In 2010, while working as a photo editor in New York City, I came down with a serious case of wanderlust. At the same time, I became interested in making a documentary film. When I began to research ideas for a project that would satisfy both ambitions, I came across two facts: for over 1,000 years, Icelandic law has prohibited the importation of horses onto the island, leaving a stock of horses that were brought to the island by Vikings. Additionally, if a horse leaves the island, it is not allowed to return. The law was created to protect the horses from disease, and the outcome has helped to create a very special kind of horse.
Iceland, which is roughly the size of Kentucky, has about 300,000 residents and nearly 100,000 horses. Each summer, the farmers guide their herds into the highlands. The horses spend the summer in the mountains, grazing and raising their young -essentially wild for these few months. Giving the herds the opportunity to explore and run through the many different types of Icelandic terrain makes the horses especially nimble and capable of detecting the best route, even at high speeds and with a rider.
One of the horses being herded through the lava fields near Landmannalaugar in southern Iceland on September 21, 2011.
A horse on Geitaskarð farm in northwest Iceland on September 19th, 2011.
All photos, except where noted, by Lindsay Blatt.
The Icelandic horse is recognized for its strong character, each one with a unique personality. This is absolutely true, and anyone that is fortunate enough to spend time with one will immediately recognize the Icelandics’ curiosity and gentle disposition.
An Icelandic horse in the landscape near Þingeyrar Farm in Iceland on September 27, 2010.
Horses being herded through the lava fields near Landmannalaugar in southern Iceland on September 21, 2011.
In late September, just as the Icelandic winter begins to set in, the nation celebrates the annual “rettir.” This centuries-old event is a cultural tradition that unites the city dwellers and the country folk. People come from all over the country to participate, visit family, spend some time outdoors, and reunite with their horses. In the morning, the herders and farmers ride into the mountains to collect thousands of horses, directing them from the highlands to a sorting pen close to their farm. The herds are mixed together at this point, and the owners must sort them out so that each horse can go back to its farm. After the hard work of the rettir is done, here are plenty of parties and feasts to help keep the celebration going.
A group of young Icelanders wearing handknit wool sweaters at the Laufskálarétt sorting pen in northern Iceland on September 24th, 2011. Photographed with a 4x5 camera.
Kolbrun Yr Sturludottir helped to bring in the horses from Geitaskarð farm, on the way to the Skrapatungurétt round-up in northern Iceland on September 17, 2011.
Having grown up with horses in Arizona, I had known about Icelandics. I had never seen one, let alone ridden one, but I was aware of their special gaits and that they were smaller than the Saddlebreds and Quarter horses I was accustomed to. I went into this project thinking that I was making “a movie about horses.” But after two trips spent traveling the country, living alongside the herders during the rettir, I ended up making a film about people that are connected to the land through their horses.
Lindsay Blatt, the filmmaker. Photo by Paul Taggart.
“Herd in Iceland” is currently airing on PBS stations across the country, please check the schedule regularly for updates. It is also screening at film festivals in the U.S. and abroad and may be on the big screen in a town near you. You can purchase the DVD and digital download by emailing Lindsay.
About the Author, Photographer and Filmmaker: Lindsay Blatt earned a BFA in Photography from the Pratt Institute, and was honored with the Outstanding Merit in Photography award. Lindsay received a grant from The Brooklyn Arts Council in support of her large-format photo essay on Brooklyn’s shoe repairmen. Her work has appeared in Harper’s Magazine, PDN, The Boston Globe’s Big Picture, TravelChannel.com, and The New York Times Lens. She also owns Archerfish, a film and video production company with clients that include: Etsy, The Victoria & Albert Museum; and Fraunhofer, a non-profit that manufactures plant-based vaccines. Herd In Iceland is Lindsay's first film; she is currently a photo editor at The New York Times.
- 10 Things to Know About Iceland Riding Holidays
- Iceland Horseback Riding Vacation Photo Journey
- Dream Jobs: Icelandic Horse Trainer and Equestrian Performer
- Ishestar- Iceland Horse Riding Vacations
- Icelandic Horse Show in Iceland
- 10 Great Places to Horse Ride- #5 Iceland
- Iceland Travel Videos from Equitrekking
- Vermont Icelandic Horse Farm