What We're Watching: Herd in Iceland
After working in every aspect of photography—museums, galleries, studios, newspapers—New York Times Photo Editor Lindsay Blatt wanted to transition into documentary filmmaking. During a layover in Reykjavik she came across a pamphlet about the truly special traditions surrounding Icelandic horse herding. A lifelong horse lover herself, Lindsay knew she had found the story she wanted to tell. Lindsay returned to Iceland to film Icelandic horses in their natural habitat. This month, Herd in Iceland is showing in select theaters and festivals across the country.
Zady: Why were you drawn to this particular subject?
Lindsay Blatt: I grew up in Arizona, and basically had horses until I was 15. Being a horse lover is definitely one of those things that, if it’s in you, you really can’t shake it. And, whenever I would hear about Iceland, I would have this visceral reaction to it. It sounded so exotic and strange, and I wondered about the people who could live in a place like that.
Zady: What makes the horses of Iceland so unique?
Lindsay Blatt: About a thousand years ago, the Icelandic government made it law that no foreign horses were allowed onto the island. They talk about the horses in a very prideful way, saying that when the Vikings came to Iceland, they brought only the best horses on their ships, and these are the descendants of those best horses.
Zady: Tell us about their special herding traditions.
Lindsay Blatt: All the horses in Iceland are owned by a family or belong to a farm, but during the summer months they are released to run free on vast plots of land. They go into the mountains and eat and get fat and raise their babies, and are kind of wild for a few months. It becomes part of the character of the horse. The people believe that these several months are what makes Icelandic horses special. In September, with cold months approaching, all the country’s horse owners and families go out into the highlands to herd their horses back home, where they can be fed and tended to. Each day a different county does a roundup and could bring back 100 horses or 1,000. They plan for this all year—I spoke to several people who said it’s better than Christmas. You’ve never seen happier people. There’s music, food, drinking, dancing. It has an overall party, celebratory reunion vibe. They get to see their families and spend time together, and see the horses that they have missed all summer.
Zady: And what did you learn from the people of Iceland?
Lindsay Blatt: Everybody opened their homes to us, gave us places to stay and introduced us to interesting people. They were so generous. Whether or not you’re into horses doesn’t really matter. This is a story about traditions and rural life and the beauty of the place and the people.
While spreading the Herd In Iceland word and settling on her next film subject, Lindsay also runs Archerfish, a full-service creative production company, creating bespoke video content for clients like Etsy and the Victoria & Albert Museum.