Over the week of July 1st to 8th, thousands of people from Iceland and abroad gathered on a grassy hill while wind and rain whipped into their faces and the mercury hovered around 8°C. They weren’t gathered for some ancient Viking ritual, rather they were drawn together for the Landsmót Hestamanna, or the National Meeting of the Equestrians, the biggest celebration of Iceland’s beloved mammal, the Icelandic horse.
Loud music blasts over the facilities of the riding club Fákur in Víðidalur on the edge of Reykjavík. There are crowds of people queuing for food, buying riding gear in a sales-tent or simply sitting on a grassy hill, overlooking the big oval track beneath them. A voice can be heard over loudspeakers, announcing the next group of horses and riders that will be seen.
As the horses enter the track one by one, the audience’s attention starts to shift from their conversations to the movement in front of them and particularly good performances are honoured with applause and cheering. This being the Landsmót, all of the horses shown here are obviously more talented and better trained than your average riding school horse: Each and every one of them had to qualify through a series of local competitions in order to be able to compete at this biennial Icelandic horse festival.
Look at my horse, my horse is amazing
If you’ve ever had the honour of seeing an Icelandic horse with your own eyes, you might have mistaken them for some sort of cuddly children’s ponies. Well, let me tell you then, that the horses at Landsmót could not be any further away from that misconception—all of the horses shown here, be it in the children’s class, breeding show or sports competition, show off their temperament and spirit with flying manes and whirling hooves.
One horse that was especially honoured for passing on his fiery disposition is the stallion Spuni from Vesturkot, who received the Sleipnisbikarinn—the Sleipnir trophy, the highest distinction a breeding horse can get. “He is a really talented horse and things that are difficult to do for others are easy for him,” says his trainer Þórarinn Ragnarsson.
From all over the world
The other star of the event was the second placed stallion in the category of 6-year-olds, Kveikur from Stangarlæk 1. “He received 10 – the highest score – for tölt and willingness,” explains Vignir Sigurðsson, a breeder and rider. Landsmót visitors Bjarni and Páll also favoured the black stallion and the two men from Reykjavík are happy about the good horses shown at Landsmót. “This is the best Landsmót Hestamanna,” says Páll. According to Heiðar Ásgeirsson, manager of this year’s Landsmót, there were roughly 8,500 to 9,000 visitors on Saturday evening enjoying themselves in the cold weather, including about 15 to 20 percent tourists, who came from all over the world to see the best Icelandic horses on their native ground. Two girls from Germany were also impressed by the high quality of horses. “We’re here for a week and did mostly sightseeing. Now we’re at Landsmót for three days,” Margarete and Jasmin explain.
Tone, Per and Gru came from Norway to see the best horses Iceland has to offer. “I’ve been to every Landsmót since 1978”, says Tone, evidently a hard-core fan. “It was snowing during my first Landsmót, so this weather is nothing in comparison,” she laughs. Her secret to keeping warm is to wear woolly layers underneath a rainproof coat. Tone, like most of the visitors, sports an original Icelandic sweater. Fashion choices in general are quite homogenous: ‘The warmer, the better’ appears to be the motto of the competition.
Elín from the 66° North stall isn’t unhappy about the weather conditions: “We’ve mostly sold hats and gloves and, amazingly, we’ve also sold many winter parkas – in July!” While she admits that the rainy weather certainly helps their sales, she “wouldn’t mind a bit of sun.”
Considering the rain and gloom that has defined Iceland’s summer to date, it is not that surprising that the audience broke into spontaneous applause when the sun finally decided to make an appearance. But hey, this is ICEland after all, and it is precisely this weather which has shaped the Icelandic horse and made it into the tough, badass companion Icelanders and foreigners adore so much that they hold a weeklong celebration in their honour.