Once upon a time, I was mingling with the horses and their riders in Iceland, with my camera in hand. Not only was it the perfect day, but I was rather happy with my place in the bushes eyeing off the most spectacular chain of horses coming down from the hills, then watching as they collected themselves in pods. All rather dramatic, so I went back to the studio and wrote this:
on the five gaits
She crouched in the grasslands adjacent to the steep slope. A carpet of brown toned to soft reds against sharpish blue. Trumpeting and snorting, the snake wove itself. The din of horse hoof pounded the dirt. A woman among riders.
I had joined the farmers and their Icelandic horses. Ergo, a Viking import, is the purest in the world, permitted so by isolation, an assured exclusivity. No diseases, no predators. If she leaves, she is not allowed back. She is free to roam and forage. Her wild sure-footedness and quick thinking survive a harsh climate. I asked about breed and purity and acknowledged this was a rare thing. Farmers might frolic with four-handed creatures, sometimes even two! Ergo pointed out the five gaits. It is the Tölt and the Flying Pace that set an Icelandic horse apart from other breeds. Tölting involves a brisk walk, delicately clicking into a four-beat dance step, one foot touching the ground, a spill-free kind of bounce. A flying gait is two beats, hooves on one side simultaneously touching the ground. Hundreds of these free spirited horses canter down from their summer pastures to be reclaimed. Well, that is once upon a time. I witness a re-enactment for romantic traditionalists. Fog dispersed into the blue of the day and wet baubles on grasses dried. Turps swilled. Hearts swelled. I felt a surge of gathering folk, a bubble in my own chest. I was close to the heart of this land.
Artists dispersed to nocturnal treats. Body fell into rhythm with elemental forces. I canter steadily. A puppet of the wind, propelled forward with a gait that defined a practice. I was drunk with fistfuls of surrealist wilderness, my bones frozen to my skin. Limbless, I hailed a ride in a red van for the last stretch and sat down to a brew of hot cranberry tea.