Somewhere to the northeast of Reykjavik, we crest a hill in the morning light and see a herd of about 70 horses in a pasture that is perhaps half a kilometer across. A dozen horses are at the fence beside the road, and of course we stop to take photos of them. The fence is wire, as are most fences in Iceland (remember there aren’t many trees) and flimsy by our horse-keeping standards, but it is fortified by a daunting ditch…. as are most fields.
We are all equestrian photographers. Between us, there is probably 100 years experience at getting horses’ attention. Several of us are well practiced in the art of whinnying. But we’ve never attempted to use these skills on Icelandic horses. What would have caused all ears to prick toward us in quarter horses, snorts and flaring nostrils and tossing heads in a group of Arabians, and abject terror in a herd of warmbloods, got a long, considered stare from the Icelandics. And then they all calmly turned and walked away.
Well! Now we were challenged. So we drove up the side road to the gate, because in our world, no horse can resist a human at a gate: humans at gates, especially those not carrying halters and lead ropes, generally mean treats. The horses were a long way away now. We could see the gang that we’d originally made contact with joining the larger herd in the far corner. They apparently had a conversation, because the entire long-maned, multicolored population of the pasture slowly began to make its way toward us. They came in a stream across the lower edge of the field, and then up the berm alongside the ditch.
The leaders addressed us calmly, assessing what we were about. Our entertainment factor was apparently not very high, and so they returned to grazing and meandering. These horses were just enough interested in us to come over and chat, but not in any way threatened by our presence. I remembered that there are no predators on Iceland, no wolves, no coyotes, no snakes … and very few dressage trainers. While they are genetically hard wired for flight like any other equine, it’s probably been a millennium since an Icelandic horse has seen anything that posed a threat to them. Except perhaps volcanic eruptions, of course. And even with our cameras we probably didn’t look as scary as that.