Icelandic horses are everywhere! There are thought to be over 800000 in the country. Pretty impressive when the human population is just under 340000! They came from Norway about 1100 years ago and are now the only line of this European breed to still exist. Icelandic horses living outside of the country cannot be returned however, as the island horses have lived in isolation for so long their immunity to common equine diseases is compromised.
These horses are small and stocky but have amazing personalities. Most are friendly and every single one is unique. There are variations in eye colour, coat colour and manes. The Icelandic language has over 100 different words to describe the colours and patterns of these horses. They have a unique double coat which protects them from the extreme weather found in Iceland and can cope with the rough terrain better than other breeds of horse.
The horses are semi-wild. In the summer months they roam the highlands gazing on the thyme filled hillside. However in the winter months the farmers round them up and bring them to lower ground. They are moved down from the highlands in herds with fast moving dogs and farmers on horseback, a spectacle worth seeing.
These horses are usually friendly but with any horse take care when approaching them. Remember that they are a powerful and semi-wild creature and are not always predictable. Keep eye contact to a minimum and if they start to back away do not follow, move away and give them the space they are trying to create. We stopped in the Highlands and a couple of horses became too friendly trying to get into the car with us. Sometimes you will find yourself surrounded by these friendly creatures and it can become difficult to photograph them as they gostle to see what is happening. Move away and ignore them for a while, they will soon lose interest.
You will see horses in fields everywhere but remember these fields are private land and you can’t just jump a fence to get closer. Many of the fields have signs requesting the horses are not petted or fed and these should be acknowledged.
Road safety is also a big consideration. Route 1 is a main road and vehicles move fast. You can’t just pull over when you see a horse you fancy photographing. There are safe stopping places but most are not near the horses.
If you do find horses that are away from traffic and not on private land with signs then photography is possible. I found using a 100-400mm lens helped greatly but a 24-70mm lens is ideal. Hand-holding the camera is essential as the horses do not stay still. If you have it on your camera make sure that image stabilisation is switch on. Set the aperture so that most of the face is in focus. This will be somewhere between f/5.6 and f/8. As the camera is being hand-held make sure that your shutter speed is fast. This can be achieved by increasing your ISO to around 400 (higher if the light is poor) however an ISO of 100 is ideal if possible to reduce noise.
Icelandic horses can be photographed easily using a phone or point and shoot camera as well. As with a bigger camera think about what you want to be the focus of your photograph and keep your safety and the safety of the horses in mind. Make sure that you keep the phone as still as possible, sometimes quite difficult if you are surrounded by over-friendly horses or being buffeted by the wind.
Don’t always focus on the whole horse, look at specific areas like the face or mane. The eyes of these horses are really special but they are usually hidden by their flowing mane.
Taking photographs of Icelandic horses in the environment is also worthwhile. Try to find them with an interesting landscape behind to show how these gorgeous creatures live. They are often grazing in flower filled meadows which are beautiful alongside the colours and markings of the horses.
In the winter months the horses take on a different appearance when they are encrusted in ice and snow and this can show their personalities even more. Their colours are amazing against the white of the snow and the contrasts make for stunning images.