Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Trial and Error Horse School

Three days of riding Icelandic horses..
Day One: Æsa signed us up for horse riding lessons a few weeks ago and I had almost forgotten about it until she told us on Monday that our classes started at 20:00. I use the word "lessons" and "classes" very loosely. In typical Icelandic fashion, we were given no instruction, and no warning of what to expect. Sandra, Anne, and I walked down to the horse barn near the ocean around 19:55. (We can often see the horses playing in the corral from our high vantage point in the staff apartment. It takes a little over five minutes to get there, and I think it's the most extremely opposite building from ours in the entire village.) We figured we were a little late when we walked in the see everyone awkwardly trying on helmets and wondering if the chin strap was necessary on all of them. I was lucky and found a perfect fit on the first try.
We are a "class" of ten girls, and I think I'm the oldest one in the group by a few years. Half of the girls either work at the stable, or are experienced enough to get to choose their own horses. The rest of us were clueless. We were assigned horses and told to lead them outside and brush them. My horse was a gorgeous cream colored gelding (Stallion? Colt? I didn't look that close) with dark mane named Víkingur. I instantly loved him, even though he was throwing a fit of excitement about being let out and seemed a bit dangerous.
"Don't worry. He'll be fine once he gets outside", I was assured, as I watched him kick around in his stall.
To say that I got a crash course would be generous. I brushed one side of Víkingur for a long time and the other side for half as much because all of a sudden everyone was getting saddles. All of a sudden, all of the horses gained weight and a flatulence problem. Strange. They are very naughty.
Sandra leading out Gletta

 Somehow we all figured out how to saddle up and mount our horses, and we took a few laps around the corral to warm up and get a feel for them. I felt like Víkingur was a little wild, but he was easy to control, even with my crude maneuvering (which I compared to driving a car).
The trail we take is a big loop that follows the sea for a while, through the arctic tern nesting area, across the main road and through the golf course by the cliff, back across the road and by the Petrol Station, over the little river, through the lupine, and back through the sand to the stable. It takes about an hour.

Víkingur and me, looking nervous because my camera was dying.

Day Two: Rain! And I was so sore on my upper inner thighs. A very strange place to realize you don't have muscles. We were all hoping to get our same horses from the day before, but we were assigned a different one. I got Gletta, a light brown mare with a nice disposition. None of the horses seemed at all thrilled about having to go outside and haul around inexperienced girls in the cold rain. But the humans were still keyed up, having high expectations from the excitement of the first days' ride. I suppose it was about the same as before, except I wore my Carharts instead of jeans and was considerably more wet and cold. Anne got a smaller white horse, which looked incredible with it's white mane blowing back in the wind against the black sand on the beach.
After we came home, Anne and I talked about how nice it would be to have some instruction. I looked up a YouTube video and learned a lot, so I felt more prepared for day three.

Day Three: My horse hated me immediately. As I was trying to put the bridle on, he threw his head and hit me in the face. I didn't even remember his name, but I pet him a lot and talked to him in attempt to make peace. I could just feel that it didn't work. He was grumpy. I brushed him extra well and made sure the saddle was on really tight so he wouldn't try and funny stuff, and took him into the corral to do a few laps. He really had a mind of his own and completely ignored my commands. He was radiating this vibe of "I know you are stupid and have no idea how to ride me". Even more sore than Day Two, I couldn't even make it to the arctic tern area before forcing him into a walk. My back was killing me from bumping in the saddle. I knew I was doing something wrong, but Æsa assured me earlier that some horses are just bumpy, and of course we get the crummy horses. And the video I watched said just to get the rhythm of your horse, but it's impossible when your horse has the rhythm of a boxcar. I was really starting to think that horseriding is just no fun when you can't even keep your bum in the saddle. The lead girl came up to me and told me catch up, and I told her I just couldn't take it. I was about to suggest I turn back, but she showed me how to tölt!
If you're not familiar with Icelandic horses, they are a little different from other breeds. Other than their obvious size difference and personality quirks, they are most noted for having five different gaits. Other horses have three; walk, trot, canter/gallop. Icelandics also have tölt and flying pace, or skeið. They seem to be most famous for the tölt. This is the gait that they develop from birth, and although it has the same footfall pattern as a walk, it can be performed at any speed. It's also incredibly smooth.
So I hold tight on the reins, far ahead of the saddle horn, and squeeze my legs against the belly, and...a miracle! A tölt! What a feeling. It's the difference between eating sand and eating skyr.
It's safe to say that I fell back in love with horse riding. However, not all of the horses can tölt, or know how to take the command for it, so hopefully I'll get another tölter tomorrow. Only four more days left!

Ahh...relief for the bum! (for both of us!!)