It was meant to be the start of summer but as I stepped off the plane I could feel the cool Icelandic temperature. Driving from the airport to Reykjavik the terrain appeared like a moon scape with molten volcanic lava covered in moss and steam in the distance from the nearby Blue Lagoon.
Upon arrival in the capital, Reykjavik, I participated in a walking tour and learnt that the total population of Iceland is approximately 332,000, with the total population of horses being 80,000.
I was looking forward to riding an Icelandic horse, a sturdy character with four to five different gaits and is famous for its robust, quiet demur and its tolte. The tolte is an extraordinarily smooth four-beat gait which enables an almost bounce-free ride, even at 32 kmh. The rider just puts their weight in the back of the saddle, leans backwards with the stirrups a little longer than you would perhaps have for dressage and suddenly you feel like you are sitting in an arm chair. And I will let you in on a secret, they may look like ponies at 13-14hh but NEVER say pony or you will be in trouble.
Iceland has strict quarantine rules about bringing in riding gear. Any riding wear must be disinfected five days before coming to Iceland and leather gear, boots, chaps and gloves are not allowed. Any horses sold out of Iceland are not allowed to be brought back into the country. Germany has the second largest population of Icelandic horses outside of Iceland having over 40,000 horses, with Australia and New Zealand home to a few breeders.
A highlight was visiting Íshestar, one of the most popular riding centres in Iceland. Here I was able to enjoy a short two hour ride. The short rides are designed for tourists, so many of the riders are beginners but the horses are very quiet and well behaved. The saddles are English and the bridles are snaffle with a dropped noseband. I enjoyed a ride around the Lava Fields, with purple lupins starting to appear and snow capped mountains in the distance.
My favourite place to visit was the Golden Circle area, a geothermal location which is mostly popular for the seven day riding tours for experienced riders. Here you can experience visits to the Geyser, Gullfoss waterfall, the Glacier and even bathe in the secret lagoon, all included on the ride.
Riders stay at the local family run guest houses in twin or bunk rooms with shared bathrooms. Meals are eaten in a communal dining room with picnic lunches available on the ride and the hot tub provides something to look forward to at the end of the day. Iceland can be expensive but the beautiful riding holidays have everything included.
When riding, the group has a maximum of 16 riders who will ride up to four different horses in one day. A herd of horses wanders loose with the group, travelling between 15-30 kms each day. The riding experience is about enjoying the local scenery, meeting the families and having fun with your fellow riding companions for the week. The riding holidays are popular with Scandinavians, Germans, English and Americans and many of the tours sell out early.
Horses are very much a way of life to the Icelanders and most farms have at least a few horses. No matter where you travel you will see the Icelandic horses with small breeding and riding farms everywhere.
The riding season starts from mid-June to early September and there are also shorter rides in the winter to include the Northern lights. All the guides speak the local language on top of having excellent English. Other longer tours are available for advanced riders to the North of Iceland which offers more mountainous terrain and the Snæfellsjökull National Park with a more diverse landscape.
The best time to visit Iceland is the end of June to September with warmer days. 20 degrees is a warm day for Iceland and you will see the locals in t-shirts basking in the sun. I visited in early June when it was the midnight sun with daylight all the time. This was not a problem but just a little strange when I woke one night at midnight to look out the window and still see daylight.
Iceland is a beautiful country and the Icelandic people are very welcoming and friendly. It is such an amazing place if you are looking for a horsey adventure.
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