Icelandic horses – Neighs and yays
The Icelandic horse is a unique breed with a large personality and a specific gait, besides being seriously cute. Your urge to hit the brakes and run out of the car to ooh and ah is a totally understandable, yet a very bad idea.
Firstly, because of traffic safety. Renting a car in Iceland and driving through the country is probably the best way to explore Iceland, but that type of travel comes with responsibilities. Icelandic roads are mostly narrow with little room to pass, even with risky surroundings on each side of the road. Pulling over onto the shoulder can be very dangerous and can interfere with other driver’s sight lines, especially in the winter darkness, or when rain or snow diminish the view.
Far too many visiting drivers underestimate the danger and simply pull over to the side whenever something photogenic catches their eye. Don’t do that! There are many side roads, farm entrances and lookout spots where you can pull off. Just wait a bit instead of taking the risk. There are plenty of horses and breathtaking views ahead.
They are not pets
Second reason for not jumping out of your car to mingle with random horses has to do with their wellbeing. Although close to the Ring Road, the pastures are still private property and the horses you see are most likely being bred as riding horses. Icelandic horses are friendly, curious and not easily spooked, so they will most probably welcome your admiration and treats. But this constant attention interferes with the horses’ training.
Margeir Ingólfsson, a horse farmer at Brú, knows far too well how damaging tourist attention can be for the animals. His land is right on the ever so popular tourist attraction The Golden Circle, and hundreds pull over each day to pat and feed his horses. The farmer has actually had to put down young horses since their temperament was so negatively affected by the exaggerated attention from well-meaning tourists that they became untrainable. Just imagine hundreds of strangers giving your children candy and cuddles every day. You would love getting those kids to the dinner table or to bed, right?
Farmer to the rescue!
But farmer Margeir understands perfectly the desire to get in contact with these fascinating creatures and has now secured a specific lot on his land where drivers can safely pull over. Right next to the main road, Margeir put up a small fence where he keeps a few easygoing horses that can well handle the extra attention and are old enough, so their training is not jeopardized. Travelers are now welcome to park their cars or get out of their bus at that spot, to pat and photograph the horses at will.
Please don’t feed them your lunch, though! Receiving actual busloads of bread and treats does no animal any good; a moment on their lips—a long time in their delicate digestive system. Margeir has put up a self-service shelf with fresh horse fodder, where guests are welcome to buy treats and hand feed the horses (and who could resist when those big eyes stare eagerly at your empty hands).
The farm Brú is located between the Geysir Hot Spring and Gullfoss Waterfalls. (Look for the tourist friendly horse fence 2 km east of Geysir). This farmer’s friendly act has been well received. Cars and buses can now safely pull over for a little meet and greet with one of Iceland’s signature animals, and treat them without risk of harming them. For an even closer experience of the Icelandic horse, you should seek out horse rentals in Iceland and have a ride with professional guidance.
One more thing—don’t call our (very tough and hardy) Icelandic horses ponies. You will just piss everyone off. Though horse be little—horse be fierce.
Words: Eygló Árnadóttir
Photos: iStockphoto.com/alexeys and courtesy of Margeir Ingólfsson