Riding horses wasn’t always my thing. In fact up until my mid-fifties I’d only ridden a handful of times (ok maybe a couple of handfuls). But in 2002 we bought a farm in the beautiful Megalong Valley in the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney. It was this life-changing purchase that got me in the saddle on a regular basis, and got my wife Cathy ‘back’ in the saddle – she had been a keen rider since early childhood. And over the years since then, riding horses has become our thing. It’s what Cathy and I do together on our farm, and it’s become something that our whole family love being a part of – right down to our three year old granddaughter (our very youngest is only 5 months old so she hasn't started… yet).
Over the past decade, Cathy and I have taken riding trips all around the world. In Kenya following the wilderbeest migration, across the Moroccan desert from the Atlas mountains nearly to Algeria, in France over the mountains behind St Tropez, and across the high Andes. One of these adventures was an unforgettable ride across Iceland when we experienced these fabulous horses for the first time. We instantly loved their size, their unique & incredibly smooth gait (the tolt), and their nature. We also loved the country and the people of Iceland – they were right in our comfort zone.
So when the time came to let our sons take charge of our business we decided to embark on a new adventure, and breed Icelandic horses on our farm. I set off to Scandinavia with an incredibly well regarded breeding judge and now good friend – Herdis Reynis (or Disa as we know her) – on a fabulous two week road trip through Sweden, Denmark, Germany and of course Iceland. Having Disa as my guide meant that we went to the best farms and were shown only the best horses everywhere we went, and on that trip I purchased eight brood mares and a stallion to start our stud.
We selected horses that were fantastic to ride first and foremost, and also well bred. But for me, the riding was the most important criteria. Why? Because these horses are for us, our family, and our friends to enjoy riding. That said, their progeny will be an important part of the Icelandic horse community here in Australia, so it was still very significant for the future of these horses in Australia.
We now have four foals from those original mares and are hoping for another nine this year. In addition we bought several two and three year old geldings and mares from Victoria where the Haldane family have a significant Icelandic stud. So, at the moment we have a total of 26 horses.
Our property spans some very steep country, and a river runs right through it. It’s very hot in summer and quite cold in winter with many sub zero nights. We raise cattle, and we also have other native wildlife – kangaroos & wallabies, and even wombats and echidnas. So, as you can imagine it’s pretty different from the European environment that some of our horses were raised in. But they have adapted, and I think that says something about their calm, confident character. They have experienced two hot summers so far with no issues, are comfortable mustering the cattle, and when a kangaroo bounds out in front of them on a ride, they take it in their stride.
Over the past two years we’ve enjoyed getting to know the breed and our horses, and it’s just so lovely to see our grand children enjoy them too. They truly are ideal for all ages and all abilities.
Icelandic horses are not broken in until well into their fourth year, and not used to breed from until their fifth year. They live longer and are used to breed from until much later than is normal for what we call 'big horses'. It is very common to breed from these horses until their mid twenties and for them to live and be ridden until they are thirty. Recently the oldest Icelandic horse in the world who lived in Denmark died at age 56!
We intend to breed a significant number of these horses, and once trained to offer them for sale as fully trained horses that we hope families will enjoy as much as we do. Some of the Victorian horses we have (born in Victoria but bred from pure Icelandic horses) will be available for sale in 2017, and our own stock a couple of years later. I’m not sure if I will be able to bear parting with any of them though, they really are more like our pet dogs than horses!
– David Harris