During my first trip to Iceland, I somehow incorrectly learned that Icelandic horses were Icelandic ponies. Then, I recently bought my sister a luggage tag of an Icelandic horse that said right on it, "I am not a pony."
I recently took a riding trip with Íslenski Hesturinn, which translates to "The Icelandic Horse."
Icelandic horses are the purest breed in the world. If a horse leaves Iceland, it can never come back. The horses are not vaccinated and are unable to protect themselves from common bacteria from other countries. When riding at an Icelandic horse stable, they are very cautious to ensure that riding gear used in other countries does not come in contact with their Icelandic horses.
My first experience riding in Iceland was lovely, but this trip was even better. Rather than placing us on a horse and whisking us off on a predictable route, the owner and tour guide, Begga, gave us an overview on Icelandic horses, their five gaits, and riding instructions. Even the most experienced riders might be surprised by something about Icelandic horses. For example, riding tradition in all other countries dictates that you must mount a horse from the left. This dates back from the days of knights and sword placement. However, today in Iceland they have discovered something, "That horses have two sides!" So you can ignore all the advice of your riding instructors and mount from the right side.
Prior to our riding adventure, Begga carefully assigned us each a horse, based upon a number of factors including previous riding experience. My horse was called Máni, which is the Icelandic word for moon. Since I have a nine-year-old cat named Luna, the Spanish word for moon, I thought this was a great match!
As we were leaving for the ride, Begga said, "Mind your knee on the fence as you leave." I instantly knew running into the fence would be inevitable. Sure enough, my otherwise adorable and perfect horse slammed my knee and ankle right into the fence. Of course! Otherwise, the rest of the journey was wonderful. We rode over some gorgeous snow-covered lava fields. At certain parts there was a red hue in the soil from iron deposits. This looks strangely similar to the iron-laden rocks of Colorado. Even the photo-op was in front of a red rock that looked reminiscent of the red rock used for a photo-op on a trail ride through Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.
Do you see the striking soil similarities?
Have you ever ridden an Icelandic horse?
I am excited to announce a new series for my blog: in the spirit of sharing the experiences of a “Stranger in a Strange Land,” I have started a collaboration project to highlight the stories of other “strangers” living in Iceland.
All photos, unless otherwise noted, were taken by Thibault Salle, a French photographer living in Iceland who had the good (or bad, depending on the day and who you ask) fortune of sitting next to me on the first day Icelandic classes. You can check out more of his work at http://www.thibaultsalle.com/.
Our first feature highlights a Dane who sometimes trespasses onto television series filming locations, hitchhikes through isolated towns, and occasionally revives house plants.
Tommy Helle Jensen’s decision to take a break from studying for his English Literature and Linguistics degree and leave his native Denmark for Iceland at first might not seem that unusual. After all, Iceland used to be a territory of Denmark and Danes fly in and out of Iceland all the time.
Tommy, however, decided to skip the few hour flight in favour of transportation via boat.
“I had flown in and out of Iceland before. I wanted to properly feel the distance between Denmark and Iceland,” he said.
The ferry left from Hirtshals, Denmark, a city four hours from his hometown of Copenhagen. Due to a storm, the ship was delayed, but eventually set off for Iceland, with a stop in the Faroe Islands. It took a full day to voyage to the Faroe Islands. What was originally a nine hour stopover, turned into a full twenty-four hours, again due to weather delays. During the day, he was able to explore the area and at night he slept on the boat. From there, it was another day and half until he reached Iceland.
The ferry arrived in Seyðisfjörður, a town on Iceland’s east coast. He arrived with a vague plan of hitchhiking to the next town. He met a fisherman named Runar was going to do groceries since it was too expensive to do that in Seyðisfjörður.
“He spoke hardly English and definitely no Danish although his knew enough to tell me that his wife was a Danish teacher at the local primary school,” Tommy said.
Next, he met a man named Albert who drove him another two hours away. There was nowhere to stay in the town, except the flat that Albert owned. So, for a relatively hefty fee, him and his wife gave Tommy the keys to the flat for the night and also showed him the fishing boat they were working on.
Once again, weather got in the way of his plans so he hitchhiked back north with an 18-year-old girl who was headed to another city to visit a chiropractor.
He found himself in Reyðarfjörður, where the town was full of TV crew filming the new season of Fortitude, a British psychological thriller that also features some predominant Danish actors. Intrigued, Tommy crossed through one of the blocked off roads to check out what was going on. Someone rushed toward him with a walkie talkie and escorted him out of the film scene. Playing dumb, Tommy asked what they were filming and got an explanation about the series.
“The whole time there was someone in a car filming us walking. So when the second series comes out, maybe I’ll be in the behind-the-scenes material,” he said.
After that, he visited one more town, Egilsstaðir, before growing tired of the lack of people so he bought a student-fare stand by ticket to Reykjavik.
In Reykjavik, Tommy works at Háskóli Íslands on IT. He fixes websites and proofreads in both Danish and English. Though he has been learning English in school since grade 4, his motivation for learning it came from outside the classroom.
“I used to be a terrible student, all I would do was play computer games. All of the other players spoke in English though and I couldn’t communicate with them well. So I applied for a year of exchange in Australia to learn English. When I got home, I was fluent in English, stopped playing computer games, and took my studies more seriously,” he said.
While in Iceland, he is trying to learn the language by taking classes at the Tin Can Factory and reading a children’s book in Icelandic.
The night before he boarded his ferry to Iceland, he wrote on a Facebook group in hunt of housing in Reykjavik and found someone willing to share their home with him. He shares a flat with an accountant who has a tendency to bring in bathtubs and other random household items into the living room.
“She’s always bringing something. She says she doesn’t need the bathtub now, but there may come a time when she actually has space for a bathtub,” he said.
His bedroom doesn’t have a door, just a curtain. There is also a house plant that was nearly dead before Tommy moved in. He started to water it and now it is alive and well.
“She even noticed that the tree was no longer dead and commented on it,” he said.
Tommy will stay in Iceland until the end of April or May before heading off for a few months in Canada. He also plans to briefly visit Brazil and San Francisco.
Hi, I’m Crystal! I love to travel and am currently a graduate student in Scotland. You’ll get all the best tips and insights from my experiences as a former ice-skating coach in Iceland and former study abroad student. Of the 27 countries I have visited, a type 1 diabetes diagnosis has been the strangest land yet. Type 1 has not slowed down my travels and you'll learn how to take type 1 with you on the road! You can connect with me further on Instagram @CrystalChilcott, or send me ideas of where I should travel next via email: email@example.comHappy Travels, Crystal
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