The 2019 FEIF YouthCamp was held in Hestheimar, South Iceland, 7th–14th July. Participants had a lot of fun and made new friends but the three-hour horse trek outside in nature stood out.
“Yes. Martin Luther King is a good example,” agrees Karen Emilía Barrysdóttir Woodrow with the group of teenagers sitting in the dining room at Hestheimar. The horse farm and guesthouse in South Iceland is hosting the 2019 FEIF YouthCamp (7th–14th July), and, currently, the participants are learning about leadership qualities. Karen, who leads the discussion, is a speaker at Young Leaders seminars and chairs the Icelandic Horse Association’s Youth Division. “What qualities did Martin Luther King have which made him a good leader?” she asks, resulting in a few raised hands. “Yes. Persuasion. He was very good at persuading people.”
Karen with her students.
At the camp are 32 young horse lovers (13-17 years old), mostly hobby riders, from 11 different European countries, along with their country leaders. The camp isn’t strictly about horses, but rather about “bringing people together across borders, strengthening the relationships between young riders—and friendship,” explains Karen. She organises the team motivation exercises and educational programme, whereas Helga B. Helgadóttir, Karen’s predecessor, has taken care of other activities. “We always start by ‘shaking the group together’,” she says, referring to games and exercises designed to make the participants better acquainted with one another. “They usually don’t know each other beforehand,” she explains. They have also taken the group to a horse show at Friðheimar, a vegetable and horse farm in the vicinity, on a tour of the Golden Circle, including of Geysir hot spring area and Gullfoss waterfall, shopping in Reykjavík (mostly for horse gear) and pizza and ice cream. And, naturally, they have gone riding, on longer and shorter excursions.
During their break, the participants go outside for some fresh air, and we from Horses of Iceland follow them to a field where the Hestheimar breeding mares are grazing with their foals. “Iceland is an amazing country – the land of the Icelandic horse!” raves Bo from Belgium, who has two Icelandic horses at home and is ambitious about competitions. She has visited Iceland before but never been at a camp with her peers like this one and she is thankful for the friends that she has made. But the highlight of the trip was the three-hour horse trek. “The tour was very nice. We explored the country and the landscape was beautiful. In Belgium there are only buildings. At home, there’s an outside track but we have to take the horses by trailer for ten minutes to get there. Riding outside is good for the horses. I would like to ride more outside. The horses are more free,” she reasons. “I like to be with horses. Then I can be myself. I can be alone and nobody irritates me.”
Bo from Belgium.
Anders, who lives in southern Norway, is visiting Iceland for the first time. His family has four Icelandic horses and Anders goes riding every day. He trains his own horses and competes on them. “I like it a lot,” he says with a smile. He’s happy about the YouthCamp. “It’s fun meeting new people!” However, to him, like Bo, it’s the three-hour ride that’s his favourite experience. Both felt that riding for hours in untouched nature and rugged landscapes was something special. “It was very nice,” says Anders. “We were riding around sheep on narrow paths in an open area. And we had good meat soup!”
Anders from Norway.
Helga has been involved with the youth work of the Icelandic Horse Association for many years and she helped organising the previous two FEIF YouthCamps that have been held in Iceland, in 1992 and 2005. “I didn’t want to fully resign from my position until after the YouthCamp,” she says – after the camp she will be handing the reins to Karen. “It’s so much fun, having a group of young people here who are ready to make new friends,” she adds. “Some friendships last a lifetime. There’s even been a marriage! Between a girl from Norway and guy from Iceland who met at a YouthCamp.” When Horses of Iceland visit Hestheimar, the YouthCamp is coming to an end and the participants are planning special events for the evening – as are the organisers. Helga laughs: “We are planning a surprise performance. We’ve asked the kids to step out of their comfort zones, so it’s only fair that we do too!”
Karen and Helga.
The FEIF YouthCamp goes back to 1986 when FEIF – International Federation of Icelandic Horse Associations organised an “international youth week” in the Netherlands with the Dutch Icelandic Horse Association. Two years on, Germany hosted a similar event and called it FEIF YouthCamp, as it has been known ever since. The YouthCamp is held in a different FEIF member country every other year, opposite the FEIF YouthCup, so far in various European countries, as well as the US and Canada. Apart from bringing young people of different nationalities together, all of whom are passionate about the Icelandic horse, the camp also highlights the horse culture of the host nation. Throughout the week a range of activities, with and without horses, are offered, from hiking to crafts, and even polo lessons on Icelandic horses. Participants don’t need to be expert riders but should have some riding experience. The aim of all FEIF youth work is to create an awareness of different (horse) cultures, raise standards of all aspects of horsemanship, and foster international friendships.
For further information, visit feif.org.
Text: Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir. Photos: Gígja Einarsdóttir.