The Land of the Vikings

It was meant to be the start of summer but as I stepped off the plane I could feel the cool Icelandic temperature. Driving from the airport to Reykjavik the terrain appeared like a moon scape with molten volcanic lava covered in moss and steam in the distance from the nearby Blue Lagoon.

Upon arrival in the capital, Reykjavik, I participated in a walking tour and learnt that the total population of Iceland is approximately 364,000, with the total population of horses being around 80,000.

I was looking forward to riding an Icelandic horse, a sturdy character with four to five different gaits and is famous for its robust, quiet demur and its tolte. The tolte is an extraordinarily smooth four-beat gait which enables an almost bounce-free ride, even at 32 kmh. The rider just puts their weight in the back of the saddle, leans backwards with the stirrups a little longer than you would perhaps have for dressage and suddenly you feel like you are sitting in an arm chair.  And I will let you in on a secret, they may look like ponies at 13-14hh but NEVER say pony or you will be in trouble.

Iceland has strict quarantine rules about bringing in riding gear.  Any riding wear must be disinfected five days before coming to Iceland and leather gear, boots, chaps and gloves are not allowed.  Any horses sold out of Iceland are not allowed to be brought back into the country.  Germany has the second largest population of Icelandic horses outside of Iceland having over 50,000 horses, with Australia and New Zealand home to a few breeders.

A highlight was visiting Íshestar, one of the most popular riding centres in Iceland. Here I was able to enjoy a short two hour ride. The short rides are designed for tourists, so many of the riders are beginners but the horses are very quiet and well behaved. The saddles are English and the bridles are snaffle with a dropped noseband. I enjoyed a ride around the Lava Fields, with purple lupins starting to appear with the snow-capped mountains showing in the distance.

My favourite place to visit was the Golden Circle area, a geothermal location which is mostly popular for the seven day riding tours for more experienced riders.  Here you can experience visits to the Geyser, Gullfoss waterfall, the Glacier and enjoy a bathe in the secret lagoon, which are all included on the ride.

Riders stay at the local family run guest houses in twin or bunk rooms with shared bathrooms. Meals are shared with the other riders in a communal dining room with picnic lunches included on the ride.  The hot tub provides something to look forward to at the end of the day.  Iceland is a more expensive destination but the beautiful riding holidays have everything included.

When riding, the group has a maximum of 16 riders and the ride will cover 15-30 kms each day.  A herd of horses come along on the ride with the group loose and the riders will change horses and may ride up to four different horses in one day.  The riding experience is about enjoying the local scenery, meeting the families and having fun with your fellow riding companions for the week.  The riding holidays are popular with Scandinavians, Germans, English and Americans and many of the tours book out early.

Horses are very much a way of life to the Icelanders and most farms have at least a few horses. No matter where you travel you will see the Icelandic horses with small breeding and riding farms everywhere.

The riding season starts from mid-June to early September and there are also shorter rides in the winter to include the Northern lights.  All the guides speak the local language on top of having excellent English. Other longer tours are available for advanced riders to the North of Iceland which offers more mountainous terrain and the Snæfellsjökull National Park with a more diverse landscape.

The best time to visit Iceland is the end of June to September when the weather is warmer.  20 degrees is considered a warm day for Iceland and you will see the locals in t-shirts basking in the sun.  When I visited in early June it was the time of the midnight sun which is from mid-May to Mid-August with daylight all the time.  This was not a problem but just a little strange when I woke one night at 1 am to look out the window and still see daylight.

Iceland is a beautiful country and the Icelandic people are very welcoming and friendly. It is such an amazing place if you are looking for a horsey adventure. and we can help with various other travel options with local tours, self-drive and other tour companies and cruises.

If you are not wanting a horse ride and just want to visit Iceland, our other travel company Plan to Travel can help you with various other travel options including local tours, self-drive tours and we cna help you with many of the other tour companies that offer tours and cruises to Iceland.

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