Horse Roundup in Iceland – Back to Basics
Seasons change, even though the world may seem at a standstill. And autumn in Iceland means that it’s time for farmers to search for, gather and collect their sheep and horses. The animals graze in secluded mountain valleys all summer, enjoying their freedom in the wild, growing stronger, healthier and more independent as they must fend for themselves.
Roundups, or réttir, are an occasion for a true country festival. “The atmosphere was great and we had a lot of fun,” says Freyja Amble Gísladóttir, who lives in Hofsós, North Iceland. In the last weekend of September, she rode with other farmers and horse owners from the area to Unadalur valley in Skagafjörður – a county known for its many horses – and helped with the roundup in Unadalsrétt. “There were almost 200 horses in the valley and people from ten farms took part. We were really lucky with the weather. It was beautiful.” The process took two days. “On the first day we rode into the bottom of the valley and drove the horses almost all the way home, so on the next day, we only had to ride the last leg to the corral. The horses knew where they were going and we only had to give them a little push.”
Horse roundups are always held in late September and early October and have become quite the tourist attraction. Laufskálaréttir, in the valley south of Unadalur, is the largest and most famous roundup. The 500 or so horses in the roundup are easily outnumbered by the up to 3,000 people who come to experience the spectacle: The loose horses come running down the mountain and are sorted in the circular pen afterwards. Farmers sing harmonies; the atmosphere is festive and distinctively Icelandic.
This year, it was back to basics. Due to gathering restrictions because of the COVID-19 pandemic, no guests were allowed at the roundups. And so the roundups became a private affair, as they used to be. Yet thanks to modern technology, people could still observe from far and wide. For the occasion, Freyja took over Horses of Iceland’s Instagram account and posted videos from the ride and roundup in Unadalur. Her broadcasts proved very popular with up to 1300 people viewing each video.
Next year, hopefully, tourists will be able to return, book roundup tours with farmers and experience Icelandic horse culture at its best.
Text: Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir. Photos: Freyja Amble Gísladóttir.