Part 1. Three Guys and a Horse from Dalvik

So, here’s the story I found at the Landsmot 2006. But it really starts here in Dalvik:

In the likely event that you’ve never been there, Dalvik is a very scenic and charming fishing village along the Eyja Fjord above Akureyri in the north of Iceland. A couple of hours from Varmahlið.

Eyja Fjord?  Akufeyri? And Varmahlið?

Okay, it’s time we had a little geography. Here. This is a satellite map of Skagafjordur, the part of Iceland we are talking about.  Notice the rugged terrain, still snow on the mountains in the summer…. 


The arrow on the upper right of the map is Dalvik and the pin lower left is where the Landsmot is located.   You can see that it is an hour and a half drive each way through some mountains!

Our story goes back and forth between the Landsmot and Dalvik.  Every day.  And it is very important to get the feel of the distance and what it must mean to drive there through the mountain passes, the one lane bridges, the hairpin turns… What must this be like for an 86 year-old man who has….

Whoops! I am getting ahead of myself.  Let’s get back to the Landsmot.  

We are near the end of the competitions and I have still been trying to find a story to film, something more than the usual cranked-up horses and professional riders waving trophies while the crowd chants Til Hamingju!  Til Hamingju! I have not come up with a story and the next day will be the finals! I just have to put my faith in Icelandic serendipity — it’s worked for me so far.  

So, we’re in the dinner tent and bring our trays to a spot at the long table and sat next to a total stranger.  Over dinner, our neighbor, who we now know as Hilmar, — unusual in itself because atypically of Icelanders he actually introduced himself — tells me about this fabulous horse that he part owns. I listened politely because in Iceland, just about everyone either owns or part-owns a fabulous horse.  (I was almost a one-third owner in the World Champion for tolt.) But Hilmar was beside himself with anticipation because although he was not a competition rider himself, his horse had made the Five Gait Finals that would be held the next morning.

Whoops! Now I took him seriously.  The Five Gait Finals.  The top 8 horses, winnowed down from the hundreds at the Landsmot and the tens of thousands in Iceland, would be competing with the top riders at the Landsmot.  And the guy telling me this was not some one sixtieth syndicate investor, but the actual half-owner of the horse who would be ridden by the other half-owner, his good friend from Dalvik, Stebbi, Stefán Friðgeirsson.  

As if this were not enough to get me out there with the camera, there is the Third Guy who turns out to be Stebbi’s father and if you know anything about Icelandic names you will have guessed that he is Friðgeir. Friðgeir is a story in himself and he turns out to be another hero.    

First, let’s go back to the opening procession. If you haven’t already seen it, you can watch the 20 minute film here. But below is a clip of all you need to see for this story.

Each of the riding clubs rode into the stadium led by a horseman holding the club flag. You just saw the Hringur riding club from Dalvik go past.  But there is something I bet you missed!

Let’s look at the replay in slow motion.

Can you make out that one rider with something black on his back?:  A backpack?

Care to guess what is in that backpack?  His lunch?  No. Water?  No.   His life!

That rider is Stebbi’s 86 year-old father, Friðgeir, and he is carrying an oxygen tank on his back. Riding in the opening ceremony meant that he would be on horseback for about 2 hours, more than he could be separated from his oxygen. So he carried it in the backpack.  Of course!

Also, every day that his son, Stebbi, rode, Friðgeir drove down from Dalvik with the oxygen on the seat beside him.

The next morning, we have arranged with Hilmar to meet Friðgeir so we can all watch Stebbi and his horse compete in the finals.

Hilmar invites us come along to the other side of the stadium where Friðgeir will be waiting in his car.  

They watch the Youth Finals from the car.

But Hilmar will have to watch the competition from the other side of the field rather than the grandstand. He carries his own chair.  I think it was not the price of the ticket but the tradition of watching with the crowd.

Vindheimamelar becomes 5th Avenue and 42nd Street where everyone (who is anyone) passes by and you get to meet your friends.  I waved Dísa Herdis Reynisdottir) over and introduced her to Fríðgeir and she was nice enough to chat him up until Marci Stacy came by and joined us.  

Only at this point do I find out the name of the horse I am supposed to root for:  Dagur frá Strandarhöfði.

The tolt and trot competition.

Now it’s time for flying pace. You can see from the still frames why it got that name!

The riders go back to the start of the pace track for a second run.  If you can identify the other riders by sight, you will see that Dagur and Stebbi are in very good company!

I’ll give you a hint that Stebbi was the only person who did not earn his living from horses.  His  “day job” was… no, you’ll have to come back up to Dalvik with me to get the answer.  And it is astounding.  You will understand even more why these guys are my heroes.

They will get another run at the pace, but we only have eyes for Dagur…

Did you notice that the announcer referred to Dagur as an “the isabell one” rather than a palomino?  We asked about it….

So it turns out that the word is “Isabell” and if anyone uses it for a nightclub, please credit my friend Trausti from Skógarnes.

Still, we had no idea how this was connected with a color. But thanks to the internet, one of our readers (actually a good friend of mine) came through with an explanation.  Andrea Brodie wrote:

“The name originated  from  an occurrence involving the Spanish Princess Isabella Clara Eugenia, who was the  sovereign of the  Spanish Netherlands and who was the daughter of Philipp II.

“Princess Isabella vowed not to change her originally white blouse until her husband , the Archduke  Albrecht of Austria,  had  in fact conquered the city of Ostende, which had been beleaguered by him since 1601.   As this Beleaguering of the town  lasted 3 years, 3 months and three days (until 1604),  one can safely assume that the colour of the shirt  was indeed a  dirty yellow by that time. There is another variant of the story, in which  the shirt belonged to  Queen Isabella, the Catholic, and the event was the takeover of Granada, liberating it from the Moors. “

Thanks Andrea! And I I hope that anyone else will write in with information when I get in a hole. By the way, I like this explanation so much that I might never use the word “palomino” again just so I can tell the story!

The results came out and show that Dagur was in good company.

1 Steingrímur Sigurðsson / Geisli frá Sælukoti Gustur
2 Daníel Jónsson / Þóroddur frá Þóroddsstöðum Fákur
3 Þórarinn Eymundsson / Kraftur frá Bringu Stígandi
4 Sigurður Sigurðarson / Skugga-Baldur frá Litla-Dal Máni
5 Sigurbjörn Bárðarson / Stakkur frá Halldórsstöðum Andvari
6 Atli Guðmundsson / Ormur frá Dallandi Fákur
7 Elsa Magnúsdóttir / Þytur frá Kálfhóli 2 Sleipnir
8 Stefán Friðgeirsson / Dagur frá Strandarhöfði Hringur

Even in last place, Dagur gets to take a well-deserved victory lap and a final pace.

I said my  “Takk, Takk” to Friðgeir, we exchange “Bless, Bless”, he adjusts his oxygen tubes and drives off.

The story is not yet over!
In 2 weeks there will be another national competition, the Islandsmot, and Dagur will be there.  I can’t make any promises, but these guys from Dalvik are no slouches!

I am also looking forward to going up to Dalvik and spending time with Friðgeir and his son (who, by the way, is 58).  It’s all in another installment.

In the meantime, there’s another competition, so it’s off to the Islandsmot!

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