Icelandic Horse Connection

The Great American Horse Race, 1976

By Robyn Hood:

Yes, the Great American Horse Race (GAHR) is where I first met and rode the Icelandics. My sister, Linda Tellington-Jones, arranged for 15 Icelandics to be brought from Germany including Walter Feldman (in his early 20's at the time and a rather well known in the Icelandic world) and they were ridden by 4 Germans, 1 Austrian (Johanas Hoyos - young then as well and now a well-known rider and judge) and a Swiss rider. Phil and I helped condition the horses in Calfornia before taking them back to New York for the start of the race. We completed in a few endurance rides in California as part of the conditioning. Since I had been accustomed to riding "big" horses I had my doubts about the Icelandics until I rode one and I couldn't stop smiling. Have I even been run away with - sure - have I ever been runaway with on a "big" horse - you betcha - a couple of times on the hunt field (Pebble Beach golf course once - when we nearly passed the hounds) oh yes and as John mentioned there is that "shot gun" start that some endurance rides have - now that is fun - NOT.

Unforntunately the GAHR race was not very well financed or organized and after the first week or so ran on a rather tight budget. In St Joe, Missouri part of the ride left (including four of the Icelandic riders) to ride on the original Pony Express trail instead of riding along side the highway as happened in the GAHR. Walter and Johanas continued on the GAHR on four Icelandics - one who still lives with us here in Vernon, Borkur, who is 32 years.

On the Pony Express ride an Icelandic won and then a week later several of them were ridden on the Carson City 100 mile ride and Hrappson - an Icelandic stallion belonging to Claus and Ullu Becker won the best conditioned stallion award.

During the GAHR the organizers liked to put the Icelandics near the entry to our camping site because our horses looked so good. We fed them as much hay as they could eat and about 6 pounds of grain a day. They were very fit but not thin.

The ride was quite an experience and although it did not introduce the Icelandic horse to North America with the "bang" that was thought, it still exposed a lot of people and if it were not for that ride I am not sure when we would have become involved.

I think Icelandics are always beating the odds of recovery. Hrapson a stallion was on the Great American Horse Race and some years after he returned home with the Beckers to Germany was hit by a car.

He had major injuries to his hind leg and the vets gave no hope of recovery. When the Beckers insisted they give him a chance to recover they were told the best that was possible was to have an invalid stallion that would never be able to mount a mare.

With lots of nursing and time Hrapson proved all the predictions wrong and not only went on to sire more offspring but was ridden again as well.

Hemingur was the son of the famous German stallion Hrappur fra Gardsauka owned by the Beckers who together with Hrapson (Hemingur's brother) did start in the great American horse race and the pony express.

Natourschik's son, Nature's Ballet, was one of the horses in the Great American Horse Race, a 3000 mile extravaganza celebrating our country's bicentennial. Newsweek had an article on the Great American Horse Race that year.

Although the Orlov did not win that race (the winner was a mule, as a matter of fact), he was in 11th place out of 500 horses at the end of 2000 miles, at which point his owner pulled him from the competition because of deteriorating ride management.

Dr. Kerry Ridgway, California's world renowned endurance riding veterinarian, met Blue when Dr. Ridgway served as head veterinarian on the Great American Horse Race.

The Great American Horse Race 1976. A Photographic Documentary by Curtis L.Lewis and Dennis D. Underwood (Newton, Kansas 1993) (ISBN 0-9638302-0-1)

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