How my horse taught me a circus trick

Icelandic horses make great teachers

Riding Icelandic horse Morgunn was not easy

Morgunn's story

When I bought Morgunn, I thought I was going to turn into a competition rider. He certainly had the gaits to support me in that goal.


The problem: Though Morgunn had the talent to be a pretty good competition horse, it turned out that I did not have the talent to be a good competition rider. We did start at a few competitions, and we managed not to embarrass ourselves by coming in last. But we never made it into the better half of the field either.


Oh well. He was fun to ride, and, once I realized that my riding skills were nowhere near as good as I’d assumed they were, we did start working out how to get a nice tolt. Riding Morgunn, I felt for the first time how tolt should feel when the horse gives in the neck and carries himself with a swinging back.

The Potato Incident

And then, just when I thought I was figuring out how to ride this horse, he got sick with colitis. He lost a lot of weight over the course of a few weeks, so I tried everything in my power to try and tempt him into eating. We went on walks so he could graze to his heart’s content, which helped a little. I also tried lots of different foods to see what he would eat.


One thing that has stuck in my memory to this day was what I’ve come to think of as The Potato Incident: The vet recommended high carb foods, like potatoes. Morgunn spurned the potatoes we offered, so we thought we’d be smart and coat them with apple sauce. And really, when we offered him an apple sauce-covered potato, he gobbled it right up!


Imagine our perplexed faces though, when, after long moments of rolling the thing in his mouth, he spit the potato out in a wide arc, shiny clean and free of any traces of apple sauce. We did not try that again, though the apple sauce found an application in making other foods more palatable to our picky horse.


Icelandic horse Morgunn's story is both tragic and sweet

Morgunn loved being groomed

I forgot to take the feedbucket ...

I would visit him in the evenings, grooming him (which he loved), making sure he had enough hay, feeding him apples and carrots, and offering different sorts of concentrated horse feed for him to choose from. Sometimes, I’d sit in his stall for an hour or so, watching him eat, and simply keeping him company. He seemed to appreciate my presence, so I lingered as long as I could keep warm in cold winter nights.


One night, I’d just left his stall and managed to close the somewhat stiff stall door, when I realized I’d left the feed bucket in the stall. Sighing, I told Morgunn about this (yes, I do talk to my horses, don’t you?), leaning over the stall wall and pointing at the bucket.


... and Morgunn handed it to me

And what did Morgunn do? He picked up the bucket by the rim, turned to me, and handed the thing to me! I was so flabbergasted, I didn’t even offer him a treat for it, but he didn’t seem to mind. And of course, when he did it again a few nights later, I was better prepared and he did get his reward for this clever trick.


I have no idea who had taught him this trick, but I do know that without this incident, it would never have occurred to me that your average horse could learn those impressive tricks that I’d always gaped at in astonishment at shows.


The Icelandic horse who taught a circus trick to his person

Later, after Morgunn had succumbed to his illness, I offered his successor a treat for handing me his feed bucket. That was the first step in a series of fun circus tricks that Tandri learned, and which gave both of us much joy.


And all because clever Morgunn had taught me my first circus trick.

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