The buildings of Hof í Vatnsdal are neat and red and white, bright against the rich green fields. These lowlands on the north have long history of settlement and agriculture that traces back to the Vikings, and this has been a working farm since 895 AD. As we walk toward the river, we can feel the springiness of the good ancient ground here. This is a friendly place for horses.
Aline and her daughters appear on the road, each riding one horse and ponying another. They are good riders, and put on a display of their excellent horses’ specialized gaits. Icelandic horses have a walk, trot and canter plus two breed specific gaits, the tölt, which is a four-beat running walk, and the flying pace, for when you really need to cover ground. Once they have done all the figures we ask of them, they announce that they are going to ride through the river. The valley is flat, and the water runs over smooth river rock, but it comes directly from a glacier and it runs swiftly, so it has to be exceedingly cold. But in they go, with huge smiles on both horses and humans, and gallop full tilt through the shoulder deep water. These horses, I muse, are made of stern stuff that our sport horses have forgotten.
As is their dog. He’s a small, nearly white sheep dog, perhaps 20 inches high at the shoulder, and he too leaps into the water to join the party. He meet up with them all on the small island that splits the stream, and then jumps back into the swift moving water, well upstream of us, and we are a bit taken aback as the current rushes him toward, and then past us. But he’s obviously done this many times, his eyes fixed on a particular flat spot on the bank, where he bounds out, shakes himself off, smiles, and continues to follow his horses.
And then the riders dismount and proceed to unbridle one of the stallions that they had been leading, and let him go. They’ve set this shot up for us: they know that he’ll trot through the water and gallop on home, and give us a photographic treat on the way. We are impressed at how calmly he does this.
The next stop is a waterfall, a brook cascading over 40 feet of sheer rock face to a still pool before continuing down a rocky stream bed. Our riders head up the stream, picking their way between boulders, and plunge into the saddle-deep pool without hesitation. Riders are laughing, horses are smiling: they are in their element, doing what they are bred to do.
Off they go, tolting up the 45 degree slope as if it’s a gentle hill, to the top of the falls, where they pose as a group, people, horses and dog, rocks towering above them and shearing off below them, water roaring about them, in the center of their incredible world.
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