The (Non) Dogs of Iceland

horse tours

The (Non) Dogs of Iceland

My Experience at the Annual Horse Roundup in Iceland

Every now and then I write a little blog article on my travels around the world.  This year I was able to participate in the annual horse roundup in Iceland.   Every year in the autumn, half-wild horses are rounded up and sorted across Iceland for wintering.  The Laufskálarétt is the largest horse roundup, taking place in the northern part of Iceland, in Saudarkrokur.  People from all over the world, who can ride well, are able to participate in the festivities and the horse roundup through various horse farms offering the roundup tours.  I am fairly certain I learned to ride before I learned to walk, and so I jumped on the chance to be a part of this unique experience.  Icelandic horses are one of the purest bloodlines of horses on the planet- hailing from the hardy horses brought over by the Vikings.  They are a symbol of pride for the country (make sure not to call them ponies....they are horses).  These woolly, short horses also have a unique rolling gait, called the tölt , which distinguishes the breed.  Careful breeding and strict import/export laws have preserved and perfected this national icon, and make it a must encounter when visiting the island nation.

A foreign guy at a hostel tried to hit on me while I was drinking my morning coffee and eating my breakfast of skyr (unsweetened yogurt).  He said I had "the hair of an Icelandic pony."  I took exception.  I replied indignantly,  "They are not ponies!  They are horses!"  After the fact, I realized I should probably be offended that I my hair was compared to that of a pony, but hey...that's actually better than it usually looks, so no insult there.

I chose the farm for the horse tour, Helluland Iceland Horse Tours, for several reasons.  The first is they are a small business, and being a small business owner myself, I fully support!  The second is their rave reviews, which are fully warranted by the way.  Even if you do not have much (or any) experience with horses, they have riding options year round, and you should absolutely check them
 out when you are in Iceland.

Here is their website: Helluland Iceland Horse Tours
Their Facebook page: Helluland Horse Tours Facebook

Icelandic horses
wonder horseThey have a guest house and ranch bunkhouse.  For the horse roundup week, we ate all of our (delicious home-cooked) meals together with Luka and Andres in their ranch home, got to know their lovely family (including toddler Emily, bunny, doggo, and baby-on-the-way) and each other.  It was a warm, happy environment, and really an awesome way to see Iceland, from inside the family home!  I made some awesome friends who all share my love of dogs and non-dogs.  I even met a German dog trainer!  Luka also took us on cool field trips to geothermal pools, a fish skin and lambskin processing factory, and the world famous horse college in Hollar.  We also went on long trail rides every day, and the girls were awesome at pairing us with our horses.

Icelandic Horse
I was in love with Bork the Wonder Horse the minute I met her.  We were two redheads in a pod...well a saddle, actually.  She often would reach around and nibble my toes (she had a similar sassy sense of humor), and she loved to run.  I was perfectly happy to let her speed along, enjoying her peppy gaits, and sense of glee.  She really is an awesome non-dog.

horse roundup Iceland
Littlies enjoying the show
horse roundup IcelandThe main event itself brims with local excitement.  The festivities are tangible in the air, starting with the horse show at the local horse arena.  Between the serenades from local singing groups of elderly men, and the powerful displays of expert horsemanship, you are transported right into the midst of their culture.  The horse roundup itself is also an educational experience.  The half-wild horses are driven in groups into a large, concrete center pen.  Loosely organized groups of people mill in and out of the center pen, sorting and corralling the horses into walled off sections branching out from the center pen.  It is amazing to see what a community event it roundup Iceland
Everyone grabs a perch to watch the sorting and they wander in and out of the horse pens, socializing and watching the sorting.
Occasionally a drone would fly overhead, reminding us of the day in which we live, as this could easily be lost in the time-honored traditions surrounding. Farmers and artisans sell their wares on the peripheries, hocking dried or smoked fish (very chewy) and hand-knitted lopapeysurs (the iconic wool sweaters).  If you would like an original lopapeysur yourself, contact Andrea ( Andrea á Íslandi) who knits them herself- you cannot go wrong with her work.  It's excellent!
horse roundup Iceland
Just a dude...with his baby the wild horse pen

horse roundup party
The after party was off the hook

Iceland dogs
Exhibit at Hollar
Iceland dogWhile I was in Iceland, I learned about the Icelandic Sheepdog.  The college in Hollar actually had an exhibit dedicated to the woolly little dogs.  Like Iceland's horses, their dogs are similarly guarded in bloodline.  In the late 19th century, dog imports were banned and the line of sheepdogs on the island were closely watched and guarded.  These dogs, related to the Spitz family, were brought over by Vikings to wrangle sheep and horses, and were only awarded breed status by the American Kennel Club recently, in 2010.  Like Icelanders guard their Icelandic horse breeding, they also guard the sheepdogs', preserving a heritage of an estimated 8-10 thousand years of Viking doggy companionship.  In fact the Icelandic Sheepdog, while still being in the same species, is one of the few domestic dogs to have its own Latin designation Canis islandicus, rather than Canis familiaris or Canis lupus familiaris.

High Sierra
glacier Iceland
glacier hiking
While in Iceland, you must of course do usual things.  These usual things include going to the Blue Lagoon, hiking the black sand beach at Vik, touching a glacier, and wandering around Reykjavik.  The Blue Lagoon was alright- it's rather touristy and you need to make sure you get reservations beforehand.  But it is large, and fun to see for sure.  I wandered all through Reykjavik, taking in the architecture, seeing the Sundowner sculpture, attending the indoor farmer's market, and perusing the Saga Viking museum (which incidently smells like pee...I do not know if this is for authenticity or they just have bad plumbing.  Smelly or not, it was super interesting).  The Saegriffin or Sea Baron is a small dockside restaurant recommended to me by a friend who used to be stationed in Iceland.  They have amazing lobster bisque- if you are looking for some good eats in the city, this is a great choice.  There are also numerous hot-dog stands throughout (Icelanders have a love affair with hotdogs and yogurt), and they are experts at a lamb sandwich.

Iceland hikingAnd the hiking.  Oh my gosh the hiking!  If the hiking in Iceland were a concept I could marry, I would be a wed woman.  The Fimmvörðuháls trail starting at the Skogafoss waterfall is one of the best trails I have done.  There are a thousand waterfalls, rainbows, and the trail is simply gorgeous.  Just don't lose the path and end up scaling the falls and being the subject of much alarmed point and photographs from tourists with go-pros...not saying we know this by experience...ok yeah we do.  But we're alive so...there's that.  It is a straight trail out and back, so don't look for a loop.  There are huts and places you can camp if you want to do the whole trail.  I staid at the hostel at the foot of the falls...their water smelled like rotten eggs (sulfur) but was drinkable like the rest of the tap on the island, and the information desk was awesomely helpful.


Iceland snorkeling
Frozen Sammy
The Golden Circle is another common tour that people will do.  You can do it yourself in a rental car, but I opted for a day tour and it included snorkeling in a tectonic plate fissure called Silfra.  That's right.  In a tectonic plate fissure between two continents.  I was literally in between Europe and North America.  In the water.  Freezing my ass off.  They give you extremely warm drysuits, but the gloves are still pretty frigid and your face...well they tell you to just keep your face in the water and eventually it will go numb.  I did not end up with frostbite and my nose falling off so it seemed to have been fine.  I am not sure why it was fine.  I probably should be lacking a nose and most of my lips, but I am not, so cool!  If you get a chance to do this, do it!  The visibility is amazing and it is just one of those life experiences....being in between continents.
Golden Circle Silfra

There is a direct flight from Tampa to Rejykavik.  I highly recommend you check it out!  I will leave you will some more images from the trip.

Cheers and Happy Travels,
Sammy the Dog Trainer

glacier hiking

thermal pool Iceland
Geothermal pool near Saudakrokur


tiny village Iceland

hiking Skogafoss

Black sand beach at Vik

rock formations Iceland
Cool rock formations at Vik black sand beach

black sand beach
Just watched someone get knocked down by a wave...careful now.  It's dangerous...and it wasn't me this time!


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