The fate of over one hundred horses in Northwestern Iceland remains unknown following extreme weather conditions last week, RÚV reports. Approximately 80 horses have been confirmed dead. A veterinarian at MAST (the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority) has called the conditions unprecedented.
Nearly 80 Horses Dead
Around the country, dozens of horses kept outside during last week’s storm perished. Conditions were worst in Húnavatn counties were nearly 80 horses have died. Over 100 horses are missing. Many of the surviving horses are suffering from extreme exhaustion. For the past few days, the rescue association Blanda in Blönduós has responded to 15 calls for help involving horses.
“There was no way to reach these horses for two or three days. The horses were completely out of sight. In such conditions, there’s nothing you can do, the horses being without food or water for all this time,” Sigríður Björnsdóttir veterinarian at MAST stated. According to Sigríður, last week’s storm was the most fatal natural disaster to have befallen Iceland’s horses in decades.
“Yes, I think it’s possible to assert that. I have worked in this field for 25 years, and this is a unique event during this period, at least. We could not have expected this.”
Sigríður added that there was nothing to suggest that farmers had failed to take appropriate measures.
“These are traumatic events for the farmers, and I would like to emphasise that it’s not a matter of the farmers being unprepared. There’s nothing to suggest that. More often than not, for example, we see that a few horses have died on many farms, as opposed to many horses dying on a few farms. This is happening to experienced people. It isn’t a question of negligence. It’s simply the result of unprecedented weather conditions.”
Björnsdóttir also stated that keeping horses outside is a tradition that is unlikely to change. As there are no stables, keeping the animals inside is not an option.
Accused of Animal Cruelty Online
Ingunn Reynisdótttir, a veterinarian in Húnavatn county, says that local farmers are downhearted. Serious charges have been levelled against them over the past few days.
“The farmers are exhausted, both physically and mentally. They are just completely spent, and to make matters worse, they’ve been accused of animal cruelty on all of the media websites. I know them to be model farmers who do everything in their power for their animals.”
Magnús Ásgeir Elíasson, a farmer in West Húnavatn county who lost four horses, stated that the past few days had been incredibly tough. In an interview with the news programme Kastljós this week, Magnús said that from last Tuesday to Friday, during the storm, he had slept for only five hours as he was endeavouring to save his horses.
Tryggvi Rúnar Hauksson, another farmer in Húnavatn county who lost six horses, said that he had shed no tears over financial losses. The real damages were emotional. According to Tryggvi, local farmers had done everything in their power to save the horses.
“Horses have kept outside since this country was settled.”
As noted on the website Horses of Iceland, all around the world, most Icelandic horses are “kept outside or in open stables their whole life all year round, and only the riding horses in Iceland are usually in stables over the winter.”
According to MAST, the Icelandic horse is especially well suited to the outdoors: “The Icelandic horse has lived in Icelandic nature for centuries and is especially well suited to the outdoors all year round. The main benefit of being outside is freedom, where the horse’s natural behaviour goes unimpeded. Their physical needs are also better served outside, especially as regards physical activity, which is a basic need among horses, generally, but especially important to young horses, whose musculuskeleton systems aren’t fully formed. The horses diet is often times more diverse if they are kept outside, enabling the horses to better regulate their body temperature, as they have a thick winter coat.”
This article was updated at 11:25