to Fleygur and that returning to a softer feel was not out of the question. As Fleygur became more relaxed and his bond with Roger grew stronger his character really began to shine through. He has become so relaxed at home that Roger often doesn’t tie him up and I really think he would go anywhere with him.
Two years later and we were offered the opportunity to buy Gydja, Fleygur’s mare, how could we say no? When we brought her home it was clear that Fleygur recognised her and although this now presented us with the opportunity of each taking an Icelandic horse to one of the shows, we had not really thought through the likelihood of this increasing rather than decreasing his separation anxiety! Nevertheless I am glad we bought Gydja, she is a lovely gentle but spirited horse and I think Fleygur was pleased too! You can read about his Favourite Day Ever on this link
It was around this time that Fleygur began his celebrity career, I started his Facebook page and later the website and YouTube channel. Later that year he even got short-listed in the Finals of the Equestrian Social Media Awards 2014 (Talking Horses category) and got his photo in the Guardian Newspaper! Clearly it was time he had his own logo too, designed by a colleague.
We started taking Fleygur to clinics (or Boot Camps as LVH calls them) at Old Hills Icelandic’s and had lots of good advice from Karen Birgitte Rasmussen and began to think about shows….
The first show we attended was the British Championships in 2013. You can read Fleygur’s account here, but believe me he underplays what a disaster it was! Fleygur was barely controllable, and shouted the whole time for Gydja. Roger tried his best to calm him, but nothing seemed to work and he scored a very low 1.8 in his first ever class. Despite putting a good face on it, and lots of encouraging comments from people, Roger was gutted.
We attended more clinics and started to attend shows at Oakfield Farm in Dorset. These were much more relaxed events where we were able to work on Fleygur’s separation anxiety. He still shouted a lot but his did sometimes put in some quite good performances and at the next British Championships in 2014 were he was much improved and brought home the shields for Elementary Tölt Champion and Elementary Combination.
However his anxiety constantly hampered his performance and even though he was often placed in his classes he was still too stiff, too ‘upside down’ and often called out for his mates. We had a long way to go, and had begun to question whether taking him to shows was really fair on him, as he got so wound up. Quite how far we still had to go became most apparent when Roger took him on his own to a team training event (otherwise know by Fleygur as ‘Mega Boot Camp’). He travelled well on his own, but once at the event he called – all night and when Roger rode him the next day he was exhausted and tense, this was not a winning combination. It was a tough weekend for Roger and although he got some good advice about preparing for the Easter Show the following weekend his confidence was not high.
Fleygur was entered in two classes but when we got to the show it was clear he was not feeling himself. He was subdued and didn’t eat all the food provided – which is unheard of for him. He played it all down a bit in his Easter Show Report but we were worried about him. Roger withdrew him from one class, and declined to ride in the final of the other. For the first time Fleygur came home with no rosettes. Had it all been too much for him? Was it fair to keep asking him to perform on the Oval track when he got so tense? Had he gone as far as he could? Perhaps it was time to gracefully retire him from competitions and for Roger to concentrate on bringing on our new youngster, Jandi.
We decided to give him one more go at the Spring Show at Oakfield Farm Icelandic’s. It was a place Fleygur had been to several times, and the atmosphere there is relaxed. Roger entered him in two intermediate classes, Tölt and the Four Gait. We would give it one more go, and decide whether or not to take him to the British Championships in June based on this.
As we attended more shows we had progressed from me having to hold Svipur near to the track to keep Fleygur calm, to me walking with him in hand after Roger had warmed him up. This meant that Roger could watch the other competitors and concentrate on what he had to do in his next class while I focussed on getting Fleygur to relax. I kept him moving and focussed on me, talked to him and knew where he liked to be scratched or massaged best. It seemed to work and both Roger and Fleygur were more relaxed entering his classes. We couldn’t do this for the Intermediate Tölt as I was riding Svipur in this class too, but probably because he had Svipur with him he stayed calm and went on to win the class.
He performed well in the Intermediate Four Gait too going on to win second place with a score very close to the winner, but it was not his placing that pleased me the most. It was how much more relaxed he was, and although he still needs to bring his hind legs under him more, and we need to try to help him be less stiff in his back, his shape was much improved – and he didn’t shout! Well maybe once. He just looked so much more relaxed. This video shows the tolt section of his Intermediate Four Gait class, there is still more to do, but for anyone who saw him at his first competition in 2013 this is a huge improvement.
Svipur and I got a third in the Intermediate Tölt and Roger and I were also presented with our Winners rosettes for the 2014 Rider Rankings. So the Spring Show was a big success for the Little Viking Horse.
It was a lovely show with good food, great company and excellent hosts. When we started with Fleygur we knew next to nothing about Icelandic horses and the gaits and sometimes I still feel I know nothing, but what I do know is this – being with our horses should be fun. It could have been the right decision to withdraw Fleygur from competitions, it’s no fun seeing your horse so stressed and at some point he will retire from being a ‘sports horse’ and just be a rambler instead. The competitions are actually a small part of what we do with our horses. It’s not all about winning but knowing that you are making progress and being recognised for that is a wonderful feeling.
The Icelandic horse community in the Britain is welcoming and helpful and there are many people who’s advice and help we have sought along the way, so thank you to everyone who has been part of our journey so far.
A final few photos from the Spring Show.