Beer For My Horses
Drinking in a stable in Iceland
Beer and horses go together in Iceland, sometimes literally. Take, for instance, the Beer Tölt, an Icelandic riding game, the purpose of which is to prove the smoothness of the horse’s four beat gait (the Tölt) and the skills of the rider. The horses compete against each other–they love a good race–and the rider must stay in the saddle while holding a mug full of beer in one hand without spilling. He/she who spills the least, drinks the most. It’s Iceland’s version of beer pong.
Most people ride in Iceland in close, large groups. Horses are nose to tail in a line or sometimes they rearrange themselves four or six abreast, forcing your knee to knock another rider’s knee, stirrups clanging. Wind, rain, snow… all come at you hard. And this would be June. When the ride is over, you head for the stable’s kitchen or tack room where there is sure to be a gritty plastic table with six packs of Gull and Thule beer, the Icelandic equivalent of a Bud and Coors. A welcome sight and reward for all the bumps and mishaps out on the trail.
Now, however, to accommodate all the tourists inundating Iceland, horse farms have scaled up. Dusty kitchens have given way to new cafes. And cafes have given way to bars on the premises.
About 40 minutes out of Reykjavik is Laxnes Farm, a family run horse farm in the Mosfellsbær valley. The owners, Póri and Heiða, recently retired from Icelandair, are friends of our Icelandic friends, and are spending their second careers sprucing up the family farm and learning to welcome tourists, even a pack of eight American women. We weren’t there to ride on this day. We were there to drink.
We introduce ourselves to Póri, all eight of us sticking out our hand for a shake, leaning in eagerly to declare our names. By the fifth handshake, he looks ready to bolt and we hadn’t even gotten to Beth, Bev and the other Beth.
With introductions finally behind him, Póri leads us first into a former horse shed revamped into a bar, where his wife Heiða is tending. Knowing better now, we skip all the formalities and just mutter weak little ‘Hi’s.” The windows are covered with a cloudy film of barn dust, but somehow a spot of sunlight manages to illuminate all the glistening apparatus of the towers and faucets and taps, the copper pulls and silver handles. The walls are full of bric-a-bracs: horse bits, reindeer antlers, a mini scythe, a picture of Ben Stiller who I assume filmed some of “Walter Mitty” here. Heiða fills beer glasses for us. She has white blonde hair and a Buddha-like smile that exudes a mysterious sense of place and peace. She inspires lifestyle envy in me. Someday when I retire, I want to be Heiða, pouring beer in a former horse shed.
After we get icy mugs of light pilsner beer, the tour of the farm continues. Through the tack room and past dozens of stables, we are led into a dimly lit barn, but instead of stables the large empty space has been converted into a room to be rented for parties. There are clusters of tables covered in red and white gingham; the floor is packed dirt, old saddles hang from the walls, like works of art. A bar at one end, this time no beer on draft, holds dusty bottles of Jim Beam, Jameson and Wild Turkey. At the other end is a raised dais for bands and dancing. When we reach the dance floor, Póri suddenly blasts the sound of hyper fast mariachi horns from the speakers. I have a moment of placement dissonance: am I in Mexico? And then the world-weary voice of Johnny Cash comes in clear and low. Oh, I’m in Nashville.
“Love is a burning thing, and it makes a fiery ring.”
Some of us find the rhythm of a Texan Two-Step to this classic four/four song, and we dance it with mugs of beer in one hand, trying not to spill. Oh right, I’m in Iceland.