My first time ever on a horse was in Napoli in September of 2015. We rode up Mt. Vesuvius. So obviously being in another land with volcanoes I knew I had to keep up the trend and ride a horse in Iceland too. During my final weekend in Iceland it was time to get this done. I tried to get on an afternoon tour (as again, my final weekend!) but they were all booked (book in advance people, 3 or 4 days in advance may not be enough time to get what you want when you want. This is especially difficult for an only child to understand :p). So despite my last Friday night happening the night before I was still up at 7:40 AM to get ready to be picked up at 8 AM for my horse riding tour. I suggest you get more than 3.5 hours of sleep if you are planning on riding a horse.
I booked my tour through Eld Hestar and they picked me up where I was staying and drove us outside of Reykjavik to the horse farm. It was a large group. I’d say about 30 of us in total who went on the tour together (very different from Napoli.) Then they had us put on these winter jumpsuits to keep us warm, supplied us with boots (if we didn’t have the right shoes), and helmets. Remember it’s cold in Iceland, and apparently they care about your safety. (We did not have helmets in Italy.) They brought us outside, gave us all a horse and told the entire group in one fell swoop how to get on the horse and how to use the reins. Unfortunately, with a group so large it’s kind of hard to hear when a person is not using a microphone and their projection skills would not have worked in the theater 100 years ago.
Once we all finally got up on the horses they had us all head out single file. There was a guide to the front, one to the back, and another in the middle. The guides main job seemed to be telling people not to take photos while on the horse. We were not told this in Italy. I snuck a few photos anyway. (I’m a rebel!)
The tour had us out heading through the lava fields which were covered in snow, so that bummed me out just a little bit. Icelandic ponies have special types of walking/galloping that only they do. According to Wikipedia:
The first additional gait is a four-beat lateral ambling gait known as the tölt. This is known for its explosive acceleration and speed; it is also comfortable and ground-covering.There is considerable variation in style within the gait, and thus the tölt is variously compared to similar lateral gaits such as the rack of the Saddlebred, the largo of the Paso Fino, or the running walk of the Tennessee Walking Horse. Like all lateral ambling gaits, the footfall pattern is the same as the walk (left hind, left front, right hind, right front), but differs from the walk in that it can be performed at a range of speeds, from the speed of a typical fast walk up to the speed of a normal canter. Some Icelandic horses prefer to tölt, while others prefer to trot; correct training can improve weak gaits, but the tölt is a natural gait present from birth. There are two varieties of the tölt that are considered incorrect by breeders. The first is an uneven gait called a “Pig’s Pace” or “Piggy-pace” that is closer to a two-beat pace than a four-beat amble. The second is called a Valhopp and is a tölt and canter combination most often seen in untrained young horses or horses that mix their gaits. Both varieties are normally uncomfortable to ride.
The breed also performs a pace called a skeið, flugskeið or “flying pace”. It is used in pacing races, and is fast and smooth, with some horses able to reach up to 30 miles per hour (48 km/h). Not all Icelandic horses can perform this gait; animals that perform both the tölt and the flying pace in addition to the traditional gaits are considered the best of the breed. The flying pace is a two-beat lateral gait with a moment of suspension between footfalls; each side has both feet land almost simultaneously (left hind and left front, suspension, right hind and right front). It is meant to be performed by well-trained and balanced horses with skilled riders. It is not a gait used for long-distance travel. A slow pace is uncomfortable for the rider and is not encouraged when training the horse to perform the gait. Although most pacing horses are raced in harness using sulkies, in Iceland horses are raced while ridden.
Anytime I’d have a chance to get my ponies past walking I would get stuck behind someone who would be riding in the middle of the path and now allowing room for passing. It become quite frustrating as anytime I’d try to go out of the path to pass I’d be told to stay in lane. You would think with 3 guides and 30+ people they wouldn’t see so much, but they did. They were highly trained, for your safety. But, from an Italian family, specifically from Napoli, not that we don’t care about safety, we’re just a little bit more loose in the rules. So while in Napoli you’d think you’d be watched like a hawk due to it being myself 1 other person and the guide, I was somehow much more free to do as I pleased there.
Afterwards we were offered tea or coffee and a cake which is known as Icelandic Happy Marriage Cake. We were told to wait for our ride home. When it was getting past the time were were to leave myself and a friend went looking around and we found our way to the hotel and the bus driver who was looking for us. They had told us to stay in the wrong spot.
This blog post may sound like I didn’t have a good time. But, it’s not that it was a bad time, it’s just different from my first time, also I was sorely needing sleep. I appreciate that they did everything they could to keep us safe, but I’ve always been one that kind of ventured out on her own and there was no room for that. So if you’re new to horse riding definitely check this tour out if you are in Iceland. You get up close with the adorable Icelandic ponies and get to seem some of the countryside while on a docile pony which is an easy steeping stone into horse riding. I’d say though, go in the summer once the snow has melted so you can actually see the lava fields.
If you aren’t familiar with Icelandic ponies, which are a special breed check out the full Wikipedia article on them.