"" Writer's Wanderings: Iceland - The Horses

Friday, October 21, 2016

Iceland - The Horses

As it seemed to be the case, a day of rain would be followed by a day of sunshine. Thank goodness because it seemed that though he didn't have much on his to-see list the day before this one would be full again.

Breakfast was made more interesting by an Australian couple who happened to find the restaurant open and opted to buy into their morning buffet. We enjoyed our conversation but all too soon all of us were realizing we had a long day ahead. They were coming from the direction we were heading and talked of the gravel road slowing them down. Gravel road? I looked at Bob. I thought we were done with gravel roads. He just smiled.

A while later we were bouncing along another gravel road. This one was nothing like the other day though. It was almost like pavement. Or was I just getting used to them? We were about to pass a red dot town. (There had been nothing up until now.) That was pretty important. Red dots meant a population of 1,000 to 4,999 according to our map and that was just one step below a city like Reykjavik. There was bound to be a place for coffee and, well, you know.

We had to detour slightly from our main route but it was worth the trip. We found a very nice cafe that was near the wharf area of the town, Stykkisholmur. This is the place to catch a ferry to cross the large Breidafjordur and/or stop at the island of Flatey. We had opted to drive around the fjord instead of taking a five hour ferry ride. The couple at breakfast would be driving to the northern ferry dock and coming back here to their hotel later.

After coffee and on our way out of town, I had Bob stop near a field of horses that were near the road. It was a great day to photograph them and I had been waiting for the chance to get near them. The Icelandic horses are unique. They were brought to Iceland from Europe by settlers over eleven centuries ago. It is said that while the horses in Norway and Germany that they are descended from were bred with horses from other lines, the Iceandic horses were not mixed with other breeds.

At first the horses were used mainly for transportation and farm work in the early 1900s  but as industrialization took over, the horses became used more for sport and family somewhere around the 1940s and 50s. The horses are bigger than Shetand ponies but smaller than other horses and sturdy. While they may not have the elegance of show or thoroughbred racers, they are said to be ideal for riding. And certainly there are lots to ride. We passed many signs advertising riding establishments.

The horses vary in color and markings. My favorites were the chestnuts with the blonde mane. Their manes are all beautiful and long and outstanding when the wind whips through them. I kept thinking of paintings of horses running with their manes flying.

I wondered how they held up in winter since it appeared that they were outside mostly. I read that in the winter their coat doubles in thickness.

The most outstanding feature of the horse is the extra gaits. Along with the usual three, walk, trot and canter, there is also a gait called tolt, a "running walk", and a gait called skold or "flying pace". Some horses can reach almost 30 miles an hour with the latter.

Disease is almost unknown to them and the government regulates them for their own safety. No horse taken out of Iceland is allowed back in and only new horse equipment can be imported into the country so as not to introduce something to the horses that could decimate the population.

The fact that the horse is not easily spooked is attributed to the lack of predators and also said to factor into their friendliness. They all slowly tend to move toward visitors who stand by the fence to take pictures or pet them. I'm guessing a few apples passed along probably help too.

Yes, as you can see, I was quite fascinated. I will probably even do a post with just horse pictures and dedicate it to my horse-loving young friend.

We backtracked just a bit to see a church Bob had on his list of attractions programmed into our GPS. It was dubbed "the black church" because of its color. Most of the churches in Iceland are white with red roofs. This is due to the Danish influence since they were a part of Denmark for so long and the Lutheran church was an important part of that.

The farm it sits on, Bjarnarhofn, is also home to a shark museum that we passed on. There was someone who lived here long ago who was considered the most psychic Icelander ever and he was followed by a fellow who wrote a book about the botany of Iceland. The church itself was built in 1856 and was said to have an altarpiece from 1640, a cassock dating back to the 1500s, a chalice from 1286 and a pulpit from 1694. I was excited to explore but when we got there we found that we could only view the church from outside the church yard. Curtains were drawn over the windows so there was not even a chance to peek in from a distance.

The area was beautiful though and the day was sunny and we took our time just drinking it all in and breathing the fresh air. In addition to having really good water, they have really good air in Iceland.

On our way past the pasture, we stopped once more for a couple of photos of their horses before continuing on to the gas station we had passed on our way in. Bob used his gas card up that wouldn't do us any good back home. He'd purchased one the first day out just in case we got somewhere out in no man's land and had to pump at a self serve with no attendant in sight. He also gave our rental another car wash and promised me no more gravel roads. Yeah, yeah.

We were a long ways from no where when it was time to eat lunch. That and the fact that I still had two bananas and some peanut butter to use up had us stopping at a spot with a picnic bench. It was along the shore and we enjoyed the breeze and warm sunshine while lathering globs of peanut butter on a banana and eating. It's actually not a bad lunch.

Next up spelunking and visiting a troll's canyon--but I'll save that for the next post.

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