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After riding an Icelandic horse at 7, Carrie Brandt knew what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.
Now, 14 years later, that dream is coming to fruition.
Brandt, 21, and her mother, Maggie, have opened Lettleiki Icelandics, an Icelandic horse boarding, breeding and training facility on the 105-acre Swallowland Farm on Eminence Pike in Shelby County.
Construction continues humming at the facility, which features a barn built by Joe Barmore with local Amish workers finishing the tongue and groove roof, an arena and 1,000-foot straight track.
Swallowland Farm offers a wooded setting and pasture for the Icelandic horses in the rolling hills between Henry and Shelby counties.
Although young, Brandt has put her time in learning.
She spent eight years training under Icelandic horse trainer Guðmar Þór Pétursson, whom she met while she and her family were looking for horses to ride.
Now Brandt and Pétursson are working together as trainers at Swallowland.
“We were driving around the horse community L’Esprit [in Henry County], and my dad was looking for a horse that wouldn’t be a problem and would take care of me,” Brandt said. “We heard about Icelandic horses and met him [Pétursson] on his family’s farm. We bought three family horses for my dad, sister and I. We all rode together.”
Icelandic horses stand about 14 hands high, which is about 56 inches or 4.5-feet tall, and is known for having a loyal, calm temperament, Brandt said. In Iceland the horse is used for show competitions, racing and as a workhorse on farmland – including rounding sheep.
It was the accessibility of the breed – its natural gait, an amble gait and its ability to do five different gaits which makes for an easy riding experience – which flourished Brandt’s interest and passion into a lifelong profession.
“It’s a four-beat gait [with] a wide speed range, and it’s a lot of fun to ride – a very comfortable ride – instead of a trot and canter gait that big horses move in,” Brandt said. “It’s not bouncy and that is called a tolt gait.
“There’s really a horse for every member of the family,” Brandt said. “You have horses that are very strong and willful that will run to the end of the world for you, and there’s also horses a kid can ride around in the fields and feel perfectly safe on.”
Her interest went from entering show competitions as a member of Pétursson’s show team to competing for the U.S. team at the International Federation of Icelandic Horse Associations (FEIF) Youth Cup in Switzerland. In 2010, Hólar University in Iceland accepted Brandt as only the second American into the university’s three-year program for riding and riding instruction. Brandt earned certification as an advanced riding instructor in the Icelandic Association of Horse Trainers.
Maggie Brandt confirmed her daughter has dreamed of training Iceland horses since she was a child, and her dreams have become a reality.
“Carrie figured out how to do this. She went to university in Iceland. She learned Icelandic,” Maggie Brandt said. “She figured out all the pieces so we [along with father, Bert Lyons] said okay.
“So, we started this facility and hope it is a center for people in the United States where they can have their horses trained.”
The combination of fulfilling her lifelong passion of working with Icelandic horses, and teaching was a natural for Brandt. Coupled with a love for nature, the bond she has with her horses made training a perfect fit.
“Today people need to be physically and mentally healthy instead of sitting at a desk all day staring at a computer,” Brandt said. “So, getting out of that room and going out and being in nature with another animal and learning how to communicate through body language with good horsemanship is important even out outside of the horse world.”
Being inconsistent with your horse will make your horse uncooperative Brandt said – a skill that can enhance our lives as humans.
“These horses in particular have a lot to teach us. They can be very cooperative and teach us what a good temperament is,” she said.
Good horsemanship, according to Brandt, involves a lettleiki – Icelandic for lightness – in riding, where the rider commands the horse in a seamless fashion. The cues a rider gives the horse appear absent of any violent gestures.
“The point being with lightness is that it is always beautiful to see a horse and rider combination that communicate without you seeing the rider doing anything,” Brandt said.
“The rider appears to just be sitting there as opposed to kicking the horse. The rider and horse communicate with each other without force.”
The facility hosts horse riding clinics for those wanting to learn the basics of horsemanship, clinics, demonstrations, an arena with a spectator viewing area, boarding accommodations, breeding and Icelandic horse sale services.
Lettleiki Icelandics will have an open house 4-6 p.m. Saturday, May 10, at Swallowland Farm 6105 Eminence Pike. For more information, check out the farm’s Web site at www.lettleikiicelandics.com.