Impressions from the sheep round-up, Iceland
Equus rider Brooke has visited Iceland not only once, but twice, to participate in the annual sheep roundup. And as this post is being published, she is about to embark on her third trip! Here is a little glimpse of her riding adventures in Iceland...
The Tölt Zone
You are riding. You are flying. You sit slightly back, feet a bit forward and legs tight, with light contact on your horse’s mouth. You hear the hoofbeats of 100 horses all around you, some under saddle, some running loose. Your horse, ears forward, gaze intent, has entered “the tölt zone.”
You and your horse will continue in this rhythmic and comfortable gait for many kilometres without stopping through a landscape that looks like another planet. You might be on a track through the highlands, consisting of a black volcanic sand road, barely discernable, with ancient 9 meter high stone cairns you can see from a long distance every so often. Or perhaps, the track presents a multiple 20 centimetre deep parallel slices of bare dirt between hummocks of moss, horse width apart.
Three parallel tracks, five, maybe seven. Your mind is calm and open with the steady forward pace of your horse, and you are nowhere in time. The track you are on has been travelled in just this way, with multiple horses and riders, side by side, for over thousands of years. Riding this horse in this way takes you back to the time of the sagas.
During your riding holiday in Iceland, you will probably ride 2-3 different horses a day. You spend the first ten to fifteen minutes on your new horse experimenting with contact, seat, weight, and body position, learning how your horse has been trained and how to get him/her into “the tölt zone.” You intuit characteristics of the unknown person who has trained your horse: size, weight, sensitivity, endurance and patience. In those first fifteen minutes with each horse, you begin to understand the determination and stoicism of Icelanders and their horses.
While riding fast speeds over the unpredictable ground with hundreds of horses all around you, do you worry about falling off? Not after the first hour or so. Every horse in Iceland spends the first four years of its life living freely with its mother and siblings in a herd of horses in the highlands, walking and running and playing through heaths, bogs, volcanic sands, rivers, lava fields, up hills, and down hills, through tall grass, and on the beaches of lakes. Once under saddle, they already understand how to balance, where to place their feet and how to run with a herd.
Ode to the Icelandic horse
Their past experience, natural kindness, and workmanlike attitude make Icelandic horses a dream to ride. You will leave Iceland with a list of the names of the horses you have ridden: Guffi, Fluga, Grima, Hrafn, Blessa, Tindur, Gloi, Herkules, Lestur, are some examples. You might recite them at night when you are trying to fall asleep, your mind taking you back to a time when you felt totally free. Certain horses you will never forget: Hittling, the sensitive light framed dark bay mare who made you feel as if you were flying on a bird, Mosi, the mouse-coloured gelding who carried you for kilometres along the coast of North East Iceland, never once breaking his stride, Gloi, who found the way out of the lava and back to the others when you got lost during the sheep round-up, Hrafn (Raven) who took you to Krakatindur, a spooky Middle-Earth-looking volcano with its top blown off, a raven following the whole way...
For more information, please take a look at our horseback holidays in Iceland.
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