When visiting Iceland, you are guaranteed to see Icelandic horses in fields roaming free. But do you know what makes a horse Icelandic? When the first settlers sailed to Iceland from Norway in the 10th century, horses were a vital part to the colonisation of the island. Due to this and the fact they were only able to bring a few horses per ship, they made sure to only select the best, strongest horses available. Since importing the initial horses, it has been forbidden to import any horse into Iceland since, even to this day. This has led to the Icelandic horse today being extremely well adapted to the climate.
So not only are Icelandic horses strong and resilient to even the coldest of winters, but they also possess 5 different types of gaits. In addition to the standard walk, trot and gallop gaits, the greatest characteristic of the Icelandic horse is that it also has tölt and skeið (flying pace). They are also very photogenic and just beautiful animals to watch.
Horse Riding in Iceland
Before we had even decided on Iceland as our next destination, I knew Kate had always wanted to ride a horse but to be able to experience horse riding in Iceland would be the ultimate way to do it – and that’s just what we did. We were lucky enough to book with Elhestar (eldhestar.is) who run horseback tours in a small town, Hveragerði (30 minutes drive from Reykjavík). Situated in the heart of Iceland’s south-western countryside between volcanic mountains hot springs and rivers, there simply is no better place to be horse riding in Iceland.
You’ll discover many tours available throughout the year to suit riders of all ages and abilities, so if you’ve never ridden a horse before, now is your chance. Whether you’d like to bathe in hot springs or even ride across the black lava sand beaches, you are simply spoilt for choice. We finally decided on the ‘Below the mountains’ tour which operates all year round which includes 5-6 hours of horse riding between the volcanic mountains, Hekla and Eyjafjallajökull.
Below the Mountains Tour
The day starts nice and early with Reykjavík hotel pick ups between 8.00 – 8.30am. As we had our own transport and being only 30 minutes away, we opted to drive ourselves. The drive to Hveragerði encountered some heavy snow fall and blizzard conditions whilst crossing the Hellisheiði mountain pass.. thankfully we were through it and the weather looked to be much better once we had arrived at Eldhestar. As you should know already, Icelandic weather is unpredictable at it’s best and is constantly changing throughout the day so this didn’t stop us being excited to meet our Icelandic horses for the day! 🙂
First is to get kitted up. As with the Icelandic climate you are recommended to layer up, especially as you will be out in the elements for a long period of time. With all our winter layers on, we also put on some protective gear that includes the all important riding hat and thick gloves for those who don’t have any. Along with riding overalls we are all set to say hello to the horses..
Here we were taught all the correct ways to ride an Icelandic horse properly. The horse riding tour guides make sure the saddles are well-adjusted to your height and off we go. The tour begins with nice and easy riding trails along neighbouring meadows which are ideal conditions to try out one of the Icelandic horses special gaits, tölt.
The tour is slightly changed during the winter season, instead we ride all the way down to the river banks with some steep uphill and down hill paths. One thing we learnt was when climbing up or down hill, it’s important to lean which helps your horse with your weight on top. One thing we did take great notice of was the fact Eldhestar take great pride in looking after their horses. So if at any point the guides feel the path is simply too steep, we all get off and walk our horses to not put them under any unnecessary strain and to make sure they don’t get hurt in the process. We are very cautious not to attend or take part in any activities where animals are not used as they would in their own natural environment.
Once we had arrived to some panoramic views across the fields below, we decided to make a stop for some photos..
Unfortunately after this photo was taken the unpredictable Icelandic weather took a turn for worse and we made a call to break early for lunch where we could enjoy hot steaming bowls of traditional Icelandic meat soup before continuing our ride towards the mountains. As we had stopped for lunch back at the Eldhestar ranch, we were told the snow storm had got worse and the mountain pass had just been closed due to poor visibility. The staff couldn’t have been any more helpful with giving us up to date road information and guidance to make sure we’ll be okay getting back. So even though we didn’t make the full day, the time we had horse riding in Iceland was fantastic. We didn’t let the Icelandic weather spoil our moods as it’s not everyday you get the chance to experience Iceland on horseback.
For more information on horse riding in Iceland, please visit www.eldhestar.is
Visit their Facebook page for more info & Icelandic horse photos.
**PLEASE NOTE – we received a complimentary horse riding tour courtesy of Eldhestar, but rest assure all opinions are honest and our own**