The Most Valuable Servant
A journey back in time – with Iceland’s most treasured four legged animal
Known worldwide for its famous five gaits, remarkable strength – in spite of its relatively humble size – and mild temperament, the Icelandic horse is quickly becoming a significant export product and trademark for our little country. But long before it became sought after outside the coasts of Iceland the nationals recognised its wonderful characteristics and have commonly referred to it through the ages as ‘the farmer’s most valuable servant’. Considering the importance of the horse in the often harsh surroundings and difficult conditions Icelanders have had to survive in, it is not surprising to find an entire museum dedicated to it. The Icelandic Horse History Centre at Hólar in Hjaltadalur is a captivating museum that both educates and entertains its visitors.
The museum, rightly situated in Skagafjörður, a region famous for its superb breeding farms that continuously produce horses of great excellence, focuses on communicating how closely intertwined the Icelandic horse is with the nation’s history. It gives an animated and interesting look not only into the past but also into the life of the common workman and the livelihood of the people. In the spirit of traditional Icelandic hospitality, the museum places much emphasis on personal service. Visitors are guided through the exhibition and therefore given the opportunity to ask questions and chat. The exhibition is actually set in an old barn and guests are allowed to touch all objects and in addition, there is plenty of reading material, film footage and photographs to make the experience as vivid as possible. Guests also get to visit a nearby barn to meet the Icelandic horse ‘in person’ and can even mail a letter the way people did when horses were used by postmen. You write the letter with a feather pen and are taught to fold it in the custom of old. You then stamp it with the centre’s seal and send it off to your loved ones.
The centre is, at its core, an educational institution for research and communication of knowledge about the Icelandic horse and as such, accepts donations from those interested in supporting their work.