I grew up with Icelandic horses in the U.S., which is how I ended up visiting Iceland for the first time in 2006. I moved here 9 years later, and am definitely still a horse nut.
I’ve had some amazing experiences in Iceland, but my favorite has been Laufskálaréttir.
Laufskálaréttir (loyf-skow-la-rett-ur) is the largest horse roundup in Iceland. Réttir simply means roundup, and the word is used for both horse and sheep roundups. In the fall, farmers gather their animals to bring home for the winter.
Fall is the season of réttir in Iceland. Everyone comes together to gather the sheep or horses, and there’s a lot of celebrating, singing, and overall good times to be had.
Laufskálaréttir takes place in North Iceland. Riders gather from all over Iceland and the world to participate. They first gather the horses, then bring them down from the mountains.
The horses that run free in the summer are mostly young horses, mares, and foals. They thunder down the mountain, running through a field and across the road into a large pasture.
The horses hang out in the pasture for awhile, while the riders take a small break and unsaddle their riding horses before beginning the sorting.
People can wander around, petting the horses and taking pictures.
This is a great time to get up close and personal with Icelandic horses, who are incredibly personable and fun to hang out with.
They’re definitely not afraid to meet you or try to steal your lunch.
Icelandic horses are a special breed of horse. We call them the sports car of the horse world since they’re small but incredibly powerful. They’re also really fun to ride. “Willingness” is valued in the breed, meaning the horse should be energetic and eager to move forward.
Icelandics are also a gaited horse and have gaits in addition to the standard walk, trot, and canter/gallop. All Icelandic horses naturally do a running walk called the tölt, and some have a 5th gait called the flying pace.
You will see these small, fuzzy horses all over when driving in Iceland, but don’t be fooled by their small size. They are not ponies and you really should see what they can do.
They also tend to have really cool hairdos.
Additionally, Icelandic horses are the only type of horse in Iceland. Once a horse leaves the island it can never return, and no horses have been brought to Iceland for over 1,000 years.
For this reason, Icelandic horses are one of the oldest and purest breeds in the world. These horses were absolutely crucial to the Icelandic way of life for centuries, and hold a special place in the hearts of Icelanders.
After everyone has unsaddled their riding horses, the horse sorting begins. The several hundred horses that have been gathered belong to several different farms, so need to be divided up before they go home.
The sorting corral is shaped like a pinwheel, with a center area for sorting. Small groups of horses are allowed into the center, where they are then sorted into the correct farm’s corral.
The sorting is pure chaos to watch. People are trying to direct the horses, horses are darting away from people trying to direct them, and the crowd is trying to see and take pictures.
The sorted horses then wait in their farm’s corral to go home.
After the sorting is finished, there is a big dance and celebration in a nearby town. This event is a necessary task, but also a fun and enjoyable gathering.
I absolutely loved witnessing it. Icelandic horses are beautiful and powerful, especially when running free in their natural environment. It’s also not often that you see so many horses (and colors!) gathered in one place.
It was definitely a must-see event for this Icelandic horse enthusiast.