Iceland is known as the Land of Fire and Ice for its abundance of volcanoes, glaciers, and waterfalls… but it’s also known for the special breed of horse native to the country—the Icelandic Horse.
Odds are that you’ll see an Icelandic Horse or two during your visit, as there are about 80,000 currently on the island. These horses are majestic, to say the least. They have beautiful thick manes and come in a variety of colors from chestnut to bay to even palomino. But whatever you do, don’t call them ponies. Though they may be on the shorter end, they’re horses, and it’s considered an insult for them to be called otherwise.
Aside from their regal appearances, the Icelandic Horses are known for their two unique gaits. The first is known as the “tölt.” This gait is four-beated and what I can only describe as feeling like a cross between a very fast walk and the trot. It’s incredibly smooth and easy to sit. The second gait is the “skeið”, or flying pace. This gait is much less common and is considered special to possess even among Icelandic Horses.
When you think of adventures in Iceland, glacier hikes and geothermal lagoons may first come to mind. However, if you’re a horse lover, a horseback riding tour needs to be on your list. Not only will you see some of the most astonishing views, you’ll get to see them from between the ears of these beautiful animals.
When I set out to book a horseback riding tour, I scoured reviews and prices. I’m particular about farms offering riding tours because I want to ensure that the horses are being treated properly and are loved. I decided on Eldhestar, and was not disappointed! Eldhestar is located in Hveragerdi which is a small town conveniently situated on the southwestern end of the Golden Circle. The farm is only an hour outside of Reykjavik, or if you’re driving around the Golden Circle, it’s on your way back into town. If you don’t have a car, fear not—Eldhestar offers transportation for free with your purchase of tour and has many pickup and drop-off locations throughout Reykjavik.
Eldhestar offers a variety of tours year-round, ranging from just an hour of riding to week-long excursions. Because my husband is a riding newbie, we opted for the 1.5-2 hour long Heritage Tour. Prices vary with the tour and day of the week, but for our Saturday morning tour in October we paid about $130 a person—a steal considering Iceland is a very expensive country.
There is one important thing to note if you’re heading to Iceland with a horseback riding tour in mind—because there are very few diseases on the island that can affect the horses, you are not allowed to bring any used leather riding gear (aside from boots). Other gear and riding wear must be disinfected before entering the country. I chose to steer clear of the hassle and just rode in a beat up pair of jeans and my rubber rain boots. If it’s raining or snowing, Eldhestar provides all-weather gear to put on over your clothes.
When you arrive to the farm, you will be introduced to your tour guide who will then fit you for your helmet and any rain gear. Next, you’ll be taken out to the paddock area where you’ll be assigned a horse. Horse assignments go based off of experience levels which will also determine your placement in the tour line. I’d been riding for more than 15 years at the time, so I was matched with a beautiful black gelding who preferred the front of the herd; whereas my husband who has little experience ,but rings in at six-feet-tall, was presented with the largest horse out of the bunch. Don’t worry if you’ve never ridden before! The horses are well trained and know to follow the herd. The tour guides are excellent at helping you troubleshoot, too, if your horse happens to stray for a bite of grass.
Once everyone has mounted their rides, there is a brief instructional period where you can practice the basic principles of riding: steering, stopping, and turning. And then off you’ll go! Our tour led us through streams and beautiful lava fields. We encountered countless other Icelandic horses and even caught glimpses of a glacier in the distance. There is a point where the group is able to stop for photo opportunities and the guides are very helpful with this process.
After the tour, you’ll be taken back to the paddock area where you’ll dismount and unsaddle your horse. If you’ve purchased a tour that includes food, you’ll then head back to the clubhouse for traditional Icelandic snacks, pastries, and drinks—the best way to end a perfect day of riding!
I hope that you’ll choose to adventure out into the Golden Circle to see and experience these absolutely stunning horses! It was truly an unforgettable experience that was made even more incredible by the friendly and knowledgeable staff at Eldhestar.
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This is a guest post by Brie Dunn. Brie is a full-time graduate school student and travel addict located in Connecticut, USA. You can find more of her work on Instagram @brieintheclouds. This post on horseback riding near Reykjavik, Iceland was not sponsored or endorsed by Eldhestar. All photos belong to the writer.