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The Annual Horse Roundup at Sauðárkrókúr

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Most of Iceland’s horses spend their time free in the highlands, instead of on farms. Like sheep, they roam at their whim, with neither supervision nor control, able to graze wherever they choose. But once a year, toward the end of summer, they’re brought down from the mountains.

Wild Icelandic Horses

We happened to be in Sauðárkrókúr during this year’s roundup, which sees a group of farmers recruit their friends, neighbors, and even some courageous tourists to hop into the saddle and gallop off into the vast highlands. Their mission: locate and herd every horse in the area to a corral set up outside town.

Jürgen and I didn’t participate in the round-up, which was fortunate for everyone involved. The farmers, we’d have slowed down; the horses, we’d have lost; and ourselves, we’d probably have crippled. But we got into position near the corral to watch the team come down off the mountain, with a huge herd of horses running ahead of them.

Watching the descent was exciting, but the action in the corral was even better. Here, about 80 horses in a large central pen were separated into stalls, one by one. It was pure chaos. The horses moved in a herring-like swarm from one end of the pen to the other, while a few brave souls were tasked with identifying certain horses by their brand, then isolating and directing them into the appropriate stall.

We saw people tumbling, horses stampeding, liquor disappearing, dogs flying, and all manner of high-spirited foolery. The team had started the round-up at dawn and by 5pm, when the corralling got underway, a definite party atmosphere had settled in. Whoever wasn’t in the pen directing horses was drinking beer or passing around flasks full of whiskey.

The flying dog, by the way, had thought it a good idea to enter the stables and “help out” with the horses. Before he got trampled, someone picked him up by the scruff and hurled him up and over the wall.

Even for those of us who weren’t actively participating, the corral was great fun to experience. It only happens once a year, so you have to be in the right place at the right time. If you’re visiting Iceland in September, make sure to ask around. Round-ups such as the one we saw at Sauðárkrókúr take place all across the country.

Location of the Corral on our Map

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October 14, 2013 at 7:06 pm Comments (8)

Me and Mósa, My Icelandic Horse

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Our time together was short, but Mósa didn’t need long to work her way into my heart. I loved her soft coat, her short stature, her rich color, and how she farted with every other step. I loved her mane, and her mild countenance when I accidentally pulled some of it out. I loved how determined she was to speed past others when it came time to gallop. I loved her stubbornness. And most of all, I loved that she didn’t buck me off, although it would have been so very easy.

Me And My Horse

We were invited on a morning ride with Hestasport, based in Varmahlíð’s beautiful Skagafjörður Valley. Hestasport is among the oldest horse recreation companies in Iceland, with roots that go back to 1974. They offer tours to fit any level of interest or skill, ranging from an hour to a week.

After meeting our guides for the day, we were introduced to our horses. Perhaps because they’ve evolved to cope with the country’s rough nature, Icelandic horses are known for their lively characters. They’re wilder than their cousins on the continent, a bit more spirited. They’re also smaller (technically ponies), and come in a wide variety of colors and patterns. Mósa was charcoal gray with a black stripe running down her spine. She was, I assured her while stroking her mane, by far the prettiest horse in our group. “Even if you are a little farty”.

Another unique trait of Icelandic horses is their number of natural gaits. Other horses are born knowing how to walk, trot an gallop, but Icelandic horses can also tölt and skeið. This ability and their friendly demeanor have made them popular around the world. There are, in fact, more Icelandic horses in Germany than Iceland. But once a horse has left the island, they are never allowed to return. Strict laws on importation have kept Iceland’s stock exceptionally pure.

Our tour with Hestasport lasted for a couple hours. Mósa was well-behaved and only once disobeyed my command to continue moving. Because they’re smaller, Icelandic horses are more comfortable to ride than other breeds, and I was only partially incapacitated after two hours in the saddle. Riding an Icelandic horse is one of the country’s quintessential experiences, and Hestasport is a great place to do it.

We also had a wonderful night. In addition to the riding, Hestasport rents excellent cabins that have access to a large hot tub. Exactly what an aching body needs after a day atop a horse. The cabins themselves are nicely outfitted, with heating, good showers and fully-equipped kitchens. Very comfortable.

Location of the Hestasport Office
Hestasport – Website

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October 13, 2013 at 5:36 pm Comments (5)
The Annual Horse Roundup at Saurkrkr Most of Iceland's horses spend their time free in the highlands, instead of on farms. Like sheep, they roam at their whim, with neither supervision nor control, able to graze wherever they choose. But once a year, toward the end of summer, they're brought down from the mountains.
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