MAINE ICELANDIC HORSES – “The Hand-Picked Horse” with Icelandic Horse trainer, Alicia Flanigan of Fire & Ice Icelandic Horses

“I’d been thinking about him for a while. All it took was going on a quest to find him.”

Heimir fra Dallandi at sunset at his new home in Whitefield, Maine

When it came to purchasing a new horse, Chris’s initial criteria seemed quite reasonable: A reliable gelding. Between 5 and 8 years. At least 145 cm tall. Natural Tölter. Well-balanced gaits. Commendable work ethic (providing energy as needed but also capable of relaxing promptly upon request). A friendly nature toward other horses. However, as discussions continued between her and trainer Alicia Flanigan, the list expanded significantly. Her “would-likes” turned into “must-haves,” and the search became daunting. Now, the ideal horse must not only meet the specified criteria but also be chestnut, exhibit exceptional conformation, boast a flaxen mane and tail, showcase advanced training relative to its age, be proficient in all five gaits, and demonstrate a wide speed range in tölt. Daunting search aside, Chris was confident – Alicia would find the horse, and the match would be perfect.

Alicia Flanigan’s secluded farm in Limington, Maine – Fire & Ice Icelandic Horses – is home to five of Alicia’s personal Icelandic horses but is also a special place for Icelandic horses and their riders from across the region. From the spotless barn and well-footed outdoor arena to the beautiful trails through the surrounding forests, it’s an ideal place for Alicia’s talents to shine as she helps her clients realize their Icelandic horse dreams.

Heimir stands with his trainer Alicia Flanigan at her training facility Fire and Ice Icelandic Horses in Limington, Maine
Alicia Flanigan at home in Maine at her farm Fire and Ice Icelandic Horses in Limington, Maine

Chris Willrodt has owned Icelandic horses for 18 years, but as a former endurance rider, she’s ridden thousands of miles over her lifetime. After her move from California to Maine in 2020, she connected with Alicia for lessons and training for her two Icelandic horses, Solfari and Andvari, and eventually enlisted the young professional’s help to find her lifelong dream horse. Alicia reflects on their journey together.

“Chris and I have been working closely together for about three years after our first time meeting at a clinic I was teaching in Maine. I’ve not only been providing lessons and training but also taking care of her two Icelandic geldings, Solfari and Andvari, offering them tune-ups along the way. Over time, I’ve gotten to know Chris well, both a person and a rider.

The moment arrived when Chris decided to search for a new horse, one that would ideally become her lifelong riding companion. We spent months discussing her preferences and creating a detailed list of criteria. Her requirements, ranging from age and size to appearance and temperament, were quite specific. Similarly, I had my own set of criteria, including training level and gaits, which I believed were ideal for her riding needs.

When I returned to Iceland, I started reaching out to contacts at reputable farms, trying horses, and making a list of those that fit Chris’s criteria. As Chris’s trip approached, I scheduled trials with the farms, but we didn’t get past the second horse on the list. My job in this process is to find her the right horse and make the match. This means scouring Iceland for options. I tried numerous horses and then narrowed it down to only the horses that checked all of the necessary criteria for Chris to try herself. Within that list, I had my personal pick; however, I kept that to myself to remain neutral.

When I brought Chris to look at and try each of these horses, all that she knew was simply that it met her criteria. To keep the process as unbiased as possible, she could go fully on feel and decide which horse she liked the most and gave her the best feeling, knowing that every horse was within the strict criteria and budget. Now, Heimir; I had seen a clip of him online a couple months prior to when I was going back to Iceland to start shopping for Chris. Despite the timeframe, I reached out, and from all the information generously provided, he sounded like a good potential fit. I explained to Dalland that I understood we could not come until a couple of months later and that the horse would most likely be sold by then. However, I appreciated their time and information, and they said to simply be in touch as there was a possibility he could still be available by that time. Turns out, when I got back, he was still available, and I did go to try him. Immediately, all of the boxes were checked, and I just knew he was the perfect horse.

Chris’s trip to Iceland was a few weeks out, and I started to schedule trials on all of the horses in the lineup. The second stop was Dalland to try Heimir. We didn’t look any farther; she was able to try him both inside and outside, and when she came back, all that was discussed was sending him for a vet check, which I helped to facilitate. Then, of course, we canceled the rest of our horse-trying appointments for the next two days. Instead of trying other horses for the rest of her trip, I suggested she take lessons on her new horse with his current trainer at Dalland to get to know him better and also learn his training cues to set them off on the right foot. Chris had the dream of enjoying this horse over the summer in his homeland in beautiful Iceland. So, she opted to send him with me for training over the summer, flying over frequently for a few days to a week at a time to take riding lessons with me and get to know her new horse. It made for some beautiful memories and fantastic rides.

I handled lining up the importation for Heimir. It was a sweet moment passing him off to the export company as I knew the first leg of his journey was starting. And then he was off, flew over to the US, quarantined with all the other imports at JFK, and then was hauled up to Maine. I assisted in talking her through how to properly allow him to acclimate to his new home and slowly introduce him to his new world. They spent quality time together in the fields, bonding in the paddock while allowing him to check out his new environment, which is completely different than anything he was used to. Slowly but surely, after enough time of acclimation, he was able to get shoes on, and they were able to start riding together on US soil. Shortly after his arrival in the US, I made my way back as well. The new couple came to my farm to continue learning with me, ensuring that he was adjusting properly, and they were understanding each other under saddle. It also involved making sure everything was going smoothly and on the right track.

It’s a wonderful feeling to make matches like this and help clients find their dream horses. But for this process to have worked out, it took dedication on both Chris’s and my end. Chris needed to be patient and willing to put the time into coming over and trying these horses. It’s not just about selling horses; it’s about finding people the horse that they are looking for and that is the right fit for them. It’s just as important that I, as their trainer, help them verbalize what qualities they are looking for in a horse, as terms such as willingness can be confusing and often misunderstood. It’s important to have a good understanding between the “horse shopper” and the one being shopped for, ensuring that we are both on the same page. Since the first time I tried him, there’s never been a second doubt in my mind that Heimir is the perfect horse for Chris and her dream partner. It’s a joy to see that proven true every day, wishing them many happy miles and adventures together. It is my true passion to ride, train, and love on this spectacular Icelandic breed, and it is truly an honor to help others connect with them as well.”

Alicia Flanigan (left) stands with Heirmir’s new owner, Chris Willrodt, after a training session at her farm Fire and Ice Icelandic Horses in Limington, Maine.

Alicia shares her perspective on the match-making process. 

Steps to Finding the Perfect Match:

Knowing Your Client: The foundation of this journey lies in understanding the client, knowing what they want to use the horse for, and considering their horse knowledge and background based on their skill level.

Understanding Client’s Needs: It’s crucial to know the client’s needs in their equine partner. This involves being honest with oneself and the client about capabilities and expectations.

Creating Criteria Lists: Working with clients to create a detailed list of criteria, addressing both personal preferences and my professional considerations. The criteria list becomes the guiding principles in my search for a horse. 

Creating “Wish” Lists: Clients are encouraged to create lists of “would like” features, such as size, gaits, age, temperament, and colors.

Establishing Clear Communication: Both parties need to have a clear understanding of elements such as movement, temperament, willingness level, and other specific qualities. Clear communication between the rider, trainer, and buyer is essential.

Scouting Out Potential Fits: After gaining a good feel for the client’s needs, I scour reputable farms in search of potential matches. I consider various factors such as age, size, appearance, temperament, and training level.

Implementing an Unbiased Selection Process: Every horse on the list goes through an unbiased selection process to ensure it fits the criteria before my client ever sits on them. This ensures objectivity in the decision-making process.

Trying Horses Personally: To ensure the horse meets our exacting standards, I personally try out potential matches. From this, I create a list of horses that fit the criteria.

Assisting with Vet Checks and Import Process: Once I find a potential match, my mother, Nikkisue Flanigan, and I collaborate to arrange the horse’s vet check and manage the export/import process. This includes aiding in the often stressful task of importing horses, particularly for first-time buyers. Our combined expertise ensures a smooth process, working seamlessly together to make it all happen.

Advising on the Acclimation Process: I actively participate in the acclimation process as the horse transitions into the US. This includes helping the horse and rider establish a strong bond, ensuring they begin on the right foot in their new environment.

Making Matches, Not Sales: The goal is not just to sell a horse but to make meaningful matches. This method may not be suitable for every client, but for those seeking their perfect match, it ensures a thorough and thoughtful process.

Alicia Flanigan training Heimir at her facility,Fire and Ice Icelandic Horses in Limington, Maine, with his owner Chirs Willrodt listening to her instruction.
“I’d been thinking about him for a while. All it took was going on a quest to find him.” ~ Chris Willrodt Chris Willrodt riding Heimir during a training session with Icelandic trainer Alicia Flanigan in the back.
Heimir toltling while his happy owner, Chris Willrodt, enjoys the ride!

Experiencing the heartwarming stories of my clients and the joy their horses bring them, witnessing the bonding process upon arrival, and observing those initial steps under saddle after the acclimation period is truly special. Reading Chris’s post fills me with happiness, knowing that she now owns the horse she had dreamed of and that she is experiencing the exact emotions I hoped to share with her. Witnessing these meaningful connections come to life is genuinely magical. Below, Chris shares with us her personal feelings upon Heimir’s arrival.

“Ever since Heimir arrived, I’ve had a lasting inner peace. I’d been thinking about him for a while. All it took was going on a quest to find him. I had a clear picture in my mind of many qualities, including his chestnut color and silver in his mane and tail. Let me introduce you to ‘Heimir’ – Heimir fra Dallandi, my new 8-year-old Icelandic, imported from Iceland with the help of my trainer, Alicia Flanigan. Her deep knowledge of the Icelandic breed made him a perfect match for me and Solfari. In his first few days here, Heimir was restless, often looking eastward, toward his homeland, maybe? Now, five weeks later, we’ve settled into a routine. He grazes for about 2 1/2 hours in the early morning, perfect for watching sunrises. When I bring him in, we walk together without a lead or treats, making turns and stops, new liberty skills we’ve been learning together. My first ride on him felt exceptional. These initial weeks have been like a honeymoon with pleasant surprises. During one trail ride, I wondered how he’d react if he saw a deer. A few minutes later, a deer bounded in front of us, and he stood tall, watching intently. He’s the best teacher; he already knows. Now I can ride one horse and lead the other, switching saddles and horses seamlessly. They get along and groom each other when they graze. Heimir has a way of switching his energy on – proud and high-stepping, with clear and rhythmic gaits. Changing speed is effortless, thanks to his excellent training and confirmation. And then, he can settle down. It’s such a relief to have him here; my search is over.”

Heimir fra Dallandi at sunset at his new home in Whitefield, Maine
Heimir at his new home in Whitefield, Maine
Heimir at his new home in Whitefield, Maine with his owner Chris Willrodt

Alicia dedicates her time to Icelandic horses both at her farm in Maine, known as Fire & Ice Icelandic Horses, and in Mosfellsbær, Iceland. At home, she provides training, clinics, lessons, and education, while in Iceland, she focuses on training, competing, and advancing her education in preparation for Hólar University. This year marked a significant achievement for Alicia as she not only qualified for but also competed in the Icelandic Championships, the sole American representative. Proudly representing the United States, Alicia achieved commendable total scores ranging from 6.4 to 6.8. When asked to share her accomplishments, Alicia remains remarkably humble, emphasizing her passion for Icelandic horses and the joy of contributing to their community, both in the United States and abroad.

*This article was recently published in the March 2024 issue of the Quarterly Magazine for the United States Icelandic Horse Congress

leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Hallowell, Maine

©2024 Jennifer Bechard Photography | Maine Equine Photographer | Designed by Jennifer Bechard