Horse Training Team Fired After Abusive Video Surfaces

The Icelandic Horse, Iceland

A team of horse trainers working under the auspices of an upcoming television series directed by famed Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur have all been fired, RÚV reports, after a video showing one of the trainers beating one of the horses spread widely on social media.

Training shut down immediately

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) were tipped off about animal abuse where the horses were being trained and immediately put a stop to all horse training being conducted there, in South Iceland. Guðni Halldórsson, director of the Icelandic Equestrian Associations, was also informed of the horses’ treatment and reported it immediately, while also contacting Baltasar Kormákur, as he is part of the television series team that the horses are being trained for.

New trainers to be hired within Iceland

“We decided to immediately fire, not just the rider [who was abusing the horse] but the entire team, seven people,” Baltasar told reporters. “These are people who received really good recommendations, having worked on a lot of productions, such as Gladiator and Game of Thrones.”

He added that this team had been informed ahead of time that they had to train these horses in accordance with Icelandic animal welfare laws. “Not that we expected anything else, but we nonetheless made this clear to them. This [treatment] is obviously not at all within those guidelines, but far outside of them.”

Baltasar said that a veterinarian has examined the horses and found no physical injuries, fortunately, and expects that they will resume training using Icelandic trainers soon.

Icelandic Horses Could Help Save their Faroese Cousins

Icelandic horses Berglind Jóhannsdóttir

The Faroe Islands’ unique horses are at risk of dying out. Their advocates are considering using Icelandic mares as surrogates in order to save the breed. RÚV reported first.

Faroese horses (also called Faroese ponies) share many similarities with their Icelandic relatives, though they are slightly smaller. Both breeds share the ambling gait known as the tölt and grow shaggy winter coats that they shed again in the spring. DNA analyses in 1978 and 2003 have established that the Faroese horse is indeed its own breed, and that the Icelandic horse is its closest relative.

Icelandic horses in Denmark could serve as surrogates

The biggest difference between the Icelandic and Faroese breeds may be their number: while there are 250,000 Icelandic horses all over the world (some 40% of them in Iceland), there are fewer than 100 purebred Faroese horses alive today, including only 25 fertile mares. In order to ensure the breed’s survival, Jóna Ólavsdóttir, the chair of the Faroese Horse Association (Felagið Føroysk Ross), says at least 3,000 horses are necessary.

Since the size of the Faroe Islands could not support such a large horse population, the association is calling on Faroese authorities to abolish the current export ban so that Faroese horses could be bred on the Danish mainland. One proposal that has been made entails transporting ten Icelandic horses from Denmark to the Faroes, where fertilised eggs from Faroese horses would be implanted in them. The Icelandic mares would then be transported back to Denmark, where their offspring would be the start of a population of Faroese horses outside of the Faroe Islands.

Anonymous donor has offered to pay for surrogacy

If the plan goes ahead, it wouldn’t be the first time Icelanders help the Faroe Islands to maintain their horse breed. In 2018, the Faroese Horse Association and the Icelandic Farmers Association (Bændasamtök Íslands) partnered to create a family tree and digital registration system for the Faroese horse breed, with information on origin, offspring, breeding, and more.

The surrogacy project has a projected cost of $220,000 [€200,000]. An anonymous donor has reportedly already offered to pay the cost if legislative changes make it possible.

Police Drop Blood Mare Investigation

Icelandic horse

Icelandic police have dropped the investigation into the treatment of mares during blood extraction, Bændablaðið reports. The ill-treatment of mares during the practice was first brought to light in 2021 by foreign animal welfare organisations.

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) had previously investigated the treatment that appeared in a video that the animal welfare organisations AWF and TBZ published on YouTube in November 2021. MAST requested more information and unedited footage from the animal welfare organisations but did not receive it. A statement released by AWF/TBZ spokespersons in December 2021 said they would not hand over any unedited videos to MAST, but were willing to cooperate if a public investigation took place. MAST therefore referred the case to the police for further investigation at the end of January 2022.

The case was dismissed a year later, or at the end of January 2023, according to information from the South Iceland Police Department. The police repeatedly tried to obtain additional data from the animal protection organisations, which hid behind German laws that did not require them to hand over the data.

However, sources say that the representatives of the animal welfare organisations were in fact willing to hand over the data, but only if a legal request was made, in order to ensure the best evidentiary value of the data. Such a request was, however, never received from Iceland.

Since the 1980s, horse farmers in Iceland have been able to gain extra income by extracting the hormone Equine Chorionic Gonadotropin (eCG) from their pregnant mares. The hormone extracted from pregnant mares is mainly used to boost fertility in other farm animals. Only a handful of countries operate blood farms besides Iceland: Russia, Mongolia, China, Uruguay, and Argentina. Iceland tightened regulations on blood mare farms last year.

What is Iceland doing about blood farms?

icelandic horse blood farm

Since the 1980s, Icelandic horse farmers have been extracting the hormone Equine Chorionic Gonadotropin (eCG) from their pregnant mares to gain extra income. The hormone can be removed from the mare’s blood and sold for large sums. Although the practice has mostly been ignored in Iceland, the release of a documentary by the German animal rights organization, The Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF), in 2021 raised questions on animal welfare and blood harvesting surveillance. The documentary showcased animal cruelty at Icelandic horse farms where the hormone was being extracted. It also revealed that the hormone is mainly used to boost fertility in other farm animals, and Iceland is one of only a handful of countries that operate blood farms. The documentary stated that about 5,000 Icelandic horses overall are subjected to the procedure.

Read more: Iceland Tightens Regulations on Blood Mare Farms

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) reported that they were aware of all of the farms and conducted on-site inspections but admitted that they visit less than half of the farms each year. After the documentary was released, Iceland’s government took an interest in the footage. Members of parliament sought answers, and Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Svandís Svavarsdóttir organized a working group to investigate blood farming. The company that produces pharmaceuticals from Icelandic mares’ blood serum, Ísteka, announced that it had terminated cooperation with the farms that have been accused of animal mistreatment.

In early January of 2022, MAST completed its investigation and found that the abuse captured in the documentary constituted a breach of animal welfare laws in Iceland. Those convicted of animal cruelty in Iceland can face hefty fines and up to two years of jail time, according to Icelandic law. However, in many cases, those convicted only face a minor fine and no jail time. Animal welfare specialists in Iceland have stated that an outright ban on extracting eCG from mares is unrealistic, and they suggest that it needs to be monitored to ensure that animal welfare is not violated, and such parties are punished.

Regulations were further strengthened in June of last year, including the introduction of licensing requirements.

Avalanche in Skagafjörður Leaves 15 Horses Dead

An avalanche in Skagafjörður, near the town of Hofsós in North Iceland, has left 15 horses dead.

The avalanche occurred around 1pm on December 26. The Search and Rescue team “Grettir” was called to the scene, but all horses were found dead upon their arrival.

Residents and farms of nearby Unadalur are reported as being safe from the avalanche, with no further reported damage to property or livestock.

Rescue teams in Iceland have been very busy over the holiday season, with many roads left impassable in the winter weather, leaving many travelers stranded as well.

Emaciated Horses Spur Review of MAST’s Supervisory Role

Horse in Iceland

The National Audit Office will launch an assessment of the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority’s (MAST) monitoring of animal welfare, RÚV reports. The decision follows, among other things, reports that the desperate condition of roughly twenty horses in Borgarnes had been reported to MAST without any immediate action being taken.

In desperate condition

On Wednesday, news broke that nearly twenty emaciated horses had been kept inside for the entire summer in a stable in Borgarnes. The condition of the horses was described as “desperate.”

Speaking to RÚV on Wednesday, Steinunn Árnadóttir – who also keeps horses in the area – maintained that concerned parties had filed multiple complaints with the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), but no action had been taken.

“They’re emaciated. They’re not allowed outside. They don’t see sunlight. They’ve been deprived of green grass. There’s a filly that I saw this spring, probably in May, that’s been inside ever since.”

Following these reports, the horses’ owner – who did not respond to interview requests from RÚV or other outlets – removed the horses from the stables under cover of night. RÚV reported that the person in question, who also keeps sheep and cows in other places in Borgarnes, had exhibited threatening behaviour to other residents.

The Animal Welfare Association of Iceland subsequently released a public statement calling for MAST to take action: “This isn’t the first time that MAST has responded unsatisfactorily to well-reasoned claims of poor treatment of animals. MAST has the legal authority to respond to such complaints without delay … it is clear that a thorough review of the authority’s supervisory role needs to be conducted.”

An assessment is launched

This morning, RÚV reported that the National Audit Office was set to launch an official review of the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority’s monitoring of animal welfare. The result of the assessment will be published in a report to Parliament.

Guðmundur Björgvin Helgason, a comptroller with the National Audit Office, stated that now was an opportune time to assess MAST protocols, especially in light of the reports of emaciated horses in Borgarnes.

“We regularly review possible assessments,” Guðmundur remarked, stating that administrative profiling of MAST had been undertaken in 2013, which was the year that animal welfare supervision was moved from the Ministry for the Environment to MAST. “So we’ve never had a point of contact with these sets of issues within MAST until now.”

The National Audit Office’s decision to launch the assessment was, in part, spurred by a few recent instances in which MAST’s supervisory role was criticised. “Which is why we felt that it was an appropriate time to review their role. If we come across any issues with regard to MAST’s supervision, we hope to shed further light on them.”

A brief update

The above-mentioned Steinunn Árnadóttir, who keeps horses in Borgarnes, spoke again to Vísir today, stating that a mare and her filly were still being kept inside the aforementioned stable in Borgarnes, deprived of sunlight. According to Steinunn, the owner had been forced to put his horses, which were malnourished and in desperate conditions, to pasture, but for some reason, the mare and filly were still inside the stable.

Iceland Tightens Regulations on Blood Mare Farms

Icelandic horse

Blood mare farming, the practice of extracting blood from pregnant mares for sale, will soon be subject to a licence in Iceland. This is one of several measures the Icelandic government is taking to tighten and clarify regulations on the controversial practice. The new regulations will be valid for three years, during which authorities will “assess its future,” according to a government notice.

Iceland’s blood mare farm industry made international headlines last winter after the Germany-based Animal Welfare Foundation posted a documentary on YouTube under the heading “Iceland – Land of the 5,000 Blood Mares.” The documentary contained footage showcasing ill treatment of horses on blood farms, including horses being shouted at and hit.

Read More: Blood Farms Documentary Shocks the Nation

Following the publication of the video, the Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir appointed a working group to review the practice and whether it ensured the welfare of the animals involved. The working group’s report, published yesterday, concluded that existing regulations on the practice were “very vague and not acceptable, as they concern a fairly extensive and controversial activity.”

More detailed provisions

In addition to implementing a licencing system for the practice, the group proposed tightening regulations on blood mare farming “with regard to the views of stakeholders and others with whom the working group spoke.” These include more detailed provisions on conditions and facilities at the farms, monitoring of horse health, grooming, and temperament assessment, as well as the working methods of blood collection and internal and external monitoring. The report’s authors proposed banning production systems based on mass production of mares’ blood, as they could endanger the welfare of the animals.

The working group consisted of representatives from the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, the Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), and the University of Iceland’s Centre for Ethics. The Animal Welfare Foundation and many other interest groups were consulted in the writing of the report.

Only six countries operate blood farms

Since the 1980s, horse farmers in Iceland have been able to gain extra income by extracting the hormone Equine Chorionic Gonadotropin (eCG) from their pregnant mares. This hormone exists in pregnant mares’ blood and can be removed and sold for hefty sums. To begin with, blood farming was a secondary practice on horse farms, but later, some farmers turned their focus to the practice, with data from 2019 indicating that 95 farmers supplied pregnant mare’s blood. Just one company, Ísteka, buys and processes blood harvested from mares in Iceland.

The hormone extracted from pregnant mares is mainly used to boost fertility in other farm animals. Only a handful of countries operate blood farms besides Iceland: Russia, Mongolia, China, Uruguay, and Argentina.

New Icelandic Ad Campaign Trots Out Email Replies While You Horse Around on Vacay

A new ad campaign is likely to have travellers chomping at the bit to visit Iceland. Tourism PR company Inspired by Iceland now invites travellers to “OutHorse” their emails—that is, reign in the common urge to work while on vacation and instead, relax, undistracted and unbothered, while a real Icelandic horse tölts out an email response for you on an enormous, equine keyboard.

Visitors can choose from one of three Icelandic horses, each with their own unique horsenality, to hoof up thoughtful replies. There’s Litla Stjarna (“Types fast, but might take a nap), Hekla, and Hrímnir (“Assertive. Efficient. Shiny hair”). “They are trained in corporate buzzwords,” explains actor Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (Trapped) in voiceover. “Your boss will never know the difference.”

This isn’t Inspired by Iceland’s first rodeo when it comes to employing quirky, zeitgeisty humour to encourage people to travel to Iceland. The company actually grew out of the eponymous 2010 ad campaign that put an ironic and optimist spin on the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption. In 2020, during the global COVID-19 lockdown, they encouraged would-be travellers to “let it out,” and scream out their lockdown frustrations via speakers set up across the country. And, most recently, it skewered Mark Zuckerberg’s Metaverse, inviting visitors to come experience the country’s “immersive, open-world experience.”

If you’d like to join the herd of travellers capitalizing on this “revolutionary service,” gallop over to www.outhorseyouremail.com, and sign up.

Origin of Horse Head Used for Pagan Curse Still Unknown

Capital-area police are still trying to determine the origin of the severed horse head that was mounted on a stake on the land of a small capital-area community last week, RÚV reports. The grotesque totem, which derives from ancient pagan tradition, is called a nithing pole and is intended to curse the receiver.

See Also: ‘I take it as a threat’: Nithing Pole Erected at Local Commune 

DCI Stella Mjöll Aðalsteinsdóttir says that police have not received any reports of missing horses. Icelandic horses are microchipped, but this is no use to authorities in this instance, either: the head used on the nithing pole was severed above the neck, where its chip would have been located. Police are still awaiting the final report from the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), but are conducting their own parallel investigation, which Stella Mjöll said she was unable to comment further on at time of writing.

Animal did not suffer

Police believe it unlikely that the head was taken from a slaughterhouse, as there are strict rules about the disposal of byproducts at such facilities. According to the information that MAST has been able to provide about the animal thus far, the horse was two years old and was killed with a single shot to the head. Sigríður Björnsdóttir, a veterinarian of equine diseases at MAST, noted that the head has not started to rot, which either means that the animal was shot shortly before the nithing pole was erected, or that the head was stored in a refrigerator beforehand.

Under Icelandic law, horse owners are permitted to slaughter their animals without a veterinarian present, as long as it is done correctly. Thankfully, this seems to have been the case with the horse in question. Hallgerður Hauksdóttir, chair of the Animal Welfare Association of Iceland, says the organization will not be investigating the incident themselves, as it does not appear that the animal suffered.

Nithing poles in recent years

As mentioned, nithing poles are used in pagan tradition to curse the receiver. It is only considered a true nithing pole if a horse head is used.

One of the most famous uses of a nithing pole occurs in ch. 60 of Egill’s saga, which was written around 1240 AD, but nithing poles—or symbolic variations thereof—have been erected in Iceland several times in much more recent memory.

The last instance of a real nithing pole being erected was in the Reykjavík suburb of Breiðholt in 2012. In that case, it remains unknown who the pole was intended to curse, or where the horse head was sourced.

In 2006, a farmer in Otradalur in the Westfjords attempted to curse a neighbor using a nithing pole topped with a calf’s head. The man was charged with making a threat on the neighbor’s life.

In 2018, an opponent of salmon farming erected a nithing pole topped with a cod’s head in Bíldudalur in West Iceland.

“Blood Farms” Documentary Shocks the Nation

Icelandic horses are a unique breed, bred in isolation in Iceland since settlement times.

Since the 1980s, horse farmers in Iceland have been able to gain extra income by extracting the hormone Equine Chorionic Gonadotropin (eCG) from their pregnant mares. This hormone exists in pregnant mares’ blood and can be removed and sold for hefty sums. To begin with, blood farming was a secondary practice on horse farms, but […]

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