The Horse Whisperer
Iceland is certainly awe-inspiring in many ways. But its core identity is to be found in its inhabitants. When came the desire to feature locals, our first thought naturally went towards Evelyn. We met Evelyn in the North three years ago, and the minute we started our conversation, she became a continuous source of inspiration and more importantly, a dear friend. Evelyn gives you this impression of being 10 friends at the same time. She actually probably would not mind having 9 “holograms” of herself to cope with all of her projects.
She moved to Iceland 24 years ago, to fulfill a lifelong dream and share her passion of the Icelandic horse, driven by values she holds dear and dedication. And good news, she doesn’t seem to be stopping being creative anytime soon. Because Evelyn has so much to tell, we thought we would share a bit of her story with you. A story of sincerity and humility.
From Germany to Iceland
Beginning of August 1995. Aged 22, Evelyn steps onto Icelandic ground for the first time to pursue her childhood dream of riding across the uninhabited highlands. The very next day, she starts her riding adventure over Kjölur, an ancient riding trail. The experience of the Icelandic wilderness added to a lifechanging encounter with the chief guide of the tour, Svenni, who will later become her husband, and Evelyn gets hooked with the feeling of having found the place she belongs to.
During the two following years, and a few repeated prolonged stays in Iceland later, Evelyn finishes her Master studies in Cultural Science and moves to Iceland in June 1997. Lýtingsstaðir, 65.40°N. The Cultural Scientist she is puts a priority in learning the language, “the key to a nation’s culture”, Svenni being the best teacher by not speaking any other language.
“The decision was brave seen from now but it was not a difficult decision at that time because it felt right the way it was and it still feels the same.”
Although Evelyn admits it was a big change to move from Germany to Iceland and that the communication with her family and friends the first years was not as easy as it is nowadays with the Internet, she could adapt well to all situations, and never had to deal with such a thing as homesickness.
Years later, Evelyn’s memories of these times are so vivid, and her voice tone echoes off the journey that brought her here. Evelyn talks about Iceland with the same enthusiasm and gratefulness as the 22-year old she was when she moved. Now accompanied with her husband and her favourite travel mate, Júlíus, their 16-year old son, she keeps living endless adventures.
Bonding with the Icelandic horse
Although Evelyn had no contact with the Icelandic horse where she lived in the East of Germany, she had fell in love with this small but sturdy horse, that she likes to portray as “the mirror of the Icelandic rough landscape”.
“Her name was Gua. I was flashed by her appearance, by her willingness and soft tölt and all the beautiful landscape around that I had been dreaming about for many years.”
Draumsýn, Farsæl, Hátíð, Kveikja… From the very first horse she rode in Iceland, Gua, “a pretty black mare with thick mane”, to Sómi, a horse Svenni gave to Evelyn when she returned to Iceland in May 1996, Evelyn has not forgotten any single horse she has been riding. Sómi is now 30 years old and from the way Evelyn talks about him, you can tell the feelings are deep and that he is a big part of her life.
The many hours spent in the saddles have led to plenty of memorable experiences, of which Evelyn doesn’t want to miss any second. When asked about her most vivid memories with horses, she refers to the annual sheep round ups. Every year, at the end of the Summer, farmers collect their sheep from the mountains, helped with their horses, sometimes for days until all sheep are found. And sometimes in heavy snowstorms.
“Then you have to rely on your horse, trust it completely and it will bring you home.”
As soon as you enter Lýtingsstaðir, it is almost tangible in the air. The relationship of mutual respect between Evelyn and her horses.
“The horse is always your companion, it is with you, part of your mind. Makes you able to travel, to move from one point to another. Gives you wings. I have deep respect for the horses and think it is not self-given that it allows us to use it as we do.”
Evelyn cares about preserving the very special relationship that links Icelanders to their horses and hopes that people will always remember the horses’ crucial role for the people since the settlement. She is personally involved in keeping the story alive, as she recently rebuilt an Old Stable and Horse Pen, in the traditional architectural style, out of turf and wood. A step back in time and a beautiful tribute to the Icelandic horse. Imagine, we thought, how it was like for riders and their horses coming to this shelter after a long ride in harsh weather, and warm up thanks to the turf high insulation properties. Can almost hear the wind whistling…
Leading the way on Responsible Tourism
Iceland obviously has changed since 1995, but in the same speed as other countries, according to Evelyn. Iceland observes a rural exodus, with amplified consequences for such a small population like Iceland. But it is clear that the tourism development that started in 2010, has facilitated things for the residents in the countryside, with more services available, and new earning money opportunities.
“The combination of farming and tourism is sometimes the only chance to remain as a farmer.”
In addition to her 100-horse herd, Evelyn has around 90 sheep, and expect around 150 lambs next month. To her, tourism is a chance to make a living on her farm without becoming an extensive farm giant. Her horse farm and holiday in Lýtingsstaðir has been developing a lot over the two last decades. Visitors can pause and experience the Icelandic horse in its natural habitat and its history. 11 weeks of themed riding tours during the Summer time, 1-2 hour rides around the farm surroundings, accommodation in wooden cottages in pastures with horses all around, farm visits, and the program “Horses & Heritage” in line with Evelyn’s love for roots, heritage and stories. Oh the stories.
Tourism, yes. But not at any price. What made the reputation of Evelyn’s place is its authenticity and the charm of a small family-run business, where guests are offered a personalized and individual service. All in the respect of Nature, horses, and cultural heritage.
“We want to take care of the resources that have been given to us. We want to use them to preserve them but never to exhaust them.”
As Evelyn rightly says, the North of Iceland has never been overrun by tourism due to the further distance from Keflavík airport. It takes a little extra effort to come up North, even more in wintertime when driving conditions and weather can be tricky. Unlike many sites on the South Coast, the infrastructure is not very strong in the North, things are somehow more simple and interestingly not necessarily designed for tourists in first hand. This helps preserving the region’s sense of place and authenticity.
“We should keep our region special and authentic and try to attract guests that are ready to love and respect it that way.”
As we write these lines, come to our minds barbecue evenings in the cottages during the bright summer nights, rides in the untouched wilderness of North Iceland, our hands disappearing in the horses’ manes, the dogs playfulness, blinding snowstorms in the valley, the turf houses lit by oil lamps, the smell of the Christmas tea. All senses awakes.
There also, our son got his first tractor ride at the age of 17 months, and just got to ride his first horse now at 21 months, so yes, Evelyn surely is an incredible memory-maker.