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When is a Pony Actually an Icelandic Horse? [PHOTOS]

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Anne Sterck, Women on the Road’s photographer, continues her Iceland series with this look at the famed Icelandic horse. She tells us what it was like to meet these wild beasts

Most people don’t know why they’re called horses. They are smaller than an average woman in height so wouldn’t pony be a better term?

In all fairness they do weigh six times more than a woman, so perhaps their name comes from their intelligence, or maybe because there is no Icelandic word for pony.

Either way, they certainly deserve their name.

Icelandic Horses

I had no idea what to expect when I walked into a massive pasture with many Icelandic horses around a feed of hay. They jostled and dominated, joking and making trouble, each with his or her own character. I saw no kicking of the back legs, and most of them seemed laid back.

A large group of photographers walked right into their midst and they remained calm. They didn’t move away and enjoyed being petted, although not in a needy way and were happy to stay for a while and then move on. And yes, up close they are short, but at a distance they appear taller than they are.

Icelandic horses jostling

Photographers approach Icelandic horses

No one seemed to mind us. Not the horses, nor anyone else. A vast feeling of freedom engulfed us as we stopped wherever we saw horses, walked up to them, spent some time and then left.

They aren’t bred as a tourist attraction but as working horses, strong and hardy, reminding me of Mongolian horses or the Dartmoor ponies in the UK.

They come in many colors, their long manes and tails flying in the wind. There is a certain wisdom about them, a bit like being around dolphins, with an aura of intelligence and spirituality. Animals, yes, but more too.

Horses of Iceland

This is a pure breed and a healthy one, kept that way by forbidding its import and severely restricting its export. Once a horse leaves Iceland, it’s not allowed back in, and there are more of them outside the country than within its borders.

Icelandic pony - or horse - at sunset

Things every Woman on the Road should know

  • This Iceland workshop (and we did work hard) was organized by Muench Photography Workshops and Iurie Belegurschi and included Northern Lights sightings, lakes and lagoons, and a visit to a spectacular glacier cave.
  • If you’re a photographer, I used the Nikon D7000 (not a full frame camera) with an 11-16mm wide zoom on one camera and an 18-200mm telephoto on the second. I was able to manage all this without collapsing because of my comfy double camera harness.
  • These horses are not easy to photograph. As I got closer, other horses closed in and kept sneaking into the picture. I had to move again and again.
  • Be on the lookout for both closeups and long shots and know that in this case, a tripod probably won’t be of much use. 

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