Did you know Iceland has its own breed of horses?
They are called Icelandic horses.
I know, I know. Really original, huh?
But, Icelandic horses are definitely a unique breed. So what makes them unique?
Well, a few reasons. First, they are really the size of a pony. But, don’t call them ponies or people will be offended. I learned that the hard way.
All horses around the globe have four gaits: walk, trot/jog, canter, and gallop. In additional to those four gaits, Icelandic horses have two extra gaits hence why they are often referred to as the “five-gaited breed” (Icelanders consider the canter and gallop to be one gait, but the footfalls are different so they are technically different gaits).
The first gait that Icelandic horses are famous for is called the tölt. The tölt is an explosive fast paced trot-like gait that looks super uncomfortable, but if you have a good seat you can actually hold a whole pint of beer without sipping a drop. I’ve seen it done.
The second special gait is referred to as the “flying pace.” It’s used primarily in races and not every horse is capable of this special gait. If you’ve ever seen harness racing at a fair then you’ve probably seen a pacing horse. It’s a lateral gait meaning both legs on the same side move at the same time.
As a girl, I grew up riding horses competitively for years. As soon as I booked my tickets to Iceland I knew I couldn’t go to Iceland without riding an Icelandic horse. It’s like going to a Red Sox’s game at Fenway and not buying a Sam Adams!
Thankfully my partner-in-crime Hilary was totally game for horseback riding in Iceland. She’d never ridden a horse before so she was a wee bit nervous but she handled it like a champ.
As you probably know, Iceland is expensive. Riding an Icelandic horse is no different. I shopped around for the best riding tour deal I could find that was nearby Reykjavik. I settled on the classic Lava Tour with Ishestar as it included free pickup from Reykjavik and was beginner-friendly.
Our driver picked us up in downtown Reykjavik and drove us the 40 minutes to the farm located in Hafnarfjörður (don’t even ask me how to pronounce that!). After signing our lives away on a legal waiver, we watched a short video on the Icelandic horse and the very basics of riding before it was time to put on rain suits (optional) and meet our trusty steeds for the afternoon.
Each tour guide asked us our riding experience in attempts to match us with an appropriate horse. I was matched with a horse named Snicky. That’s not actually his name as my Icelandic language skills are pretty bad. And by pretty bad I really mean nonexistent so I dubbed him “Snicky.”
Our tour group was rather large. Ishestar claims that their maximum per group is 20, but there were way more than 20 people in our group. It took about 30 minutes for everyone to get their horses and then mount up. It was a bit frustrating as I just wanted to ride.
Once we were all in the saddle we headed out on the wide dirt road towards the Lava fields. We rode single field head-to-tail with the horses. Some people had trouble controlling their horses and occasionally we would have a runaway. As you can imagine, horses have a mind of their own.
Our ride was mostly a leisurely walk with short trots between. We spent about an hour heading out towards the lava fields. If you’re looking for perfect weather in Iceland, October is not that month to go. It sprinkled a bit, but thankfully no downpours. Hence, why the farm offers rain gear. Trust me. The bright orange pants might not be sexy, but they will keep you dry.
The lava fields are an impressive site. Make sure you take a break from trying to control your horse to enjoy them. If you’re a bit nervous, it’s okay. You stop halfway for a small break.
The small break was a nice time to snap some photos and stretch the legs. If you’ve never ridden before you’ll definitely welcome the short 10 minutes break.
Once the break was over it was time to get back in the saddle and head back to the stables. The ride back is always a bit faster. Horses always know when they are heading home. They know where the food is. About halfway back to the stables we had the option to continue back to the stables at a slow pace or split and enjoy a faster ride back to the stable. Obviously, I chose the fast pace.
Our guide let us open the horses up and push them into a tölt. Little Snicky was able to get into his tölt after the guide showed me how to raise his head up so he could lift his feet higher. I went from a pretty bumpy seated trot into a nice smooth ride. I could get used to this!
Once we were back at the stables we just tied our horses off and headed back to the reception room. Overall I had a good experience with Ishestar. However, I was not to keen on how the horses looked and the quality of their tack. The horses were muddy. You can tell the horses are well cared for, but they should be clean, especially if you’re just sticking a leather saddle on top of them. They don’t use saddle pads and my reins were torn. I also found the group to be too large. A majority of the people have never ridden a horse before and were nervous. A large group is not a good place for someone who is afraid of horses.
At the end of the day, I was happy to get back in the saddle and try out the infamous tölt on an Icelandic horse in Iceland! Now I can check that off my Iceland bucket list. I definitely would not pay to do it again as it’s expensive.