Tag Archives: Icelandic Horse

Iceland – Land of Ice and Fire has a release date!

first off, apologies for the lack of activity on here for so long, many reasons, main one being that its been very time consuming going through the post production process! its not the most dynamic thing to watch either, a computer screen, but I will do a post on all the tech workflow in due course.

Anyway, the good news is that we have our transmission date set!!!!

…..fanfare/drumroll……

It will be broadcast in the UK on May 1st, BBC2 at 9pm

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There will of course be a US release in due course on Animal Planet, as soon as I get it I’ll pass it on. in the meantime, here is a link through to The Natural World BBC website

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qnnh

and the BBC Earth website is always a good place to visit

http://www.bbc.com/earth/uk/sections/on-location

The Natural World is one of the gems in the BBC’s Natural History Unit, its the longest running series from them in fact, making a dozen or so films every year on a huge range of subjects To them variety is the key, its not restricted to looking at one habitat, species or animal. Anything goes really, as long as it makes a decent film! Hopefully our film will live up to the high expectations, only the viewers can decide that, so tell all your friends and make a date for friday night BBC2 9pm!

You’ll meet the fox family, some very cute ducklings being trained by Thor and his family, the iconic and special Icelandic Horses with Halldor and Snorri, and of course the spectacular Bardarbunga eruption in all its nightime glory.

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more details about extra clips coming soon!

The Horse Roundup

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So the big day arrived, it was roundup time!

The morning dawned fine and chilly, overnight snow had dusted the mountain tops, the first snows of the oncoming winter, bringing a timely reminder that summer was over and winters icy grip was just round the corner.

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We’d spent the week preparing for the event, working out exactly how we were going to film 500 wild horses and 200 ridden horses as they thundered from one valley and moved about 4km to the pen where they would be sorted and returned to their owners. There they would spend the winter down on the lowlands around the farm.

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The Icelandic Horse is more than capable of enduring the winters here, but only the fittest would survive, so the youngsters are given the best possible chance of making it through the winter by living in the slightly more comfortable lowlands and away from the harsh extremes of the mountains.

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Hallador and Snorri’s family and friends had all gathered at the farm house, their horses saddled and ready to go, children laughing and playing, there was a great buzz about the place. The roundup is a very big event in the social calendar here in Skagafjordur, this is a very prosperous agricultural area and the only county in Iceland where horses outnumber people so there is a very rich tradtition of horsebreeding and horse training. With such a long history. Its no surprise that to the families that have lived here for centuries, Horsemanship is a highly prized skill, and something that Hallador and his family have running deep and strong in their blood.

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The day started for them with a huge pot of lamb stew (one of the farms own lambs, no supermarket imports here) prepared by Maya very early that morning. It was delicious, and was something we’d come back too at the end of the day for the après roundup party, washed down for the riders with a bit of fortifying Brennevin and beer. Then the group (about 30 family and friends) mounted up and set off for the mountains, to join the other riders rounding up the horses.

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Much of our time had been spent planning the filming operation. It was turning into a bit of a military operation, with bits of paper, maps and weather reports lying around the place. There’s only the 3 of us, with the option for some fixed cameras (gopro and timelapse), we had no “air support” (though someone did fly a camera drone over the roundup bizarrely, much to the consternation of the horses) so everything had to be done from the ground. With a river crossing, a huge valley, a roundup pen and over 2000 people to work around, we had our work cutout!

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Neil drew the short straw (and took time off from his riding lessons, plus he’s the youngest and fittest of us) and hiked up the nearest mountain to set up a timelapse and film into the next valley, whilst Ian and myself stopped filming bullocks and went off down towards the river crossing in the van, buoyant in the hope we could predict exactly where the horses were going to cross. A couple of GoPro’s were placed in likely spots and were ready (sort of!), the wait began.

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Now as waiting goes, this has to be one of the most spectacular places to play the game. The snow capped mountains and wild carved valleys are stunning. Time slipped by and we were rewarded with the sight of wild horses coming up the valley towards us and the crossing point.

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Things never go quite to plan of course and the horses decided to make a last minute adjustment to their crossing point, leaving Ian with a mad 100 metre dash to get back into position. As the the horses made their way up and out of the valley, Ian and myself got ourselves back to the roundup pens, meting up with a very out of breath Neil who had made his descent from the mountain.

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The horses were corralled into a field and the huge crowd got themselves into position to se the horses being sorted. Its done in batches of 50 or so as they wouldn’t all fit in at once.

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There was an intense level of excitement around the place, you could feel the adrenaline levels going up. on a blast of a horn from Hallador, the first horses were led into the central arena to be sorted, and then the madness starts as horses rush headlong around the arena, pursued and herded by their owners…its a bit like jumping headlong into a wildebeest migration!

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This part of the proceedings is a very ancient custom, it was one of the few times of year when all the farming families were gathered in one place. Inevitably, it was a place where scores and disputes between farms and farmers were settled, in a gentlemanly fashion, with fists, horse trades were made, and the young men were able to prove their worth by wrestling errant horses away from the melee into their pen, much to the admiration of a potential suitor. Nowadays of course, things are a little different, but it’s still a time of great celebration, with singing and large quantities of your favourite tipple being consumed, and of course the girls are still there to be impressed!

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Its really quite something to see people boldly going into a throng of wild horses in a confined space, separating them out with great skill (and sometimes brute force – no easy task with a wild horse) and then preparing for the next group.

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The love and care lavished on these horses is plain for all to see, and despite the vast quantities of Rum, Beer and Brennevin being consumed, order is maintained throughout by the gentle but firm hands of the roundup King and his lieutenants. No-one mistreated the horses or misbehaved at all, their love of horses is too deeply ingrained and they were enjoying the day far too much

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Those that have enjoyed the liquid refreshments a bit too much take advantage of the Icelandic Horses legendary abilty to “go with the flow” of their riders swaying, skillfully predicting their owners unsteady movememnts so they don’t fall off. Its certainly an unusual sight, but an impressive one nonetheless, and a superb way of getting back home when slightly worse for wear!

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Music and happiness filled the air here throughout the day, some outstanding singing was done by various groups of men and women, breaking into a traditional song of derring do and legends of old. Its one of those times when you can sense the atmosphere is one of excitement, joy and thanks that a great summer has passed.

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Its tinged of course with the mark of winters approach, the knowledge that for them (the farmers) the most difficult part of the year is to come. A time when the tourists have gone, the roads have disappeared under a metre of snow and farm life revolves around surviving through til spring. For the moment though, its about enjoyment. The day came to its end, the sun dipping away and the riders heading back to the farm.

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Another huge bowl of Lamb stew fed us (Ive got the recipe by the way if anyone is interested) and evening turned to night with lots of singing and more than a few bottles opened, drunk and discarded. It obviously fell to our little British contingent to sing a song too, but Im not sure that Neil and my rendition of Beatles tracks holds a candle to traditional Icelandic folk songs, even if Hallador and Snorri were perhaps generous with their applause.

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For us it was a massive privilege to have been part of this, Ive fallen in love with these horses (my daughter may yet get her wish to own a horse now!) and the warmth and hospitality of Hallador and his family will stay with us for ever, so it was with a smile but a tinge of sadness that we left to continue towards our journeys end….

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The Horse Whisperers…Part 1

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I’d start by saying that that no, they don’t whisper to horses here in Iceland, not as a matter of course, that was just to get your attention. But whilst you’re here, you may as well sit down, grab a cup of tea and read the ramblings of three chaps who’ve just spent a most amazing week on a farm called Brimnes in Skagafjörður filming the outstandingly beautiful and charismatic Icelandic Horse.

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Hosts for our week (as they were back in May when we visited at foaling time) were Hallador, his wife Maya, daughter Ragga and son in law to be Snorri. They are a wonderful farming family and typically Icelandic in their hospitality, warmth and generosity – Maya’s baking is superb! She rules the house with kindness and cakes! Their family has farmed this very spot for well over a hundred years now, and you can instantly tell the love and deep knowledge they hold for their land its wildlife and their livestock. It nestles down at the foot of the mountains by the sea in this stunningly beautiful Fjord.

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This is a typical Icelandic farm with a mixture of sheep, horses and dairy cattle, the milk they produce is a mainstay of their income and jolly tasty it is too! Nothing beats the taste of fresh milk straight from the cow to my mnd.

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Of course in order for the cows to give milk, they have to give birth, so there is a small herd of young calves being brought on for beef, freely roaming the fields that stretch down to the sea.

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Halldor has won awards from the government for his work on this land, recovering many hectares of useless rocky rubble fields (leftovers of centuries old lava flows) to become prime grazing land by the simple and farsighted method of spreading old hay and muck over many years. A brilliantly simple method that just accelerates what mother nature would do on her own.

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Snorri spends much of his time dealing with the cattle, (which incidentally are left with their horns intact because they like the look of them), getting up every morning to do the milking and tend to any problems the cows may have by hand, like any farm with livestock, there is always an animal that needs care.

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It is apparent that Iceland has relatively little in the way of serious issues like TB, F&M etc. but then they don’t go in for very much in the way of intensive rearing, and of course they don’t have a badger problem either. This is no heavily mechanized animal husbandry here, just a deeply rooted personal care for their animals and the products and income that they bring.

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Its not just medical care of course, as any farmer knows there are hundreds of jobs that need doing on a working farm. For the horses there is the shoeing. A horse needs its hooves maintained on a regular basis to cope with the rough surfaces of tracks and roads, so it has to be shod on a regular basis. Back home that would mean getting the farrier in normally, but not here. Snorri and Halldor do their own farrier work, and extremely sklilled they are at it too. Old shoe removed and new shoe fitted and on in just a few minutes.

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They cold shoe by the way, recycling and refitting older shoes from a massive collection they keep – very little gets thrown away here, very effective recycling the old way!

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The cattle and sheep are both distinctively Icelandic breeds, built for the harsh winters here. interestingly the sheep don’t provide as much income as you would think, they pay their way in wool and meat of course, but if you were thinking of getting rich on sheep farming in Iceland, think again. That’s not to say that sheep don’t figure highly on the farmland, they are hardy, with good wool and their meat is delicious, but even though they take care of themselves in the highlands for much of the year, there is an awful lot of work involved in rounding them up and of course at lambing time! Not a profitable exercise…

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The same goes for the main attraction of our visit, The Icelandic Horse, no-one breeds them to make money, but to an Icelandic farmer, the thought of not having some of these unique animals on your land is simply unthinkable.

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So a bit of background to this wonderful animal.

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They weigh between 330 and 380 kilograms (a bit more than our lens then) and stand an average of 13 and 14 hands (132 to 142 cm) high, They are tough, sturdy looking animals with typically long manes and a wide variety of coat colourings, (its actually a double coat for extra insulation in the extreme climate here

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The horses tend to not be easily spooked, probably the result of not having any natural predators, they tend to be friendly, docile and easy to handle and as a result of their isolation from other horses, disease in the breed is pretty much unknown. Any horse that leaves Iceland is not allowed to return, by law!. As a result, native horses have no acquired immunity to disease, so any outbreak would be devastating to the population.

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The Icelandic is a “five-gaited” breed, as well as the typical gaits of walk, trot and canter or gallop, the breed is noted for its ability to perform two additional gaits.

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The first is a gait known as the tölt. This is known for its explosive acceleration and speed; it is also comfortable and ground-covering and is a natural gait present from birth.

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The breed also performs a gait called pace (skeið, flugskeið or “flying pace”) It is used in pacing races, and is fast and smooth with some horses able to reach up to 30 miles per hour. Not all Icelandic horses can perform this gait; animals that perform both the tölt and the flying pace in addition to the traditional gaits are considered the best of all. needless to say we all had a try out on the horses, and as we were total beginners to the game, as I have to say the horses were very kind to us funny englishmen and their camera things.

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Developed from the horses (they are distinctly horses NOT ponies, even though relatively small,) taken to Iceland by the Vikings in the 9th and 10th centuries, and they are mentioned frequently in the rich literary of Icelandic history.

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Horses were often considered the most prized possession of a medieval Icelander. War horses were sometimes buried alongside their fallen riders and bloody fights were arranged between chosen stallions, these were for entertainment and to pick the best animals for breeding. Frequently going to the death, stallion fights were an important part of Icelandic culture, and drunken brawls among the spectators were common.

In more recent times before motorized transport became common in Iceland, you were readily judged by your horse. It was a sign of your social standing, far more so even than the number of sheep or the size of you land. Of course, it also helped to have a fine horse if you had your eye on a pretty girl (ed note. For the single man (and some women) Iceland has a stupidly high proportion of very, very good looking girls, but that’s for another post). Icelandic horses still play a large part in Icelandic life, many races are still held throughout the country from April through June, as well as performance classes showcasing the breed’s unique gaits. Winter events are often held too, including races on frozen bodies of waterline Lake Myvatn in the North.

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In the summer, those Horses not being used directly around the farm are turned out to high pasture up in the mountains. Mares and their foals are left to their own devices to feed on the fresh mountain grass.

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It’s a time for the new foals to learn about being a real horse, experiencing the difficult terrain, the changeable and sometimes extreme summer weather up there.

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I have to say that Im no horse expert, but the Icelandic Horse has a confidence and happiness about it that you don’t often see elsewhere, whether that’s down to it being able to live pretty much a wild existence for large chunks of its life I don’t know, but it pays off with these guys that’s for sure.

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Anyway, as the summer turns to autumn, its time for the farmers to think about getting their livestock prepared for the harsh winter ahead. First to come down from the hills are the sheep. Its hard, hard work climbing endless mountains to bring them down and its no surprise to see stooped, exhausted farmers spending 18 hrs a day trying to get the last ones in.

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Last to be rounded up from the high pastures come the horses, this is where the fun comes in, and what we mainly came to film, but that will have to wait until next time….

Foal play in the North with the Icelandic Horse

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A slightly different week has just flown by. In the great tradition of Producers disappearing off on jollies leaving the crew to get on with the real work, Andy went on holiday last week with his family…

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(note from Andy – had a great time with whales in Husavik, horse riding in the mountains, did the Geysir, Hot springs, Gulfoss etc etc, but did get a bit stuck finding the only snow drift left on the roads here, had to reverse a mile downhill…in a whacking great camper van, nice)

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Meanwhile, Ian and Neil started work on one of the main characters in the film, The Icelandic Horse.

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It is that time of year when new life appears everywhere, birds are nesting, flowers budding and the rather unique Icelandic horses are giving birth.

Icelandic horses are interwoven with the landscape and history of Iceland and the people are passionate about them. They are the only breed of horse allowed in Iceland and if a horse is exported, its not allowed back, all to preserve the bloodline of this horse thats been here since Viking times.

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Some of these cute little fellas are friendly, perhaps a little too friendly at times! which can make filming them almost impossible. For some reason they love the front element of a telephoto lens. We use a canon 200-400 F4 on our F55 and most of the horses love to stick their faces into it. They also love to creep up behind you and nudge your arm for attention, which ruins your shot! this has happened so many times. The first 5 were funny,  the other 347 less so…to say the least.

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Luckily for us, there was only one trouble maker and the rest of the herd were very wild horses, which meant we had to make friends with them to get close to the new born foals, Ian thinks he has become the new horse whisperer!

The first day in the mountains with the horses was tough, soon as the horses spotted Ian and Neil carrying a massive camera and tripod they moved further and further away and quickly disappeared over the horizon. Errrrrrm plan B.

The old fashioned way….bit by bit and slowly, slowly catchy monkey (horse) over the course of a week we finally gained their trust and they allowed us to to film the very cute, clumsy and beautiful foals up close. one little fella in particular has become quite a star, more on him throughout the year.

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These horses are not riding horses or trained by man in the sense that we are familiar with horses in the UK or US. They are wild horses and when they have new born foals they are nervous and very wary of people. When the horses are getting ready to give birth they leave the main herd for a few days, find somewhere quiet and out the way to birth, then slowly head back to the herd.

We stayed on Brimnes farm with our friend, a true legend and “King of the round-up” Halador, along with his son in law Snorri (named after one of the most famous vikings of old). They told us these wild horses would be tricky to film, especially the youngsters, and tricky it was, but very rewarding. Halador and Snorri are great guys, old and new generation Icelanders, both passionate about horses, farming and snuff. They insisted we have a little try of the old stuff! a few coughs and splutters followed by watering eyes was very funny. Apparently Ian and Neil are good at sniffing snuff and Snorri and Halador were suitably impressed with our individual techniques.

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The shoot was brilliant, seeing the foals born into the wild, take their first steps, their first milk,  with no human intervention or contact was pretty cool. We will follow the guys and horses later in the year when the big horse round-up happens in September which is going to be awesome. We will cover that event in much more detail closer to the time.

Heading off to meet Thor today, he’s on a little island in the Westfjords  getting ready for Eider time, raising chicks and gathering down from the nests. Promises to be be very cool, mind you stuff with Thor generally turns out pretty cool

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Skoll!

Editors note – the use of snuff in this blog is entirely fictionalised, we are not making a snuff movie

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lone but not alone

Lone Icelandic horse. One of the few pure black ones we have seen so far. They are part of the landscape, interwoven into the fabric of Iceland, historically and culturally. All individual, all full of character, we like the Icelandic horse. We will be filming with the horses later in the year which we are looking forward to.

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Icelandic horses. Hard as nails these chaps and very friendly, unique and beautiful. They seem to particularly like nibling fingers and cameras. Some of the young horses got slightly amorous around Ian And Neil Probably that beard and Cairngorm twang.

Upon retreating from the horses well endowed advances Ian disappeared down a very deep hole. The only thing left sticking out the ground was a F55. About 8 ft below was Ian stuck down a big old hole.

Good skills.

We should have taken a photo. All you could see was a F55 on a level with the snow. You could not see The bearded one at all.

Just to top the mornings filming off Neil got a massive telling off, from a strange Icelandic tour guide for parking correctly, yes correctly, and for hogging all the horses attention.

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