Sunday, November 29, 2015

Horses and dogs and sheep, oh my! (West Iceland)

After many hours of driving from Landmannalaugar, we finally arrived at our lodging in Borgarnes (past their check-in time, but thankfully, they were willing to stay open for us).  As we unloaded our luggage, we were greeted by a Very Friendly Dog.  While we were never introduced, the dog clearly loved people and wanted to play.  At one point, Q said "I wish I had a stick to throw for you."  The Very Friendly Dog perked up its ears, as if to say "Stick?  I have a stick!  Wait -- I'll go get my stick!"

The Very Friendly Dog then proceeded to teach Q how to play Stick.  They had a great time playing in the meadow.

Who can resist that sweet face?  The Very Friendly Dog was just one of many creatures we encountered during our travels in Iceland.

As we left the following morning, we spotted Icelandic horses in the field next to the inn.  We saw lots of horses as we drove through Iceland, particularly in West Iceland.  Horseback riding is an activity enjoyed by Icelanders and tourists (we didn't do any riding, but we enjoyed seeing the horses).

Icelandic horses in West Iceland

Icelandic horses are a unique breed. They are relatively small in stature and are adapted to the harsh climate with a double coat to protect against cold temperatures. They are the descendants of the horses brought to Iceland by the original Scandanavian and Norse settlers.  Horses were the only means of transport for many hundreds of years in Iceland.

Icelandic horses in West Iceland

Icelandic horses have a wide range of coloration. Because livestock cannot be imported into Iceland, the horses are protected from most diseases and parasites. Icelandic horses, if they leave the country, cannot return.

Icelandic horses in West Iceland

Icelandic horses have two additional gaits, beyond those of other horse breeds. In addition to walk, trot, canter, gallop, they are capable of a lateral, ambling gait called a tölt, and a fast, smooth skeið gait (or "flying pace").

The most ubiquitous animal we saw, though, was sheep.  They were scattered across the landscape, so commonplace that we noted their absence more than their presence.  We started taking bets on how long it would be before we saw another one.  We announced their presence by calling out, "Sheeeeep!  SHEEEEEEEP!" to each other.  Some parts of Iceland have more sheep than people (a pattern we noted in the West Highlands of Scotland, as well).  Anywhere that had even the barest hint of greenery seemed to sport sheep.  They slept by the side of the road.  They wandered out into the roadway (another excellent reason to observe the speed limits in Iceland).  Sometimes, they ran at the sound of the car or stared at us as we passed by.

But mostly, they just ignored us and went about their sheep-y business.

I got this tiny felted sheep (made by Steinunni Steinars) at the Borgarnes' farmers market.  Isn't it adorable?  It sits on the kitchen windowsill, along with the wooden sword swallower and pig that were my mother's, so that I can see them every day as I wash dishes.  And whenever I see it, I can call out:


Next up:  The Latrabjarg Bird Cliffs in the Westfjords

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