I could hear the horses before I saw them, their hoofbeats the high slap of cupped hands clapping, beating the punctuated four-beat rhythm of the tolt, the breed's distinctive running-walk gait. From our summerhouse, I watched them through binoculars. Pinpricks on the silvery wet sand, they shimmered like a vision out of the Icelandic Sagas, the medieval literature that had brought me to Iceland in the first place. Briefly the horses took shape as they cut across the tide flats: necks arced high, manes rippling, long tails floating behind. Their short legs curved and struck, curved and struck. I would watch them until they disappeared beyond the black headland and wonder who their riders were, where they went on their rapid journey. I wanted to go with them.
Icelandic folktales warn of the gray horse that comes out of the water, submits briefly to bridle and saddle, and at dusk carries its rider into the sea. For me, it was the watcher who was carried away.
Since publishing A Good Horse Has No Color: Searching Iceland for the Perfect Horse in 2001, I've become very involved with the national breed organization, the Icelandic Horse Congress, and now co-edit their quarterly magazine. It's a very good place to learn more about these wonderful animals. To see them in action -- and to see riders crossing the sands near my old summerhouse -- visit my friend Stan Hirson's video-blog, www.hestakaup.com.