I was one of those little girls who were obsessed with horses. Small toy figures of horses graced the shelves in my room. I knew all the breeds, their characteristics and their bloodlines. From the moment I could read I begged for books on horses — all “The Black Stallion” books, “Flicka,” “Misty of Chincoteague” and even “Black Beauty,” although I cried buckets when Ginger died.
So, when I came to this island, one of the items on my “Iceland Bucket List” was to get a chance to ride an Icelandic horse, famed for its characteristic gaits and its uncharacteristically small stance. I’ve been planning to jump aboard one ever since my plane touched down but I wanted the perfect day to enjoy my ride.
The weather, however, had not been cooperating. It was either too cold, or too windy, or too rainy. There might never be a perfect day. That’s why when I came upon a sign suddenly along the side of the road offering “Horse Rides” I took a chance.
The farm consisted of a huge barn, a large house-turned-inn and numerous out buildings. But most importantly, it contained dozens of horses. White ones. Gray ones. Black ones. Brown ones. If I had been 9 years old again I would have felt I had died and gone to heaven.
I was finally seated upon the back of a 20-year-old Icelandic horse (I’d been admonished when I’d called them “ponies”) named Lisa. She had all the characteristics necessary of the breed. Small (less than 13 hands or so according to American ways of measuring), very friendly and very furry. Her mane and tail were large brushes of white hair that hung past her eyes.
My guide, Lydia, checked me out, reminding me to keep my heels down, and we took off into the bright green hills. We started walking but soon broke into the characteristic gaits of the Icelandic horse. It was something like flying. Instead of the bone-rattling trot of most horses I had ridden, this was a rolling gait and felt like sitting on a rocking chair. The horses’ hips rolled slowly as they paced forward.
We breezed down the well-worn path.
Being a woman still obsessed with horses, my questions were endless.
Why are they so small?
Are they born with these special gaits?
How many gaits did they have?
How much would one sell for?
And with that question, she stopped me in my horseshoes.
Well, how much they cost depends on what they’re used for, she said. For example, show horses are very expensive. Horses that have fewer skills and fewer gaits are less expensive.
Then there are those horses that cannot learn or are difficult to handle. Those we eat, Lydia explained.
You do what?
We eat them, she said matter of factly. I very much love horse meat, especially foal.
No, you don’t eat baby horse, do you? I glanced at the tiny foals with their mothers in the next pasture.
Oh yes, of course. Some farmers raise horses just to be used as meat.
I tried to explain that Americans think of their horses as pets, much like their dogs or cats. She explained that while Icelanders love their horses, they are very practical when it comes to the issue of what to do with the “bad seeds.” Just eat them.
I shivered a little and patted Lisa on the neck. Then Lydia delivered the gustatory coup de gras.
And, if you want, we serve horse here on our dinner buffet. Not, of course, the horses from this farm. But we do serve horse. If you’d like to try the buffet I’m sure they can find a place for you.
We completed our ride in fine form. Back in the paddock, Lydia and I pulled the saddles off our horses and let them out in the pasture with the remainder of the herd. I thanked Lydia for the wonderful ride and headed back to my car.
Then, I began to realize how very hungry I was. The almost two-hour ride in a brisk Icelandic breeze had done the trick and I could feel my salivary glands watering.
I turned on my heels and headed back into the dining room at — dare I say — a trot.
I’ll have the buffet, I said.
And believe me, it didn’t taste anything like chicken.