The Icelandic Horse

Have a chat with a horse!

During the photo trip, one of my main goals was to capture the stunning natural beauty that is Iceland; after all, the country is filled with amazing sights, well-known for its glaciers, waterfalls, volcanoes, geysers, and lagoons. Although puffins were listed among our tour stops, the fauna of Iceland was not my main interest.

So, when we made a road-side stop to photograph some horses in a field, I did not expect to come away with a profound impression of how the Icelandic horse connects to this rugged land and its people.

Soulful and Rugged

As I helped several of the other photographers in our group to get some good shots by drawing the attention of several of the horses, I came to feel that there is a strong connection between this land and its horses. It’s as if the horse is a reflection of the country: not large, yet sturdy, able to withstand whatever nature throws at them, and filled with a strong character.

Built for the Weather

A coat that is able to grow for the tough Winter months, compact size and sure-footedness are some of the key characteristics of the Iceland horse.

The horse was brought to Iceland by the Norse settlers who arrived in the 9th and 10th centuries. From these horses, over the centuries selective breeding, as well as natural selection, developed the breed into its current form. The breed was almost wiped out due to the massive eruption of the volcano at Laki in 1783; the months of spewing of sulfuric aerosols from this event had a profound impact on the climate and landscape, reaching well beyond Iceland.

Eyeing the Human!

As these horses stand an average of 13 to 14 hands, many will consider them pony size, despite the fact that breed registries refer to the Icelandics as horses. They are also known for a spirited temperament and large personality, and have another unique characteristic: their gait.

The Icelandic is a five-gaited breed, as they have two additional gaits beyond walk, trot and canter/gallop. The fourth gate is a four-beat lateral ambling gait know as the tölt; this gait stands out due to its explosive acceleration and speed, while still being comfortable. The fifth gait is called a skeið or flugskeið (flying pace); this racing gait is fast and smooth, enabling the horse to reach speeds of 30 miles per hour (48 km/h).

Next time when you’re in Iceland, go check out these horses and don’t be afraid to talk to them; they are great listeners who prefer a good conversation over a handful of grass!

Author: jansenphoto

A Fresh Perspective Photography is more than just a vehicle for capturing the world around me; it provides me with a palette and a set of brushes, with which I paint not only what I see, but also look to express the emotions that are evoked by the scene in front of me in that moment. Growing up in the Netherlands exposed me to a wide cross-section of visual arts that laid the foundation of my photographic view of all that surrounds me. Early influences were the Dutch Masters of the 17th century, to whom I was introduced by my grandfather during museum explorations; favorites among them are the scenes of quotidian life depicted by Jan Steen and Frans Hals and the vivid landscapes of Jacob van Ruisdael. My classical high school education was supplemented by the Boijmans Van Beuningen museum, where I spent many a lunch hour exploring its great collection. Here I was introduced to surrealism with a particular love for the approach taken by Salvador Dali; Dali also rekindled my appreciation for the work of Hieronymus Bosch, who often showed the folly of us mortals. Universal Connections My approach to any photographic subject is to look for understanding first; in this I look to establish either a connection between the viewer and the subject or capture the connection of the subject with its surroundings. The captured image then aims to portray this connection from a perspective that is part of my personal interpretation. This interpretation is often a form of externalized introspection, which may alternately display the connection of isolated beings and items with their environment or highlight the whimsy of the profound world, in which we find ourselves. The universe is full of connections, many of which are waiting to be discovered; part of my journey as a photographer is to document these connections. Any assignment, be it an event, a product shoot or a portrait session is always approached through communication with the client; this is where the first connection is established. Ideas are exchanged and a collaborative plan of action forms, ultimately resulting in a set of images that aim to exceed the expectations of each client. And, lest we forget, it is important to have fun while practicing the serious business of photography!

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