If you’re thinking of heading to Iceland, you probably already have a list of things that you’d like to do. From going whale watching to relaxing in the blue lagoon spa and witnessing the northern lights, there’s plenty to discover in Iceland. One thing that you have to do, however, goes horseback riding in Iceland. Not convinced? Below are five reasons why you should go horseback riding in Iceland.
Meeting the majestic Icelandic horse
Icelandic horses are incredible because they’re direct descendants of the horses that the Vikings brought over in the 9th and 10th centuries. They’ll also melt your hearts with their sturdy build and flowy manes. They can be mistaken for ponies due to their smaller stature. However, they’re most definitely not a pony. They specifically have these attributes to survive Iceland’s harsh climate throughout the year.
What’s unique about these horses is that they’re the only breed in the world that has five different gaits. These gaits are walk, trot, pace, tölt, and skeið. Tölt is something in between a trot and a canter and is an excellent speed for beginners. Due to the smoothness of the gait, you can easily glide through Iceland’s various terrain without worrying about bouncing in the saddle. Skeið, on the other hand, is a gait that you’d probably want to avoid. It’s a flying pace that’s very fast and usually used for races where the horses can reach up to speeds of 50km/hour. Now that you know a little bit more about the unique Icelandic horse, why wouldn’t you want to ride on these amazing creatures and experience all that Iceland has to offer?
Unlocking different terrains
Iceland has a wide variety of terrains ranging from black volcanic sand to lunar-like craters, lagoons, vegetation, and more. While you’ll be able to experience some of this surreal landscape by foot or car, horseback riding unlocks the terrain on a whole different level. Imagine riding through lava fields, green hillsides, streams, and more. With the mountains being part of Iceland’s landscape, a lot of the terrain can’t be reached by foot, but can be reached by horses. While a large part of Iceland’s interior was previously inaccessible, the construction of roads has now made the deserts, volcanos, and icecaps far more accessible. These areas, however, can still be challenging to get to as the land can be somewhat rocky. With horses, however, you’ll be able to traverse this steep terrain and soak in the incredible scenery.
Immersing yourself in a fairy tale experience
With the amount of serene and picturesque landscapes in Iceland, you’ll already feel like you’re part of a dream. When you add an Icelandic horse to the mix and tölt through the landscape, it’ll become an unforgettable fairy tale. Imagine horseback riding through Löngufjörur Beach on the black volcanic sand along the edge of the sea as you hear the sound of crashing waves. When you’re on horseback in this area, you can even ride unobstructed for hours. Alternatively, ride up the mountains in the Reykjadalur Valley and marvel at the panoramic views below. Riding up the mountains will also only take four or five hours rather than an overnight trip. You’ll also get to different types of scenery on your way up the mountain, which includes vistas of various towns such as Hveragerði. The views are sure to take your breath away, and the memories will last you a lifetime.
Exploring the winter landscape
The winters in Iceland can be rather brutal, and you might be wondering why you’d want to be partaking in a horseback riding experience during this chilly time of the year. While it’s certainly cold, Iceland also transforms into a magical winter wonderland during this time with snow-covered trails that offer their own type of beauty. You’ll get to see the fields and trees covered in a blanket of snow, and that’s something you wouldn’t want to miss.
Are you worried about riding in the snow? The Icelanders are seasoned riders in the winter, and are more than aware of the precautions that need to be taken. Horses usually wear special winter shoes that help keep their grip and prevent them from slipping or from snowballs forming under their hoofs. Before you embark on a winter horseback riding adventure, however, make sure that you’re appropriately protected from the cold with warm gloves, gear, and rubber boots. With the right gear and the horses properly equipped, you’re all set to enjoy Iceland’s winter wonderland.
Partaking in a unique herding sheep experience
While this only happens once a year, it’s still something that you’ll only be able to achieve through horseback riding. This 300-year old Icelandic tradition is known as réttir and involves the herding of a considerable number of sheep. Every September, after these sheep have had their share of roaming the mountains and frolicking in the warm weather, they are then herded together for the winter. This event takes place across the country, and while it’s usually exclusive to farmers, tourists can now be a part of the experience. You’ll need to be a seasoned horse rider and know your way around steep paths, a wide range of terrain, and be okay with riding in the dark. Don’t worry about getting used to riding an Icelandic horse as you’ll have a total of three days before the event to practice your riding skills. Then on the fourth day, be ready to rise early at 2 a.m and proceed to herd about 7,000-8,000 sheep over the next two days. On the final day, you’ll then get to socialize with the other farmers and join in communal singing; you’ll even get to pet the fluffy sheep.
So there you have it…
Five reasons why you need horse riding when you’re in Iceland. With all the fantastic scenery and incredible experiences on offer, why wouldn’t you want to get on an Icelandic horse and roam around this picturesque environment? If you’re heading to Iceland, you’ll need somewhere cosy to stay.
Text courtesy of Neil Kleise