Once Upon a Trail: a winter working with the Icelandic horse



One year I was a trail guide with Íshestar, out of Hafnarfjörður.

We took tourists on 2 hour tours out to Helgafell and back. Even in weather like it is now (heavy wet snowfall, what seems like three-inch visibility) and worse (colder, windier).

In deep winter we had to saddle up the resentful horses for 9am tours, our fingers freezing with the cold metal bridles and buckles and stiff, ungiving leather. Four of us readied about 20 of them. Of course the puffed out their bellies and hunkered into
their haunches to make it all harder for us. When we bitched at them they just glared back. These were career tour-beasts who did *not* appreciate being hauled out one.more.time in the bitter dark of a January morning for some over-excited, under-dressed, red-eye-flight, weekend noob tourists to ride on. We humans felt the same.

Have you ever seen a big, buffed, bearded Norwegian man cry like a miserable baby on a too-small-looking horse, and watch the snot leaking from his nose freeze onto his mustache, and his beard? I have. And at that point we were only 40 minutes out on our tour.

Like most of our guests, he'd bought a package stopover deal with the airline: red-eye into Keflavik, straight onto horseback, then into the City, overnight Saturday, then Blue Lagoon on the way back out to the airport (with the Golden Circle tour crammed in there somewhere.) They felt they'd paid for their trail ride in advance, and were *not* gonna give it up! They intended to play Real Viking, weather be damned!

Guaranteed, that's not what they were thinking half way out on the ride...

I loved being a stallari though. Getting that modern-day-Viking man back safe, ego intact, on an ornery equine (mine and his) made me proud. And I totally get along with animals, Dolittle -style. We communicate! So that end of the job made it not a job at all, but a pleasure.

I almost quit when one of the meaner horses slammed my face with his head, on purpose, while I was mucking his stall. The shock of being whacked with what felt like ten tons of pure muscle and bone was almost too much. I got freaked out, and could barely come close to any of the stalls at all. Of course the horses sensed my fear, making it worse. My boss wouldn't let me give up though without sitting saddle at least one more time (on the easiest gramma horse they had ; ) Good move on his part: getting back on the horse that threw you, etc, totally works!

I ended up quitting that winter because my car back then had crap tires, and the road out to the 'ranch' was way worse in 2001 than nowadays. I told them I just couldn't guarantee that I'd make it out there when there was snow on the roads. They understood.

I don't think I've sat a horse since then. I jones for the big ones, which we don't have here. I learned to ride on what I call (insultingly, to locals) Real Horses...Appaloosas and Mustangs and big beautiful Bays, English saddle, out in Carmel Valley when I was a kid. Today, I'd like to have a horse friend, to maybe ride, but mostly to hang out with. They like it when you breathe out hard and fast through your nose. I think it gives them a chance to smell your essence. They do it too.

As long as I live here, though, I won't see another big horse (unless I'm traveling off-island, of course). They're not allowed into the country because our Icelandic breed is so pure - unchanged since the days of the original settlers in the 9th century. It's just another one of those things that a person from two countries has to accept, another thing to put on the scale of choice.

 But our beasts are amazing, and we wouldn't have survived a single winter here on this near-Arctic rock without them. So all due Respect for the Icelandic Horse! I'll just have to be sure to find myself one or two to spend time with, just to curry and feed and talk to, to muck their stalls and clean their hooves of mud and such. Maybe ride, maybe not. I'm pretty sure that if I ask around, something nice can be arranged : )

(Here's a cute video by Joan Jetsetter, Icelandic Horse: Everything You Need to Know.)

2 comments:

Jojo said...

The Icelandic horses are beautiful and add a touch a grace to the landscape.

Iceland Eyes said...

Absolutely : )