Horseback riding is a great way to get in touch with the Icelandic landscape and history. The Icelandic horse is a unique breed to the country that has been kept pure for many years. People and horses have a long history together in Iceland, with the first horses arriving on the island with its early viking settlers. Horses are often presented in various Icelandic sagas and today they are mainly used for competition and leisure riding.
Horseback riding is something not to be missed when you are in Iceland and whether you are a beginner or an experienced rider, these friendly and curious locals are a pleasure to meet!
Strong, reliable horses
The Icelandic horse may look small and people are tempted to call them ponies but not only is that considered offensive to some Icelanders, those little horses are a lot tougher than your average horse. Despite their statures, they are very strong and tend to live longer than other horse breeds. They have extremely good footing on slippery surfaces or steep rocky paths. Their thick fur help them survive against the winter cold and while in Iceland, you will probably spot a few hanging out in the snowy fields.
Apart from their friendly, curious nature, the Icelandic horse is also famous for a special gait: the tölt. Unlike trotting, the gait is extremely smooth and the horses can pick up quite a speed, Instead of a bumpy ride, you will feel like you are gliding through air. In order to achieve this gait, the horses move with their front legs raised higher, almost like marching soldiers. They also have another additional gait known as the “pace”, which can be as fast as galloping.
No inter-breeding with another breed is allowed nor are any foreign horses allowed to enter the country. If an Icelandic horse has been taken out of the country for the purpose of competition and such, it is not allowed back into the country for fear of spreading diseases from other countries.
Choosing the tour company
If you are interested in a ride, there are a few tour companies around Reykjavik that offers several horseback-riding tours from one hour to a few days. Whether you are an experienced rider or a beginner, there are numerous riding trips offered by several tour operators to suit your riding experience.
Each operator is located in different environment, which might help you to pick a tour company to suit your need. Eldhestar (fire horses) is located south of Reykjavik and one of their highlighted riding tour is through geothermal fields. The farm also has a guesthouse on site for those who wish to spend several days riding on different tours. Íshestar (ice horses) is located just fifteen minutes from Reykjavik. Their riding paths are located inside a lava field with abundant moss vegetation. Laxnes Horse Farm, about fifteen minutes drive from Reykjavik, is for those who want to ride on beautiful grasslands. In addition to riding tours in the surrounding areas, each tour operator also provide longer trips that can last several days in other different areas. It is best to check with each tour company for what is available during your stay. Refreshments are usually included in riding tours.
The tour operators also offer combined sightseeing or whale watching tours with horseback riding tours. For more information, it is best to check each of their website to see what they have on offer. Horseback riding tours in Iceland is available all year round. In winter, horses get special horse shoes, which are sharper than the summer shoes, allowing them to have better grip on ice and snow.
Sometimes you have to dress like you are going fishing when you are going horseback riding in Iceland, especially in winter or even during spring. Weather in Iceland is unpredictable and there is a saying that if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it will change. Horseback riding tour operators will provide you with riding helmets, warm overall and boots, which will also help prevent your clothing from getting muddy. Wear warm gloves that fit your hands snugly as it will be easier to hold the reins.
For those of you who know how to ride, it is not encouraged to bring your own riding gears from home. Although tour operators allow use of own riding gears such as riding pants and helmets, provided they have been cleaned properly, it is best to use the gears provided by the tour operators to prevent diseases from infecting Icelandic horses.
Interacting with Icelandic horses
Most tours will include a break during your riding trip where the horses can get a short break from the trip. This is a chance for you to interact with the horse other than riding.
Although tour horses are generally well behaved and do not get scared easily, it does not hurt to give them some space and respect. When you are around the horses, even when you are not riding, loud noises and sudden movements should be avoided. If you want to show them some appreciation, gentle strokes on their necks or a small piece of dry bread will be appreciated. Icelandic horses are not used to being fed carrots and apples. If you want to lead your horse somewhere, just gently tug on the rein. Some people use a lot of force to pull the reins to try to get their horses to follow them, which can end up hurting the horses’ mouth.
Why you should go riding in Iceland
Riding paths allow you to experience the stunning Icelandic landscapes but being on horseback also lets you get in touch with the Icelandic culture. Horses have played a very important part in Icelandic history and although they are no longer used for travelling distances like in the old days, horses are still a big part in society. It is probably very difficult to find an Icelander who has not ridden a horse in his/her life.
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