In the beginning there was the horse
The first time I came across an Icelandic horse was on a website. I was bored at work and clicking listlessly on a new search engine called Google–this was 1998. I had just taken up riding again after a twenty year hiatus, and every Saturday I went round and round on an overused school horse, a retired, tired Thoroughbred, trying to get it to walk, trot, and canter. I loved the big old horse but his spirit was gone, and when I dismounted my knees would buckle and ache as I dropped from the lofty height of his withers to the ground. My learning curve as a rider was long, my improvements almost imperceptible. I was frustrated.
I didn’t know I was searching for another breed when I stumbled upon the website. But what I sensed immediately was that the Icelandic horse was different. For starters, they are five gaited. They are all descendants of the original stock of Viking horses (not unlike the people), with absolutely no interbreeding for over one thousand years. And they are treated like horses, not pampered and petted, but left to fend for themselves in the mountains half of the year. This makes them hardy, healthy, and long-living. The country views them as a national treasure, prohibiting all other horses from entering the country, and once an Icelandic horse leaves the island, it is never allowed back in. Tough emigration policy.
It’s hard to say why certain topics, objects or places resonate with people. Why some people may gravitate toward the African continent, or, say, all things Italian. But at first glance of the pixelated Icelandic horse, my heart leapt. I was a girl again, smitten with love, nothing short of obsessed. On the site was a picture of a dark bay with a noble head, a strongly boned face, and a wild mane. It was a horse (and I am being careful here) that I felt some past kinship with, as if I had dreamed of this place and this animal’s face. It was standing in the green tussocks of Iceland, a place that looked forbiddingly desolate and yet oddly familiar. Usually I only believe in past lives after my third drink but there I was, midday and procrastinating at work, staring at this dark horse that stared right back at me. We reconnected. It had been centuries.