The Annual Horse Roundup at Sauðárkrókúr

The Annual Horse Roundup at Sauðárkrókúr

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.

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The Annual Horse Roundup at Sauðárkrókúr 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.
For 91 Days

8 Comments

  • judy

    why is this done?

    October 16, 2013 at 6:19 am
    • Mike Powell

      Like sheep, horses have to be brought down from the highlands, because they would not find enough food during the winter. With their thick coats, they can survive the temperatures and remain outdoors during winter, but they need to be hay-fed. The horses are also sorted out for other purposes like breeding, training and slaughter, but mainly they’re rounded up so that they can be cared for. (Thanks to the friendly folks at Hestasport for helping me with this answer! http://www.riding.is/)

      October 16, 2013 at 1:54 pm
  • Sammycat

    Leave those horses alone. They are not “wild” if humans interfere.

    October 20, 2013 at 2:01 am
    • Juergen Horn

      They would die though during the winter otherwise!

      October 20, 2013 at 1:13 pm
  • karin

    Hi thereWhat a beautiful pictures.Thanks for that. It made me happy. :)Friendly Karin

    November 20, 2013 at 8:02 pm
  • Marie

    Beautiful pictures!

    December 19, 2013 at 9:15 am
  • Tobius

    This is bullcrap, people are always saying horses have to be rounded up or they will die, give me a break, horses have been around for more years than people, and they have survived quite nicely on their own. Yes a few do die during the winter, but that is the way life runs.Wild horses can handle the world and the winter on their own, leave them alone!!!

    March 28, 2014 at 1:40 pm
  • John

    Ok, these horses are not wild, they are owned livestock that are free-grazed during the summer. That’s all. Everybody, stop freaking about people messing with “wild” horses. They have names and bloodlines and histories. Not wild. Purpose-bred livestock.

    October 8, 2015 at 7:04 pm

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