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November 14, 2013: Pete Weighs in on Mr. Siggi

I recently realized that Pete hadn’t written about Mr. Siggi in any of these dispatches. This was unfair to him and unfair to Mr. Siggi, since they were the ones who were buddies. So I’m now going to give Pete and Mr. Siggi their just due. What follows is something that Pete recently wrote for the Alaska Icelandic Horse Association newsletter. This is Pete’s remembrance; it’s about Mr. Siggi, who he loved dearly. I have never before read such a nice tribute to a horse or any other animal.

Pete on Signy

Remembering Mr. Siggi
By Pete Praetorius

I am very sad to inform fellow members of the Alaska Icelandic Horse Association that Siggi Halastjarni from Alaskastadir (age nine) died last summer in a tragic accident during an extended pack trip in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. Siggi had many friends in the club—both human and equine alike—so what follows is a short synopsis of his life.

Siggi was born on Virginia and Ben Crawford’s Alaskastadir farm. His mother is Röskva frá Hvolsvelli and his father is Víkingur frá Árbakka. And Víkingur fathered his half-sisters Embla, Raudhetta, and Elsa.

Siggi had a beautiful head and a nice topline; however, he did not have the best leg conformation. In fact, when he was between six months and three years old, there was some question as to whether he would be a riding horse or simply be his half-sister “Raudi’s companion.” Bernie Willis once commented, when looking at Siggi and Raudi side-by-side in a pen, that it was interesting how genetics could produce two such dissimilar animals even though they shared the same sire.

Rather than let Siggi languish in a pen, Alys and I got him up and moving. We would walk him on our local trails and around the one mile loop in our neighborhood nearly every day until he was of riding age at four years old. At first these walks were painfully slow, but in time his legs became stronger and he became a model horse under lead.

Thus, rather than simply be “Raudi’s companion,” Siggi went on to become a fine riding horse. Sometimes his gaits could be rough (he preferred the pace), but at other times they could be incredibly smooth and fast. For example, during a fun day at Virginia’s, he won the beer tolt (meaning that he was smooth enough that I spilled the least amount of “beer” from my cup).  He also preferred the flying pace over the trot. One time while I was riding around our neighborhood loop with Kaylene Johnson, she commented that she had to urge her horse into a cantor to keep up with Siggi’s fast pace.

Whether it was all of the attention that Siggi received during his formative years, or just his natural temperament, he had a very calm disposition, and he seemed sincerely happy to have me as his rider. He would patiently stand still when I needed to cut low-hanging branches while sitting in the saddle, and he was very patient with me, his green rider. And yes, genetics is interesting; when a grouse would fly up into his face, or our young filly, Hrimfara, raced up from behind, I’d start more than he would. Conversely, early on his half-sister Raudi required a secure saddle and a firm seat when she encountered the unforeseen.

Siggi’s calm and friendly demeanor endeared him to many horses and humans. He had a lot of friends, but his two best buddies were his half-sister Raudi and Hrimfara or Hrimmi. Hrimmi was born in May of 2012, so she was too young to accompany us on this past summer’s trip, so we left Hrimmi with a friend who has a small pasture. Another young horse, a two-year old Arabian-quarter horse cross, was brought in to be Hrimmi’s summer companion. When we took Hrimmi to her summer home, we took Siggi along to look out for her. And he did look out for her; when the much bigger two-year old companion horse showed up, Siggi immediately placed himself between this bouncy new horse and his young charge. It was interesting to watch as Siggi acted as a screen between the two young horses so that they could more slowly get acquainted.

At the beginning of Siggi’s riding career, he had a fear of water or crossing streams—if he couldn’t jump it, he wouldn’t cross it. One evening during Siggi’s first riding year, Alys and Raudi, and Siggi and I rode up behind our house. Our intention was to ride up to the bench, a 1,000 foot elevation gain, and then ride down a different trail, thus completing a full four-mile loop. The trail is steep, and it heads straight up to the bench. Siggi and Raudi did fine heading up the hill, and they did fine going along the bench and down the other trail. It was when coming back along the base of the hill, when we came to a small creek, where we ran into a problem—Siggi would not cross this creek. To encourage him, Alys and Raudi crossed the creek several times; Raudi even stopped and played in the water. But no, Siggi was adamant: he would not cross that creek. Finally, Alys informed Siggi and me that she and Raudi were heading home. Siggi and I had to climb back up to the bench and come down on the trail that we used when we first went up. Siggi eventually overcame his water phobia and went on to cross many creeks and rivers, including the Little Susitna at flood stage during the Bald Mountain Butt Buster competitive trail ride.

Climbing the steep hills behind our house, as well as traversing the swampy areas in the nearby Moose Meadows, was good training for Siggi’s horse trekking Adventures in Colorado. During the summer of 2011, Alys and I trailered Siggi and Raudi to Andrea Brodie’s place in southern Colorado. There we borrowed Signy (a pack horse who we later purchased) and then set out on a two-month pack trip. (You can read about this trip on Alys’s website www.alysculhane.com/dispatches.htm). I’ll just say here that Siggi did wonderfully; unlike the other two, he never got grumpy when the local rations were sparse, and he did quite well at elevation, where he was often the lead horse.

On the trip this last summer, our intention was to start from roughly where we concluded in 2011, and continue north on the Continental Divide Trail. Siggi’s accident happened three weeks into this trip. Alys commented that it was one of the best three weeks of her life. The scenery was awesome, and we crossed several passes and were above tree line nearly every day. On one occasion, our dog, Rainbow, raced up a very steep rocky ledge, presumably to check out a marmot. Siggi stopped and turned his head to watch Rainbow’s athleticism. Then, as clear as day, I heard him say, “You know, when I die, I want to come back as a dog.” I don’t know the full range of Siggi’s metaphysical thoughts (or his thoughts on reincarnation), nor do I know much about interspecies communication. But I thought this interesting enough to mention it to Alys later that evening.  A week and half later, Siggi died.

Horse trekking, and in particular, going into the mountains, has its share of risk. And since this accident, we’ve heard many stories of horse (and people) mishaps. However, our horses were bred to be used out on the trails, and it is my impression that Siggi (as well as Raudi and Signy) genuinely enjoyed being out on these two long trips. Moreover, as Miki Collins pointed out to us in a very nice letter, even after a hair-raising trip, a horse can simply slip, break a leg, and die in the seemingly safe environment at home.

Our veterinarian, Dr. Wellington, says that most “Alaska horses live in a box”; meaning that they don’t get out much and have a limited range of experiences. I’m glad that during Siggi’s short life that he was able to not only be a great riding horse, but that he was also able to go on two fantastic pack trips and see some of the world. And who knows, maybe next time around he’ll further move out of the box and experience life as a dog.

Next: 234: 11/15/13: Alys Weighs In: Mr. Siggi’s Legacy