I’ve been dying to ride Icelandic horses for years. I heard about the distinctive differences in Icelandic horses because of their isolation from other horses for several thousand years. On Wednesday, July 10th, my mom and I got to experience the horses for ourselves.
I spent a great deal of time doing research on which riding stable I should use. I had a bevy of stables to choose from. I decided to go with Viking Horses, although they were a bit pricier than the other stables, I loved that they offered small group sizes. As a more advanced rider (I grew up riding, but I classify myself as a beginner/intermediate rider among real riders) I chafe when I’m in a riding group that does nothing but walking. I want to ride! Also they offered two different groups — Viking (1.5 hour ride for beginners) and Lakes and Lava (2.5 – 3 hr ride for intermediate riders) — in the afternoon. I thought that this would work out perfectly for us. My mom could ride in the Viking group and I’d go in the Lakes and Lava group. All of the stables around Reykjavik offer free pick up and drop off from your hotel/guest house. I emailed and confirmed our reservations, and everything was all set. I’m glad that I had them pick us up because I noticed that the GPS is spotty with small unpaved roads.
When we all arrived (three other passengers got picked up too), another girl and I got hurried out to our horses to start our ride. They wanted our group to start first so that everyone would finish around the same time. My mom’s group was going to get a little history lesson on Icelandic horses first. Rekka, my guide, also gave us a history lesson but it was on horseback.
I got to ride a lovely sweet 6-year old mare. One of the things I noticed about Icelandic horses (and my mom remarked on this too) is how sweet, well-mannered, and eager to please they are. They have a wonderful disposition. Normally on trail rides I spend a fair amount of time “schooling” the horse because he/she decides that they will set the agenda and eat all the plants along the trail. It’s not good for the horses to eat while the bit is in their mouths, nor is it good for them to think that they’re the boss. I’m a firm rider until the horse realizes that I know that I’m doing and quits fooling around. I never once had to do this with my Icelandic horse. No matter how tempting the lush green grass, she ignored it (until we were at a rest break and I was off her back). A small nudge with my heels and she leaped into the tölt. I loved riding her.
The tölt is a special four-beat gait that is unique to Icelandic horses. A horse normally has walk, trot, canter, and gallop. A trot is a jarring two-beat gait. When you’re riding English, you’re taught to post (move your body up and down) with the beat of the horse. If you sit the entire time on a trot (unless you’re really lucky to have a rare horse with a smooth trot), the gait is entirely too uncomfortable. My riding instructor used to torture us by making us do the sitting trot for endless laps in order to develop our control. The tölt is a smooth gait that’s very easy to sit. How it feels varies a bit with each horse, but on my horse, it felt a bit like I was sitting on a rocking horse. I noticed that the faster she got, the smoother the gait. Again, this varies with each horse, as they all have their own style and preferences.
Riding Icelandic horses is a bit different from riding English. The saddle sits farther back and the stirrups are a bit longer. In the tölt, you sit/lean back and stick your feet out forward a bit. The reins are shortened to keep the horse’s head up. This is very different from English style, where I got yelled at for doing exactly what I needed to do for the tölt.
We spent most of the trip tölting with a few long stretches of cantering and galloping. I truly enjoyed this ride because I normally don’t get to do this much riding on a trail ride. Usually I’m the most advanced rider and I have to beg them to let me canter. Luckily the stables I’ve gone to accommodated me (one even led me away from the group so I could gallop on the beach by myself). But this trip was right up my alley. Mekka looked over a few times to see how we were doing and if we needed to slow down and catch our breaths. But the other girl and I were loving every minute. Mekka soon realized that we wanted to go fast, so we kept on tölting and cantering/galloping whenever it was possible on the trail.
The trail went through lush green meadows filled with the ubiquitious purple lupines found all over Iceland. Then we rode into some incredible landscape of red lava rocks. We rode around a large lake. And lastly we rode on some bridle trails that go right past houses. In area just outside of Reykjavik is zoned for horses in the backyard, so there are several riding trails that go right past houses. I also got a major riding treat because we got to cross two different streams. One of the streams was fairly deep and my horse is quite small (officially a pony), so I had to tuck my feet high up on the saddle to prevent them from getting wet.
We ended up riding about 2.5 hours because we spent so much time tölting. Mekka remarked that usually there were more beginners, so they spend more time walking and the ride takes longer. A few minutes after my ride was done, my mother’s group came in. My mother was also delighted with her ride. She had a great time. She loved the tölt. Because they had a small group and the riders were all fairly game to try anything, they even got to canter a bit. Like me, my mom loved being in a small group because it meant that she got to spend more time riding rather than waiting around for stragglers.
Afterward they gave us a cup of coffee or tea and some chocolates while they got ready to take us back to where we were staying. The whole experience was wonderful and I highly recommend Viking Horses, if you’re looking to ride Icelandic horses in Iceland.
Viking tour 12,900 ISK (~$106 USD)
Lakes & Lava tour 18,500 ISK (~$152)
Please see their website for more info (they have other types of rides).