Monday, September 20, 2010

''Feeling down? Saddle up.'' ~Author Unknown

I have some little stories about our first weekend in Iceland, and one epic tale of the horse-riding mayhem that is göngur.

Arrived on Thursday night, and ate some delicious roast foal at Sigga's! So cute and good-tasting. We chilled out during the day on Friday, did the barest minimum of unpacking and then went out to Bjarki's birthday party after dinner. Bjarki* is a dude that Sigga and Amma know through some sort of complicated and tangled Icelandic web. Anyway, he is lovely and married to a nice Brazilian-Japanese girl called Patricia, and we all had a great time at his party. 
They are both food scientists, so we had some really interesting food choices, most notably raw saltfish with teriyaki dressing, and hangikjöt (smoked lamb) with chocolate and chili. I have to admit I couldn't really get past  the weirdness of the hangikjöt - it wasn't bad, exactly, just weird.

* The name he uses is actually his middle name; his first name is Árnljótur. It's a pretty tough pronunciation, but there's also another reason - it translates to Ugly Eagle. Why anyone would put 'ugly' into a name is beyond me. Yay Iceland.


On Saturday we went and herded sheep with my great uncle Andrés. It was an exciting but exhausting day. Sigga didn't come because she tore a tendon in her knee last week, courtesy of an angry ewe at the rétt. So it was just Ross, me, Andrés, his daughter Beta and her fiancée Benni. 

It was really really really cold when we set out at 6.30am, but after the ride to the meeting place, we were pretty warmed up and the horses were sweaty. We cooled down again while waiting for the other farmers to arrive, but it became bearable once the sun came up. 

As we started out over the mountain, everything was so lovely. Ross had a nice horse called Glampi (which translates to Sparkles - my little pony style), although he got a warning from Beta before he started -
''Look, this is a really good horse and everything... but... he likes to go fast, and he's done göngur before, so he's quite... sprightly.'' Which Ross was totally fine with, and I must say, he handled his horse really instinctively well.

My horse, Kilja (pronounced Kill-ya, this is relevant...) is probably the same one that I went on several years back with Maja - he threw me off that time, and once he got to the final stretch, he was pretty out of control and we were both cranky. This could totally be my fault, I don't think I really have the right kind of assertiveness that horses like. I have a feeling that they really need to know who's boss, so maybe I make them uncomfortable by not being boss enough. 

Anyway, we had a pretty good ride through the valley; found a few sheep with lambs, walked our horses through rivers and swamps, admired the amazing scenery... And then towards the end, it got a little bit bad.

 Just before the house where we usually get to stop and have coffee, Andrés got a call over the radio, saying that some sheep were escaping down towards the river. So while he stayed and watched the sheep that we were pushing forwards, he sent me to the river to head them off. Which I'm pretty sure I did, I saw a lamb and ewe heading in my general direction, and I pointed my horse at them and made lots of noise, so they turned around and went the right way again...
However, Andrés thought that there could be more sheep by the river, so I tried to head down that way, but my beloved horse decided that he'd rather be with his friends. He just got really edgy and skittish - when I tried to turn him toward the river, he'd walk sideways in the opposite direction. So of course I got nervous and tired, which probably made him worse. 

I met up with Beta and Benni, so my horse chilled out a little at being among friends, but then we went right past the coffee-break house (noooo - coffee! a trailer for the tired sheep! a toilet! some food! We had been on horseback for about six hours by then, I was DYING for a pee). But, I thought, at least we're getting close to the end. Once you reach Kálfardalur, you pretty much herd the sheep down a proper road - albeit a proper road on the side of a mountain - so the older sheep know that they're nearly home, and there are plenty of other riders to help out. 

However, Beta and Benni got called to the other side of the river to help with the sheep over there. So I tried to go back to meet Andrés and Ross, but my horse wigged out and refused to turn back. I couldn't even get him to stop and wait, he was just too antsy and annoyed with me. He kept whinnying to the other horses, and then Benni's horse would reply, and I'd pray that he wouldn't go straight off the side of the road to try to reach his friend. 

So yeah, clearly the horse was feeling my tension, so we just followed the rest of the riders and sheep, until they had to stop and wait for the riders across the river to catch up. This was also fine, I figured it would give Ross a chance to catch up. My horse, however, took the opportunity while I was off his back to start nudging me. At first I thought it could have been some sort of mild affection, or maybe his face was itchy, but no. As he kept doing it, I became convinced that he was just being a jerk and trying to push me over, so that he could then trample me. Or at least laugh a snide, horsey laugh.

Anyway, he didn't manage to live up to his lethal name, Ross turned up, and we eventually started moving again - I had to get him to hold my horse still so I could get back on, as he kept shifting forward at the last minute. We were definitely not friends. 

Because we took so long to get started, we were the last of the riders to go through the gate, and I worried out loud about whether we should close it behind us...  Ross decided to do the good manly thing and go back and close it, but since I was still riding Mr. Cranky-Mane, I just kept going.

I saw Ross head back to the gate, then I looked around again and saw them rocketing back in my direction, arms and legs a-flailing. Then, I saw nothing. He didn't catch up to me in the next few minutes, so I did what any formerly sane, exhausted, horse-scared person would do. I concluded that Ross had obviously fallen off his horse and broken his neck, and now lay paralysed and dying on the side of the road (Spoiler: he didn't fall off, and was therefore completely fine).

 My fears were supported when I saw Beta talking to the driver of the sheep trailer, most likely so that she could drive back and pick up the broken corpse of my husband. (Yeah, okay, I get melodramatic when I'm tired). I met up with Benni, who was wondering what Beta was doing, so I decided to just get him to lead my horse home, while I went back to find out what happened.

Turns out Andrés had turned up with some more exhausted sheep, and needed trailer lady to go back and pick them up. Everyone was a bit puzzled by me and my horselessness, but I got a ride back with a guy and his two little kids, who weren't old enough to ride yet. 
Of course, the car ride was excruciatingly slow, as we had to follow the sheep and riders back to the rétt. So I got to go into awkward and painful detail about how I wussed out of riding home, and I overreacted about my husband on a horse. Plus he was incredibly unimpressed that I didn't know the names for proper horse colours. Good times.

Anyway, I finally got back to the farm, where Sigga and Mum were waiting for us. Benni offered me my horse back, but to be honest, I was pretty much just trying not to cry in front of anyone, so trying to get back on that cranky jerk was the last thing I wanted to do. 
As it turned out, he freaked out on the way back to the farm, got away from Benni, and then almost pulled Ross sideways off his horse when he tried to grab him, much to the horror of everyone else. I didn't actually see any of this, as I had my head down bawling, but Sigga did some pretty exciting commentary. So I felt somewhat justified in being a teeny bit terrified of him.

And that was that. Ross and I were pretty much in agony when we got home, but we went in the hot tub and felt quite a lot better. Plus, for some reason it always looks better in hindsight. Pain endorphins? 
Sigga and I discussed it - you get to that one point on the road in Kálfardalur, and you're tired and chafed and sore, your horse is cranky, you've been yelled at and your boots are soggy, and you decide that you will never ever ever go on göngur again. 
And yet I know I'll be there again next year. Oh well, at least it'll be another funny story.


Vicki said...

Oh Olga, I could feel your pain as I was reading this, hopefully you have both fully recovered now. Obviously you were a tad too busy to take any pics!!!

Maja said...

Man I hate dickhead horses. What a jerk. I think if I'd been there, I would have hit him. Seriously, he deserved it! It's a pity you didn't have a whip.

Do you remember that time when I had a horse who would only follow other horses? That sucked. And he would only jump over streams if I went first. There were so many streams.

Gongur is pretty tough going, but nothing beats horse riding in the mountains with a purpose!


olga said...

Yeah, fully recovered now. I did take photos, but couldn't figure out how to put them on Sigga's computer before...

Ha, yes, Maja, I remember that horse - I think I had his buddy again this time. But yeah, somehow it seems worth it in the end - riding with a purpose is pretty awesome.