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Unique Icelandic horses at Sunland Ranch in Encinitas

Sunland Ranch owner Kimberly Hart riding Icelandic horse Hroar.
Sunland Ranch owner Kimberly Hart riding Icelandic horse Hroar.

(Elizabeth Haug)

Have you ever tolted? Tolting is one of the five gaits that only Icelandic horses have. It is like walking very fast –up to 30 miles an hour. Kimberly Hart, Icelandic horse connoisseur and owner of Sunland Ranch in Encinitas, will tell you that when you are tolting on an Icelandic horse, it feels like you are gliding.

In San Diego County, these unique horses can be found at Sunland Ranch as this ranch celebrates all things Icelandic and it is obvious how much time and care Hart has devoted to this breed.

Sunland Ranch owner Kimberly Hart with Icelandic horse Joli.
Sunland Ranch owner Kimberly Hart with Icelandic horse Joli.
(Mimi Pollack)

Hart’s love of horses and animals stem from her childhood. She grew up in Fairbanks, Alaska and, for a time, owned a successful pet store there. After moving to San Diego, she began riding Icelandic horses in 1995. In 1998, she opened up Sunland Ranch. Besides importing, training, and selling horses to good homes, she also gives horseback riding lessons, and offers trail rides. Hart is always happy to answer questions and impart her vast knowledge on the horses and the country they come from.

Icelandic horses can trace their roots directly back to the Vikings. These horses were perfect for crossing the oceans on Viking boats as they were short and sturdy — about 12-14 hands — calm, and sure-footed. Icelandic horses today are not very different from their predecessors and Iceland has been careful to keep it that way.

The government of Iceland will not allow any horses into the country, not even Icelandic horses that were born there and exported. The government maintains strict control to ensure the purity of their horses’ bloodlines. They are considered the purest breed in the world. As a result, the horses in Iceland are not vaccinated because there are no diseases. These horses are only vaccinated after they leave the country, never to return. Another safeguard is if you bring your own riding equipment to Iceland, it has to be brand new.

These special horses have no natural predators in Iceland, so they rarely kick and although each horse has its unique personality, in general, they are known for being friendly, curious, and social.

Before the pandemic, Hart also organized tours to Iceland in the fall and spring, for people to experience firsthand Iceland’s horse-centric culture. She hopes to do more tours in 2021.

Hart imports all her horses from Iceland and personally inspects each one. Having traveled extensively in Iceland and being familiar with the landscape, culture, and mores, she moves between the two worlds with ease. In addition, after having imported more than 300 horses, she knows how to deal with some of the quirks that come up when the horses first arrive here.

For example, there are not many trees in Iceland, so the horses can get spooked by shadows at first. They also have an issue with large boulders and give them a wide berth. Hart says that it usually takes about six months for the horse’s true character to reveal itself and for the horse to settle into its new environment.

Icelandic horses Bjork and Gledi
Icelandic horses Bjork and Gledi
(Kimberly Hart)

Once settled in, they prove to be hardy and fearless and, as Hart says, terrific partners. These sociable horses will follow you around and are interested in whatever you are doing. They make good trail horses as they are sure-footed even in rough terrain. They are also known for having a long life span.

Sunland Ranch is a welcoming place. When you drive up and park near the barn, two cats come out to greet you, and Tuesday, the unabashed mini-donkey brays at you, so you will say hello even before you get to the friendly horses. There are several large arenas for riding and practicing with trails nearby to fully experience the joys of riding an Icelandic horse.

In addition, Hart has another arena in Rancho Santa Fe where she also keeps seven more horses, two for lessons and five for sale. Finally, there are five more horses that are about to come in from Iceland and more in January.

Sunland Ranch is located at 3675 Copper Crest Road, Encinitas (Olivenhain), 92024. For more information, visit www.sunlandranch.com or call (858) 472-1626.


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