“Like a Different Breed:” Icelandic Horses Isolated for 60 Years

Experts are conducting genetic research on a herd of horses that has been in isolation for 60 years in Southeast Iceland, Vísir reports. The horses are from the Skaftafell region and have never set foot (or rather hoof) in a stable. Their hooves have never been trimmed, their teeth have never been floated, and they have never been dewormed. The herd is nevertheless in great health, though its members are significantly smaller than the average Icelandic horse.

“They are small, the kinship has caused them to become very small and few offspring are born even though there is a stallion in the herd; one foal was born last year, none this year,” stated Kristinn Guðnason. The eight horses have been transported to Kristinn’s farm, near Hella, to be researched by specialists. Kristinn says he has not seen horses like these before, which he calls self-bred. Researchers hope to determine whether the horses are genetically distinct from the Icelandic horse breed.

Calmer temperament than other Icelandic horses

It’s not only the horses’ appearance that differs from the average Icelandic horse but also their spirit. “It seems their temperament is such that they take very well to a new environment. They are so good-natured and not afraid of anything, they might have that superiority over our bred horses, this calm demeanour, this calm that the people of Skaftafell also have,” Kristinn says, referencing how the region’s inhabitants have taken eruptions and other natural disasters in stride.

Hooves trimmed by lava

The herd has not received the veterinary care or grooming that Icelandic horses normally enjoy. Their hooves, for example, have never been trimmed, but it has not caused any issues. “They have never been tripped but the lava saw to that. You can see the hooves on these horses, it’s as if they’ve been kempt by the best horseshoers.”

Óðinn Örn Jóhannsson, an inspector from the Food and Veterinary Association, examined the horses earlier this week and gave them his highest grade. “They are of course much smaller but their physical constitution and condition is good. They are like another animal breed or horse breed, there’s a big difference,” Óðinn stated.

Missing Woman Found in Skaftafell

An extensive search for a woman who went missing in Skaftafell National Park on Thursday afternoon came to a happy conclusion just after midnight, Vísir reports. The woman, who is in her sixties and originally from Japan (although she’s been living in Europe for several decades), was found cold and suffering from prolonged exposure to yesterday’s harsh weather, but otherwise safe and sound.

Search and Rescue teams in Southeast Iceland were called out on Thursday evening to look for the woman, who got separated from her family around midday while hiking in Skaftafell park. According to ICE-SAR spokesperson Davíð Már Bjarnason, when the search got underway, 27 teams—or around 100 people—were searching in the area, as well as a Coast Guard helicopter equipped with heat vision. Searchers from surrounding regions then arrived with search dogs and drones. Seven hours into the search, around 11pm, even more searchers were called in from as far away as the capital area, bringing the number of searchers to 300.

Searchers were able to get a general idea of where the woman might be by tracing her cellphone, but that still left the group with an enormous area to cover: Skaftafell encompasses 4,807 km2 [1,856 m2] and is filled with hiking trails. Adding to difficulties were the high winds that the region was experiencing at the time, with speeds reaching up to 23 m/s [51 mph], and temperatures hovering around 1°C [33°F]. Weather conditions—particularly wind speeds—worsened overnight. Luckily, the woman was very well prepared for a winter hike and around midnight, she was finally found by two searchers on foot, not far from where she’d been first been separated from her family.

“She was very happy to see people,” said Friðrik Jónas Friðriksson, chair of ICE-SAR’s southwest division. “She had seen the helicopter fly over her a few times, but they didn’t see her. She didn’t know about the searchers, but there were two of them who saw her trail, followed it, and found her there, huddled up and extremely cold.”

After being taken to doctors in Höfn in Southeast Iceland, it was decided that the woman should be transported to the National and University Hospital in Reykjavík and treated for hypothermia. She is, however, otherwise unharmed and should be able to be released from the hospital after a night of observation.

Skaftfell Arts Center Appoints Scottish Director

The Skaftfell Center for Visual Art in Seydisfjörður, East Iceland has appointed Gavin Morrison as its new director, Austurfrétt reports. Scottish by birth, Gavin has been living and working in Southern France as a curator and writer, but also has history with the center, having served as its honorary director from 2015 – 2016 and curating several shows of Icelandic artists there in that time.

Skaftfell, a vibrant and much-respected organization that curates visual arts exhibitions, hosts educational programing, and runs an artist residency, is very much at the center of Seydisfjörður’s flourishing arts scene. It is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year and, per the statement made by the board regarding Gavin’s hiring, “…believes that it is important for Skaftfell to strengthen and expand its international relations.”

For his part, Gavin sounds excited to become a more permanent part of the Seydifjörður art scene himself. “I have long admired the various roles that Skaftfell plays within the life of Seyðisfjörður as a cultural, social and educational hub for the local community and visitors to the area,” he remarked. “Its engagement with the complexities of international culture in relation to the specifics of local conditions is a fascinating model. In the role of Director, I plan to continue this tradition and create a dynamic program that grows in international significance but remains rooted in the local context.”

In addition to his curatorial work in Iceland, Gavin has also collaborated with institutions in Sweden, the US, Japan, and Scotland. He is also currently at work on a novel.