Spending the summer riding horses gives you a new perspective of the landscape around you. For one thing, it passes much slower, as you have time to stare and think about the scenery unfolding. Getting into a car and flying at 90km per hour after a week of reaching maximum speeds of 30 (bouncy) kilometres per hour causes me to panic and hold onto the side of the car seat and wonder if Im moving at lightspeed. Requests for the driver to slow down just gets a chuckle from those in the car, but eventually people’s suggestions to relax are possible.
One thing I noticed is that crossing bridges is a lot easier in cars than on horseback. I was once riding a really safe gelding over a bridge while holding a hand horse, and at one point, in the middle of the bridge, they both decided they were too close to the sides of the bridge, and in attempt to stay as far away from the rail as possible, they stopped and had a push of war against eachothers sides. My leg was pinned between the two, and as one edged the other out, their shod feet started sliding out on the concrete, making sparks and stressing them more. The herd pushed from behind, also uncomfortable to be stuck halfway on the bridge, and eventually we made it over without losing anyone overboard.
One lonely old male has made a home out of Fljótsdalur, near this narrow
bridge where you get the most beautiful sight of glacier water mixing with the heavier fresh water and causing the bright blue water to line up against the brown stream. We also saw a herd of 900 reindeer when we were driving up to Vatnajökull for a glacial walk, blasting through river crossings and peering into icecaves.
At the end of August, I went reindeer hunting on horseback with 5 hunters and 14 horses. We started 15km north of Egilstaðir town, from a farm at the base of the snow-covered mountains. The beginning was a bit rocky, as 4 riders fell off their horses and we temporarily lost the herd as the 7 loose horses galloped off. I realized the hunters weren’t true horsemen (yet), and that having handhorses might reduce the chances of the herd galloping off with our food, beer, tent and sleeping bags again. We eventually got our act together and made it to Hrundalur where we tented in a rented Marmot tent that came with no ground pegs. We creatively experimented with saddles and extra horse shoes to hold fasten the tent down securely.
The next day we hiked hours into the mountain tops, and spotted a herd of 200 reindeer. There were 4 hunters on the trip, all doctors and good friends, but only Kalli had the hunting permit. By noon, he had shot a 90kg male, that we had to gut, chop into three pieces, and tie down on the back of one very calm, patient horse called Postskjoni. He carried the deer back down the steep slopes where we left it submerged in an icy river.
There was 1 reindeer hunter guide, and me, the horse guide. I was the new Denni of the trip, in charge of all the horses and also the riders who transformed magnificently into true horsemen after 3 days of riding. Instead of Leo, Denni´s dog with the innate knowledge to herd and nip at heels regardless of getting kicked square in the head, we had Molli, a black labrador that was more interested in our wellbeing than the horses. He paced alongside us, always looking up at us riders for eye contact and assurance that we were doing ok.
I remember one of the first horse trips I rode with Denni, he wore converse shoes and a cowboy hat, so I tried to put some style into my outfit and wore Timbalands and an old beige riding hat I found at a second hand store for 450kr. Jón, the former Denni, could ride with a wild goose in one hand and a bottle of schnapps in the other, but there was nothing I could do to top that except drink a little schnapps during riding pauses.
This trip was a little more difficult, with no path or tracks to follow, and the horses unsure of where they were or where to go. At least I knew all the horses by sight, no longer confused by the lookalikes or needing strips of coloured tape to tell them apart. We also didnt have to ride past other herds of horses, since we had one stallion escape twice from a fence and run along with our herd during the summer trips. On the first day of the Ishestar trips, my cell phone fell out of my pocket and a herd of 90 horses trampled it dead, but on this trip we only lost one pocket knife. We may as well have lost our phones, since we rarely had service and my battery was basically dead the entire weekend, relieving me of any contact with the outside world and only focusing on the horses and my new best friends.
After completing our main hunting mission, we rode over a mountain pass, over rivers and snow, to Klyppstaðir, arriving well into the unexpected dark of night, to tent at the afterparty of a country ball in the valley where the icelandic band KK had just finished playing. We sat under the stars and watched northern lights flicker behind the silhouette of the mountains, and ate sheep heads, salted lamb, dried fish, homemade moonshine and whiskey. All 6 of us crammed into the 6 person tent that probably fits 4 more comfortably just as we started to feel a little dizzy, as the horses grazed just beyond our heads.
I got to choose the horses I knew and liked best from the Ishestar horse trips, and pair rider to horse like an intricate matchmaker. It was nice not to have to ride the crazies and untamed, like the case so often was one the regular tours. By the last day, the hunters had transformed into horsemen, as we all found our groove and rode triumphantly back into the valley we started, over another icy mountain pass. The next day, they skinned the reindeer, and after becoming a tight riding, tenting, hunting family unit, the boys invited me goose hunting. We drove Frikki´s Land Rover up into Fljótsdalsheiði and sat beside the pond with the most abundant, shiny goose poo that we could find and waited for nightfall. We sat very still, nibbled on chocolate, and only one flock of geese flew overhead but never landed. I fired the shotgun once anyway, without killing anything, and decided I liked goose hunting better than reindeer hunting.