Horseback Riding Across Iceland

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If you're thinking about taking a riding vacation, you're probably considering Ireland, or maybe Tuscany, Italy, or perhaps a cattle drive in Montana. But how about something really different? How about Iceland with its glorious, exotic landscape. Iceland is becoming an ever more popular destination for riders, with horse touring being one of the fastest growing businesses, and for good reason. This is a country with a concentration of one horse for approximately every three inhabitants.

Iceland is exotic. With a landscape so unlike any other that it was chosen as the place for the astronauts to practice their moon landings, Iceland will amaze you. On horseback you can cross highlands, ford rivers, view magnificent waterfalls and fjords, and see unspoiled nature at its best.

Language is not a problem, as almost everyone in Iceland speaks English. In this very hospitable country, the phone books are listed by first names!

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Icelandic Horses

There is only one type of horse you will ride on your Icelandic vacation, and that is the Icelandic Horse. (They are actually pony size, but don't ever call one a pony while in Iceland!) This is the only breed in the country, and the government keeps it that way, not allowing any imports in order to protect the health of the native horses. Once a horse leaves the country, it can never return home.

These sturdy, surefooted, muscular horses are not merely a stable ride over tough and uneven terrain; they are also delightful to sit on. Given your riding experience, you can get a “steady eddie” type, or you can get a speedy mount with a lot of spunk.

The weather in Iceland is changing constantly. Icelanders joke that if you don't like the weather, don't worry—it will be different in five minutes. Outfitters always pack rain gear so that you are prepared for any downpours. The horses are small, but extremely sturdy, and capable of carrying big men with ease. The saddles are flat and quite comfortable.

Icelandic horses are three, four, or five-gaited. Their trademark gait, a tolt, is as comfortable as it gets and is very similar to the rack of the American Saddlebred. The tolt can be slow, or fast enough to keep pace with a galloping horse. The horses can maintain this gait for seemingly endless periods. At shows horses are often exhibited with riders holding full glasses of beer, never spilling a drop, proving just how smooth the horses are. Some horses also can pace, and racing pacing horses (astride, not in a sulky) is a favorite sport of Icelanders.

Read more about horseback riding in Iceland at
Learning to ride the tolt is a bit of a lesson in the universality of horsemanship. It's quite similar to dressage: one asks the horse to rock back, bring their hocks underneath them, and raise their front ends (although the head carriage is very different). What a charge! The horse surges forward in a smooth, powerful gait--you feel like you could sit it forever, ride forever.

Riding the Iceland Countryside

Rides can be arranged at lengths varying anywhere from half a day to a week or more. Accommodations on these rides range from spartan to luxurious, but you can be sure they will always be clean. Often the footing for your rides will be lava rock from ancient (or perhaps, rather recent) volcanic explosions.

A good choice for a day ride is the “Hot Springs Ride.” You will ride for half a day through some astounding scenery, including along the top of a canyon with waterfalls crashing down its sides. The ride stops for a lunch break at a hot spring where you eat, change into a bathing suit, and soothe yourself with a relaxing soak before remounting and carrying on for the second half of the ride.

Changing clothes can be a bit of a trick, as there are so few trees in Iceland. The country is so shy on trees, and the few that are around are so stunted, that the natives joke, “If you're lost in an Icelandic forest, what do you do?” The answer? “Stand up.”

Beyond Horses

When not riding, be sure to visit Reyjkavik. This very European city boasts fine dining and great shopping. Go for a swim in one of the many beautiful public pools in the city. It doesn't matter what time of year it is. The pools are all geothermally heated. And if you're looking for a relaxing soak, there are hot tubs of varying degrees of heat: hot, hotter and hottest, lined up right next to each other.

Don't miss a chance to visit the Blue Lagoon. It alone is worth a visit to Iceland. It is another uniquely Icelandic experience, an odd combination of hedonism experienced in a a strongly prehistoric setting. Steam billows all around as the hot water hits cool air. Lava walls surround you as you soak in the most relaxing mineral water in the world. Looking up, you wouldn't be the least surprised to see a pterodactyl winging its way overhead. When you emerge, the waters have stripped you of all stress and you are no more than a puddle of your former self. The Blue Lagoon is quite close to Keflavik International Airport so it's easy to arrange a visit upon landing or on the way back for your return flight.

So, forget the commonplace. Try something different for this year's vacation. Experience Iceland on horseback. It's a vacation you'll never forget.

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Ann Jamieson is addicted to travel. Among her favorite places are Turkey, Iceland, Alaska, New England and Tuscany. She has written numerous articles for magazines and newspapers including a column for the award winning regional paper The Litchfield County Times. Ann currently writes for Today's Equestrian magazine, a regional publication focused on the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut area, and authors a popular series of true horse stories titled For the Love of the Horse. Ann lives in Kent, Connecticut with two very entertaining Ocicats, Oliver and Chester. She counts her horse Fred Astaire as a member of her family.

Published: August 16th, 2015

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