What is “Hestakaup”?

What is “Hestakaup” and why is it the name for a website?

This is about Icelandic horses. That means it is also about the
tradition of Icelandic horsemanship, about Iceland, about Icelanders,
and, because I am writing it, about me.
Hestakaup is an Icelandic tradition of trading horses without money.
Sometimes without scruples or common sense and sometimes with too much
alcohol. It is a complex institution, requiring the understanding of
both horses and people that will be explored here through video and
text.

Literally translated, “hestakaup” means horse business or commerce.

But that describes it about as much as calling the Kentucky Derby a horse race. We are talking about an old tradition that has been taking place between Icelandic horse farmers. Between competitive neighbors. Barters to avoid taxes. Trades out of boredom for a chance to have a good visit. Practical ways of solving a problem. Swaps on a whim. There are many kinds of hestakaup.

Hestakaup in Reykjavik can be very different from one in Skagafjordur or Akureyri because the people are different. To get an idea of hestakaup in Skagafjordur (involving people I know and can vouch for its authenticity) read the account written by Lukka from the farm Langhus in Skagafjordur. It’s long, but a good read. And you will meet (through video on this website) some of the characters she writes about.

A good hestakaup requires an understanding of both people and horses. In a way, it’s like poker — knowing the players as well as the deck. And that is why I chose “hestakaup” for a name.

“Hestakaup!” has become a cheery greeting between me and some of my Icelandic friends. I assure you, I would never venture into any form of hestakaup with them yet the frank admission of my innocence — and interest — in their culture has made it into a disarming greeting.

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