Living Legends: How Icelandic Horses Bring Viking History To Life
Each time we go horse riding in Iceland, we celebrate ancient Viking roots. In fact, Icelandic horses themselves are living reminders of our history. They are direct descendants of the Vikings’ own steeds. Horses are central to Icelandic history. Here’s what to know about some of the most powerful horses in Nordic lore…
Horses And Vikings Worked Together
Horses are revered in the Icelandic Sagas. Vikings treated their horses with respect and reverence. Sometimes warriors and their horses were buried together when they passed away.
Icelandic horses are known for their positive attitude, intellect, and hardiness. They likely developed these traits in the Viking age. These small, scrappy horses spent that era riding long distances in cold Nordic winters, traversing the chilly sea, and enduring battles and perilous expeditions.
In ancient winters, farmers gave pigs and other livestock precious food and barn space. Horses were somewhat on their own. Icelandic horses spent most of their ancient winters outside in the cold, where they needed to find food on their own. The horses dug for food in the tough terrain, which encouraged the cleverness and boldness they are known for today.
Icelandic horses aren’t intimidated by frigid terrain, blustering winds, or harrowing snow. They are always ready for adventure, with a friendly attitude to boot. With all that in mind, it’s no surprise that these horses were so important in Icelandic mythology. Here are some of the most famous horses from Nordic lore…
Skinfaxi and Hrímfaxi
Skinfaxi and Hrímfaxi, whose names mean “shiny mane” and “frost mane,” are said to help open and close the day. According to Nordic lore, each morning Skinfaxi carries the Day (Dagr) across the sky in a chariot, with his mane creating the sunny light across the land. And Hrímfaxi does the same with Night (Nótt) each evening.
This clever, speedy horse made a name for himself in Norse mythology when his owner, a giant, offered to build a wall around the gods’ kingdom to protect them. At first, the gods told the giant that if he could finish the wall within one winter, he would be repaid with the sun, moon, and the goddess Freyja. Svadilfari soon pitched in to help. Svadilfari’s efforts enabled the giant to work so quickly that he nearly finished by the deadline. Then, the god Loki swept in to make mischief. He wanted to delay the horse and giant’s progress. So, Loki transformed himself into a mare to distract Svadilfari from his work. The wall wasn’t finished in time, and Svadilfari’s union with Loki created Sleipnir, the magical eight-legged horse.
Sleipnir grew up to become the trusty horse of Odin, the most powerful god in the land. Sleipnir’s eight legs made him agile and swift. Because of this, it is said that shamans rode Sleipnir far and wide across the universe as they sought out great wisdom and carried out incredible acts.
The legends of each of these horses live on at our farm. And each time we ride our own Icelandic horses we are paying tribute to the Icelandic legends that lived before us. So join us for your own Icelandic Saga adventure!
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