September marks the arrival of one of the most popular events in Iceland, the Sheep (“Rettir” in Icelandic) and Horse Round Up. Rettir is an Icelandic farming tradition, as farmers set off on horseback to gather their sheep and horses that have spent the summer grazing in the highlands.
With the coming fall season, the sheep and horses are collected together by a long line of horsemen, driving the animals to the lowlands to be claimed by their owners. The farmers chase their sheep down to the valley and into a sheepfold, which is usually circular and made of wood. The sheep and horses are then herded into pens where they are identified and sorted into their farmer’s compartment. Each farmer can tell which animal belongs to them by their ear markings. Spectators are welcome to experience rettir, as visitors can walk among the sheep, pet them, admire their colors, and take photos.
Icelandic sheep have over 30 natural colors, and farmers are becoming more concerned about preserving these colors. The basic sheep colors are white, yellow, black and rust brown which can be mixed and matched in many different ways, but the vast majority is white. Like most farm animals in Iceland, the Icelandic sheep is a special breed, a species which became isolated after the settlement and is now protected.
This most festive Icelandic occasion warrants a country holiday commemorating a major event on the farming calendar. Don’t be sheepish – come and experience the beauty and tradition of rettir.