Tuesday, June 8, 2010

globetrotting in iceland: the horse not named frida

"what was the name of your horse?" the guide asked cheerfully, pen poised to jot it down onto my certificate.

"um, i'm not sure...she was solid white and i think it started with a F." i replied.

after a moment's thought, her eyes lit up and she scribbled down the name and triumphantly reported that my horse's name was frida.

my horse was most certainly NOT named frida. but as my certificate now clearly stated so, i decided not to argue.

maybe i should back up a little. the husband and i were just in iceland, on a 10 day vacation around the country. it was the second day of our trip, and we had just completed a little icelandic horse excursion right outside of reykjavik. although in general possessing lukewarm feelings toward horses, i had become somewhat enamoured by the idea of icelandic horses. therefore, i was very enthusiastic about this excursion, and had a made a point to book it early in the trip planning process. it wasn't until the end of our drive to the ishestar center (they conveniently picked us up at our hotel for the tour) when i decended from the mini-bus and hit my head on the door frame, that i began to wonder if this was actually a good idea.

after checking in, we were directed to the back room to put away our things, pick up a helmet, and then sent out to the corral to meet the horses. we were told that a horse would be selected for us based on our ability. being a beginner and of petite stature (i was surely the shortest person there, save a youngish looking boy), i had been nursing the false hope that i would be given a small horse. the smaller the horse, the closer to the ground, and the closer to the ground, the safer i would be... right? but to my dismay, the guide selected one of the largest horses, the horse not named frida (and henceforth known as notfrida) for me. i doubtfully took the reigns of notfrida, and got myself acquainted with her. the husband was many feet away meeting his horse, gepla.

 meanwhile, the other guide came out to help assist people with getting in the saddle. surprisingly, i was able to get up smoothly and easily. after brief instructions on how to sit in the saddle and how to to place my feet in the stirrups, the guide drifted off to the next rider, and i was left alone with notfrida. i sat there, feeling quite unsteady, painfully aware of how far away the ground was. the next thing i knew, she had taken off across the corral to investigate piles of hay, and for the next ten minutes i found myself being lurched back and forth as her head bobbed up and down as she fed. i was definitely getting nervous, and wondered if notfrida could tell just how uneasy i felt. next to me was an english woman, who after a few minutes, announced that she felt far too unsteady and uncomfortable and declared she needed to get off. i tried to turn to see her leave, but notfrida stubbornly insisted on having our backs to the rest of the group.

once everyone was ready in their saddles, one of the guides gave instructions that i could neither see or hear, as notfrida was still busy with the hay, facing the wrong direction. i was relieved when notfrida seemed to notice that the group was moving, and began to saunter after everyone else, keeping quite a gap between us and the rest of the group. i didn't mind this slow pace; it made the experience less scary, and allowed me to focus on a) not falling and b) not falling. the second guide, however, told me to keep up, and handed me a whip to enforce it.

i was starting to feel a little more comfortable on notfrida. but the comfort was rather short lived. the terror began when the guides decided to lead us into a gallop. if i had not already been gripping the saddle (which i'm guessing is not what i was supposed to do) along with the reigns, i am certain i would have fallen off. as i found my body uncomfortably bouncing up and down. trying to keep my feet in the stirrups, my mind was running a thousand miles a minute. normally for this kind of excursion i looked to the husband for back up physical and emotional support, but he was way up in the line, no where close enough to sooth me and my growing panic. so, thoughts of impending doom began running across my mind. how could i have thought, i wondered, that i could handle riding an animal, no matter how well trained? i imagined all kinds of scenarios, all ending withe me in an icelandic hospital or morgue. what was worse, around this time, i realized that one side of the strap of my new dslr camera that i had slung across my back had come completely loose, so i had no choice but to hold the reigns, the bulky camera, and the saddle simultaneously.

luckily, the galloping periods were relatively short, and i was fairly comfortable with the brisk trot by this time, despite the addition of my camera in my hands. after about an hour we stopped to give the horses a break, and i was faced with the task of dismounting the horse. somehow i managed to scamper off without trouble, and perhaps even some grace. when i turned from my horse, i saw the husband watching me from across the field, with a look of astonishment on his face. we met halfway, and he admitted that he had been worried that i wouldn't survive the ride, or the dismount. this time we fixed the camera strap to be quite secure, and i slung the camera in the front, and tucked it into my jacket.

all too soon, we were back on our horses (this time i mounted without a guide overseeing me), and the rest of the trip went by with only a handful of panicky moments, and at some points i even remembered to look around and enjoy the scenery. as our ride wrapped up and we approached the corral, i felt a sense of pride and accomplishment, wondering if anyone else on the ride was as proud as i was of the simple achievement of not falling off their horse. my pride quickly turned into embarrassment as notfrida abruptly stopped right inside the gates of the corral, blocking the way for the rest of the horses behind us, clearly ready to get rid of me. with the prodding of one of the guides, she reluctantly moved forward just a little more so the other horses could come in. she stopped again, once again sending the message, "i'm bored of you, please get off, thanks".

feeling embarrassed and suddenly stressed, i realized i was just as eager to get off notfrida as she was to be rid of me. i was suddenly not sure the best way to dismount- i had no idea how i had succeeded just an hour before. i leaned forward as before and swung one leg over, and the next thing i knew, i was flat on my back, on the concrete. i had narrowly missed a giant pile of manure, and one of the guides came forward to ask if i was okay. notfrida completely ignored me. amazingly, i was fine, a little dusty, but with only a bruised ego and rear end.

i led notfrida to tie her off and remove her saddle, as the husband examined me over for traces of damage, and reassured me that very few people noticed my most ungraceful dismount. despite this rather stressful experience, i still look back and consider it a "fun experience". while i didn't exactly bond with notfrida, i find icelandic horses quite beautiful creatures, and am glad to have tried a new activity. later i asked the husband how it was possible that it seemed that half of our activities on any given vacation pushed my comfort zone and physical limits and terrified me, and yet i always walked away exclaiming it a grade A holiday? his response: "good question".


  1. What an interesting experience and lol at notfrida! :P I know very little about Iceland so it was an interesting read (silly me thought that it would be...icey!)

  2. You have an adventurous spirit! You keep having your “relaxing vacations”. Just take plenty of bandages and aspirin :)

  3. i agree, good for you for trying something different. and you sure have traveled a lot! iceland is on my to-visit list... did you scope out any wonderful wool while you were there? i hear they carry them everywhere, like at the grocery store! that probably wouldn't be good for my stash/storage issues ;)

    thanks for sharing this story, i had a good giggle about notfrida.



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