One of the most fantastic activities to do while in Iceland is to complete a horse riding tour on the majestic Icelandic Horse.
Driving through the Icelandic countryside you will see pastures full of wild Icelandic horses. Tourists often stop to admire and take pictures of these absolutely beautiful creatures as they drive to see the attractions on the golden circle – Iceland’s #1 self drive tourist route featuring geysers, waterfalls and the most breathtaking natural landscapes. We visited Iceland with the intention of hunting down the northern lights and going on a dog sledding expedition, one of the most popular activities to do on a winter vacation in Iceland. However, to our dismay, these tours were booked out months in advance and we were unable to fulfill our dream of dog sledding.
As we were driving around the golden circle, we stopped to take pictures with Icelandic horses in a paddock nearby. The appearance of the horses fascinated us as they are very unique and totally different to the regular horse. The Icelandic horse, a breed native to Iceland, are only about the size of a pony with noticeably short and strong legs. They are also a particularly friendly breed of horse as, to our surprise, the horses skated over a thin sheet of ice to greet us as we approached the fence. Later that day, we decided to visit our newfound friends again and bring some carrots we had bought at the local supermarket as a gift to which they thoroughly appreciated. This encounter gave us an idea of an activity we might like to pursue – an early morning horse ride through the snow.
As Iceland (like the rest of Scandinavia) is a very expensive country, we scouted the internet for a good value horse riding expedition that provided us with a more personalised service. We heard that many horse rides were very overcrowded with not enough staff for the amount of riders. As beginner horse riders, having enough staff was of particular importance to us. We eventually stumbled across Sólhestar Horse Rental. They boasted fabulous reviews and offered a complimentary pick up and drop of service to Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital city, 30 minutes away. We booked a 3 hour horseback riding tour for 65 Euros per person. (Check the website for current pricing.)
The company picked us up at around 8:00am and drove us to their equestrian centre. It was still dark at this time of morning and extremely cold in the midst of the Icelandic winter. Upon arrival, they suited us up with insulated winter jumpsuits and provided us with winter riding boots. A brief introduction and meet and greet with the horses followed, then we were off, treading through thick snow into the sunrise. While we were riding along, I often wondered if the horses would lose footing and fall head over heels with me right behind them into knee-deep snow. Luckily, they never seemed to falter. The horses also took no notice of the bitterly cold weather. I later learned that Icelandic horses have a double coat as a result of selective breeding over many years.
We had an absolutely fabulous horse riding vacation. Our group of four were the only ones on the tour and the guide (a horse lover from Sweden on a working holiday) was fantastic and extremely patient with us as novice horse riders. She provided us with a personalized lesson and even allowed us to ride the horses at a faster pace when we were feeling confident to do so. She also ensured that she was riding in front of the pack at all times so the horses didn’t get overly excited and gallop home. As the horses did get very excited when the homestead was in sight, I was glad that she enforced this rule strongly throughout the ride. When we arrived back to the centre we were treated to traditional Christmas biscuits and warm coffee or tea.
There was something particularly magical about taking a horse ride through the snow while watching the sunrise in Iceland. We missed out on dog sledding this trip but I think we found something even better. If you are ever looking for a ‘winter wonderland’ horse riding holiday then Iceland is a fantastic choice.
If You Go:
Sólhestar Horse Rental
Telephone: +354 892 3066
Borgargerði, 816 Ölfus, Iceland
This post originally featured as a guest post on Writing Horseback.