• Dispatch #14 •
Nothing beats exploring Iceland on one of their legendary horses.
It was still dark on this early winter morning in Iceland. I was in a van on the way to a horse farm, and I was a bit nervous. I hadn’t ridden a horse since that one time when I was young. At that time, the horse knelt down and peed while I was riding him. I was about seven years old, a child wary of big creatures and who silently screamed “I told you so” to the air when her fears were validated. But I was in Iceland, after all, and one should try most things once.
The van stopped at Laxnes Horse Farm, a family farm that started in 1968. It must be amazing to grow up with horses amidst the Icelandic landscape. There weren’t a lot of houses in this area. It was easy to feel like you were alone.
It is illegal to import horses in the country, and exported Icelandic horses are not allowed back. As such, the Icelandic horses are pretty much the same as they were more than a thousand years ago, when the early settlers brought the first ones from Norway and the British Isles.
The sun rose, first in deep purple and vermillion watercolors, and then emerging in bright shades of orange. This sky. I will never let the Icelandic skies go.
I suited up in what kind of reminds me of the Apocalypse suits I wear sometimes in exhibitions—a dark blue no-nonsense jumpsuit, and some large boots. Outside, the horses were saddled up and waiting. I was led to a beautiful white horse, which was supposed to be very gentle and hardy. I suppose most of them are at least the latter to withstand Icelandic temperatures. It is easy to mistake them for ponies although guidebooks will warn you not to refer to them as such, as the locals will probably give you a lesson on the Icelandic horse.
And so off we went. I can imagine the birth of a lot of verbs when people first rode large animals. The horse walked, sauntered, ambled, trudged, plodded, dawdled, slogged, and marched on the cemented and then earthy path, passing through grassy lands, crossing bridges, and going on rocky soil. And then we trotted. Perhaps the horse was used to ignorant beginners, or perhaps I was pulling very softly on the reigns as I was afraid of hurting him, but he galloped at such a speed that his poor noob of a rider grew increasingly nervous but was still determined not to scream in fear and keep her dignity.
I was hanging on for dear life. I was hunched over, terrified of falling, and was able to capture interesting angles with my camera.
The family dog, used to this trail, went with us, often running ahead, stopping, and then waiting patiently for us to reach the destination.
There is something magical in a horse ride. One reason, I think, is the height. Seeing things from a higher viewpoint (even though I wasn’t that much higher) shifts one’s perspective. The harsh Icelandic terrain became more manageable, just because I was a few feet above it. Seeing the distance from my feet to the ground also made me think of flying. And unlike land vehicles, the horse has a mind of its own. I could feel its pulse underneath me, its freedom, and its annoyance when our group came to a stop.
Back inside, we relaxed with coffee and biscuits. Póri, the owner, greeted us. The dog went indoors and lay down for a nap. It’s always great to be in family-run businesses; one feels as though she’s being welcomed to a new neighborhood. There are also little objects of curiosity and pride. In this case, it was a photograph of Viggo Mortensen who rode there during his Lord of the Rings days. I can’t imagine a better country to ride.
Inside the stable, I was able to say one last goodbye to the horse. Its head was bent down, eating grass. The other horses were there, too. All were serene, as though everything was in order and it was just another day. Tomorrow, they do it all over again. I can see how Icelandic civilization was built with the solidity of these beautiful, magical beasts.