The farm Signabøgarður lies beautifully close to a fiord in the lush, moist greenery which is such a well-known signature of the Faroe Islands. Dorthea Joensen is in charge of the farm, which has been in her family since the 15th century.
–Here at the farm we have ten of the 85 remaining Faroese horses. Since they’re so small, even smaller than the Icelandic horse, they are well suited for children to ride, she says as Meldur, one of the stallions, graze on the hill behind her.
In the middle of the 19th century more than 800 Faroe horses lived on the islands. They were used in the agriculture and for riding in the hills. But with the industrial revolution bigger and heavier machines came to use in the agriculture and they needed to be drawn by larger horses. As stronger breeds were imported from Norway, the small Faroese horse was instead exported to England.
– They were used in the coal mines. As they are small but still strong and stubborn they were perfect for that. And the farmers were well paid for the horses, sometimes they got more than a month’s pay for one horse, Dorthea Joensen says.
In the 1960’s there were only five horses left, one stallion and four mares. At that time a rescue action was commenced, and export of the horses was banned. This is a law that is applied still today. All the horses that exist today originate from those five horses in the 1960’s.
–This far we haven’t seen any large problems due to inbreeding, but their genetics haven’t been investigated either. But we do know that we need at least 200 horses to be on the safe side when it comes to rescuing the breed from extinction, says Trondur Levinsson, director of the Faroese Agricultural Agency.
The Agricultural Agency has its office and a research station only a few kilometers from Dorthea Joensen’s farm Signabøgarður. Here, they are just about to sow the barley, a little later than usual as the weather have been so wet lately. At the research station, the Agency is also planning a stable for the Faroese stallions.
– The stallions can cause a bit of a stir on farms that have mares as well. In this way, we can handle all the breeding here and have better control. It could be that a mare from the southern islands has its best fit with a stallion from the north, says Trondur Levinsson.
Apart from the traditional farm work, Dorthea and her family also works with guiding tourists from all over the world and telling more about the Faroese horses.
– The interest for the horses have increased. They are very popular among the tourists. It’s only a few days since I had a group from New Zeeland visiting. They came primarily to learn more about the Faroese horse, says Dorthea Joensen.
It might very well be this interest that will help saving the Faroese horse in the future. Persevering the horse only for the sake of preservation isn’t viable, it needs to be used for something thereby motivating people to put some effort in saving it. That’s why Dorthea, along with her daughter now arranges courses in carriage-pulling.
–Sometimes cruise ships come into the fiord here. If the stallions could be used for pulling carriages with tourists there would really be a good incitement for preserving the breed, says Dorthea Joensen.