Norður Journal

Horsemanship is for life

Baltasar Kormákur film director and producer

Photography & videoLilja Jóns
Video editorEdda Kristín
TextAtli Bolla

Film director and producer Baltasar Kormákur has been riding horses since he was a toddler. We chatted about his life in horsemanship.

“I’ve been into horses since I was two. The story that mom and dad like to tell is that I climbed onto a fence, waited for the horses to pass and then jumped on before riding bareback into the stables. Two years old. So, at the very least, it was clear from early on that I wasn’t afraid of these animals.”

 “My father is Spanish and he always dreamt of having horses. But it’s very hard to keep horses in Spain unless in very special circumstances. There’s no horse-riding neighborhood in Barcelona, right? So as soon as he settled in Iceland he bought horses. He’s 84 years old now and his health is faltering a bit so it’s only very recently that he gave them up.”

On horseback to school

“My oldest friends, the ones I’ve really stuck with, are all horse-guys. Like Goggi and Grjóni, who are living legends in the horse-riding scene. We’ve been friends since I was ten. We did everything in the stables back then. In spring, I even went riding to school to pick up my grades. Because by then I’d just decamped to the stables and was hardly seen around town for the rest of the summer.”

 “I’ve competed in all sorts of sports and did quite a bit of sailing but the one thing I’ve never given up are my horses. Horsemanship is one of the reasons I’ve never wanted to move away from Iceland, like to Hollywood where I do a lot of my work. I simply need to have horses around and ride them out. My family is most important, obviously, but they’re easier to bring along. But I couldn’t survive without this particular connection to the Icelandic horse and Icelandic nature.”


‘How many horse-riding trips do I have left?’

“When I was about twenty years old, finishing acting school, I began going on these long horse-riding trips. I went to visit my father and he taught me overnight how to do it. He taught me how to use a compass, how to read maps and certain rules of the trade. And I’ve been out every single summer since. I’ve been up and down the whole country and am usually the guy in front, with the compass and the map, dragging those other poor souls along with me across the highlands. And now, when I’m in middle age, I’ve begun counting down. ‘How many summers do I have left? How many horse-riding trips are there to go?’” 

“Everything tastes so good when you come down from the wilderness. It’s like fasting: You’ve rid your body of all the garbage usually clotting your system. So when your mother sends a chicken dish–like mom once did, it was still warm when it came from Reykjavík on the bus–it’s like you’ve never experienced such a feast.”

Horsemanship is mental invigoration

“In my work there’s a lot of psychological stress. Directors are always answering questions. There’s a famous scene where a director is sat on the toilet and then two pairs of shoes come sliding under the door along with a question: ‘Do you want the actor wearing the red pair or the green pair?’ You’re always under pressure. And these long horse-riding trips are very physically demanding. You’re on horse back maybe 12 or 14 hours every day, driving the pack of horses; there can be quite a lot of action. But, mentally, it’s very relaxing. So when I return from these trips, after having been two weeks away in the wilderness, I’m completely invigorated.”

Becoming primal

“In these trips, it’s just amazing to be around your horses. You spend all day and all night with them for two weeks or more, and each one is a character of his own. Some are better swimmers, for example, so if there’s a tough river to cross I’d take my swimming horses whereas another one might be better for scaling a mountain. So you read the land, the circumstances, and your animals and become a bit primal. People tend to ask how we clean ourselves but the truth is you don’t really need to. You get a sense of how people had it before, in the old days. They weren’t filthy or stinky; the dirt just weathers off of you and the skin cleanses itself.”

 “It’s interesting, when you take these trips, that people can completely surprise you. It’s not necessarily the most confident and loud types who end up being the heroes. It’s whoever is mentally strongest. Male or female. These trips have taught me–and that’s been very useful when making survival films like Everest–that the strongest person, mentally speaking, is the greatest hero.”

Clothes for riding

Baltasar Kormákur wears:

3 collections
Men(3 looks)
Women(3 looks)
Accessories(3 looks)
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