The Icelandic horse is a stunning and beautiful creature that was brought to this little island over a thousand years ago with the Viking settlers. Since then it has been here in isolation, adapting to the cold climate and rugged landscapes.
This is why the Icelandic horse is much shorter than other horse breeds, and because it has lived here for centuries without any natural predators, it is also quite friendly and not easily spooked. Making it the perfect animal for those who fear everything (like me!).
Last weekend, the good people at Íshestar invited me to go on a horse riding tour. I have been on a horse twice before, the first time when I was six and then again when I was 19. I fell off both times, so I wasn’t overly excited to go again.
But, as they say: you have to get back up on the horse. And although it took me 13 years, I went back up.
Pictured: Not me! Photo from Viking Horseback Tour | Helgafell or Heidmork
On the day of the tour, I, being someone who overthinks everything, immediately started to list all the things that could go wrong. But there were really only two concerns, the first one being that I might fall again, and the second one being that I might smell like a horse for the rest of the day.
As I had fallen twice off a horse before (I think we have established that now), I knew my pride would hurt the most if I’d fall again. The Icelandic horse is really small, and so you are not falling from a great height, and you get a helmet just in case. However, it is incredibly embarrassing to fall in front of your friends so I’d prefer to avoid that.
This one fell and is now hiding in shame
This worry did stay with me throughout the tour but my second worry; that I’d smell like a horse the rest of the day, was quenched quickly. When I arrived at the stables at Íshestar, I was straight away offered warm overalls to put over my clothes. I had dressed warmly enough, but I jumped at the chance of saving my clothes from a farm-smell.
We watched a video explaining what you should and should not do while riding, which all seemed pretty simple to me. Then, we got to go out to the stables where we met our horse for the day. Our guide asked us if we had any riding experience and then paired us with a horse suited to our capabilities.
Both the instruction video and the fact that the folks at Íshestar allowed those with little-to-no experience to have a mild-mannered horse, was something that lacked from my previous horse experiences. I remember the horse from when I was six; it was called Stormur or ‘Storm’. That does not sound like a gentle, friendly horse you’d let a six-year-old ride!
Just look at how wild and crazy it is!
So it seemed like horse riding tours have changed a lot in the last couple of years, and for the better. I did feel safer this time, but I still had a few butterflies in my stomach when we were taken out into the stables to meet our animal companion.
My horse, Lína, was such a cutie but I was more nervous than a pig in a bacon factory. I had a good feeling about her though. The video had stated that horse riding is like a tango; you and your horse are in this together. So I made sure to pet Lína and talk sweetly to her before getting in the saddle so that she’d know I was a nice person. I think that helped.
We then rode off to the Icelandic countryside, through rocky lava fields with the Bláfjöll mountains in the distance. I was told the scenery is quite stunning, however, as this was a special tour for me and my co-workers, we departed after sundown and so we saw little to nothing of that beautiful landscape.
Pictured: Not me, we rode at night! Photo from Family Horseback Riding Tour | From Reykjavik
Riding in darkness was a unique experience though, but I recommend that if you decide to go on a horseriding tour, do it in the daylight. You want to enjoy the beautiful Icelandic nature.
One of the things that make the Icelandic horse unique is that it has five gaits (for those who are not equestrian enthusiasts, a gait is the way a horse walks or runs or whatever). All horses possess the three general gaits; walk, trot and canter or gallop. But the Icelandic horse has two additional gaits; ‘tölt’ and ‘skeið’ or ‘flying pace’.
Photo NOT from our tour! It is from Viking Express Horseback Tour | Helgafell or Heidmork
Of course, you’re not going to try something called ‘flying pace’ on a horse riding tour with beginners! But on tours like these, those who feel comfortable are welcome to try out ‘tölt’ or at least try to try out ‘tölt’ because horses are not like cars, you can’t just put it in gear and the horse will be tölt-ing.
So at one point on our tour, the guides asked us if we were willing to try to go faster. What I know about horses, I know from books or the internet. I have very little experience and what experience I have, has been spread out over 20 years. So putting my horse in tölt-gear was more difficult then I thought.
I don’t think I manage to try out tölt because I’ve read that it will feel like you are ‘soaring through the air’, and my ride was too bumpy to be described as ‘soaring’. But it was so much fun! Yes, I was scared, but I remembered the training video and put my trust in Lína the horse, and everything was fine. I was riding fast(-ish) around the frozen countryside feeling really cool like Clint Eastwood in the mid-60s (but looking like the complete opposite in my warm overalls and rhinestone gloves).
When we got back to the stables, I said goodbye to my trusty steed Lína and went inside where refreshments awaited us. We asked the guides a few questions about the horses, wondering if the animals get tired going on tours like these, but we were told they enjoy it. The horses at the stables seem to have an amazing life. They work only a couple of months and the rest of the year; they get to roam around the Icelandic countryside. Sounds pretty sweet.
I had so much fun on the tour that I forgot to take photos! That must be a testament to how much fun a tour is; I didn’t take a single selfie! I guess I will have to go again sometime ;)