A place full of unseen wonders and magical sights, Iceland is that once in a lifetime kind of experience people write books about. Astonishing sites, unique culture, a rich history, and natural beauty that has been barely touched by mankind, Iceland offers you experiences that remain to be unforgettable throughout life. One such wonderful and unique thing special to the land of ice and fire is horseback riding with a special Icelandic breed of horses. Gorgeous creatures, Icelandic horses are popular for their unique appearance, their special 5th gait, and a build that is capable of conquering the most difficult terrains to cross – sometimes even the impossible ones. If you have never seen a blue-eyed horse, rejoice because you will see it in Iceland.
About Horse-Riding as an Activity
Horse riding has been a long-followed tradition of Iceland and reaches back to the earliest civilization of mankind in the country. The initial Norse settlers came to Iceland in the mid-9th century and the one animal that they brought with them was this special breed of horse. Since then, Icelandic horses have been loyal to human beings and have become increasingly popular among tourists as well. Horse riding is gaining more and more popularity among the visitor by each passing day and has become one of the most loved and adored activities among animal lovers. You do not have to travel to any special places to get a chance to hop-on these majestic steeds. Almost all main parts of the country house a few stables as well as riding facilities which can offer you great touring options without having to travel long distances.
Know your Steed
There are a few things one must know before approaching any animal to maintain healthy contact. Icelandic horses are very friendly and are very polite. They are extremely curious and intelligent creatures. They bond with humans easily since they have not been exposed to predators a lot. Make sure to approach them politely and do not startle them while taking pictures. As far as riding is concerned, the small physique of Icelandic horses makes it easy for everyone to hop-on without facing any troubles with the height or the saddle. The small build of these horses is very versatile, strong-footed, and contains a lot of strength to tackle even the toughest of terrains out there.
Icelandic horses have 5 gaits while other breeds in the world have 4 or 3 gaits at most. Tolt is the world-famous gait of Icelandic horses is known to be so smooth that you can ride holding a glass full of water in hand and won’t spill a single drop. Fascinating, right? Another unique gait of Icelandic steeds is Skeið – also known as the flying pace. A horse travels at a speed of about 49 km/h when riding at a flying pace which is not known for any other breed of horses in the world.
Icelandic horses have a life expectancy of about 40 years which is almost 10-15 years more than other breeds. There are about 40 different colors and 100 different patterns of horses in Iceland. Another unique thing worth knowing is that some Icelandic horses change colors and patterns several times during their lifetime. These are called litföróttur colored which translates to “color change” in English. These horses also have blue-colored eyes – another unique feature of Icelandic horses.
Ideal Time to Go Horse Riding in Iceland
While the country is open for tourists the whole year offering different kinds of seasonal activities, the best time to go horse riding from April to September in the spring-summer season. Most side routes along with the main ones are open this time of the year so you get more tour options to choose from. Only a few places in the highlands see snowfall but blizzard occurrences are highly unlikely so you can easily visit most of the landscapes and sightseeing sites of the country in this season.
Another fun way to spend your riding time is by doing it under the glimmering northern lights. While most facilities are open for summer and spring season only, some touring and horse-riding agencies in and around the capital city, the south coast and Skagafjörður offer tours throughout the year. Try to score a ride between December and February if you specifically desire to get a good view of the Northern Lights.
The Best Sites to go Horse Riding
The capital city of Iceland is the hub for most kinds of tourist activities since almost all day tours offer a pick up from Reykjavik. Be it glacier hiking, diving, ice caving, hot spring baths, or even horse riding. You will, of course, travel to further different locations for the actual ride to begin but the meeting point with the agencies and horse is in the city. Horse riding tours from Reykjavík often leave for the nearby popular lava fields, on trails along the red hills, Rauðarvatn lake, Raufarhólshellir lava tube, nearby glaciers, beaches, whale watching sites, and many other countless destinations. While some of these destinations and tours are open for any to join in, some are specifically available for experienced riders only. So, make sure that you have checked with the tour if you are hoping to enjoy the ride with the whole family. Most riding tours from Reykjavík are often combined with other tours like whale watching, glacier hiking, sightseeing and hence they can last anywhere between 1 to 8 days.
You can also choose to go on tours to the nearest horse farms from the city where you can go socialize with the horse and learn about breeding, training and more. If you are an animal enthusiast, this kind of tour is sure to get your spirits hyped up.
Situated on the Western coast of Iceland and to the north of the capital city, the Snaefellsnes peninsula houses the Snaefellsjokull national park. Covering the fabulous landscapes that this place features are best done when riding a horse. The volcano of Snaefellsjokull, rich birdlife, beautiful beaches are just a few to mention. Most horse back riding tours for this area cover extensive lava fields, sandy, light-colored beaches of Longufjorur, the crater of Eldborg, and Hitardalur valley. The area is mostly consisted of plains hence it one of the best places to experience the ever-famous gait of Icelandic horses – Tolt. Pick up for horse riding tours to this area is generally from the capital city. Most tours are multi-day tours so you will be provided accommodation services along with the tour.
A lot of tricky destinations are included in horse riding tours to the Snaefellsnes peninsula hence only intermediate and experienced riders are allowed on most of these tours. You must check with the tours beforehand as there are some options available for beginners as well.
The Golden Circle
One of the most popular destinations for horse riding, the Golden Circle is all about the Icelandic horse, fabulous rides, and gorgeous landscapes. It is one of the most preferred day tours in Iceland and is often covered in cars or super jeeps. Horse riding across the 300 kilometers long road is an exciting option to choose though. Golden Circle riding tours often cover all the main attractions like Geysir Geothermal Area, Þingvellir, and Gullfoss Waterfall. Lasting several days, this tour will take you to the most amazing cascading waterfalls, ranches, glaciers, geysers, and open fields each day and will end with a soothing soak in the hot springs. Golden Circle riding tours are available for beginners as well.
You can also choose to add a short 1 – 2 hour horse riding tour to our Golden Circle sightseeing tour.
Some of the top destinations that you must visit in the Golden Circle include Geysir Geothermal Area where you will see an eruption of boiling water every 5 to 10 minutes. Gullfoss – the Golden Waterfall shall be your next step to get the best of the Midnight Sun while the waters shine in its light. After that visit Þingvellir National Park which is the site of the only rift valley on the Mid-Atlantic ridge visible above sea level. Ride down to the countryside afterward through the highlands and make a stop at the secret lagoon.
The Central Highlands – Ride of The Experts
Bountiful thrill awaits you in the most inaccessible region of the land of ice and fire. The Highlands of Iceland are one of the least populated areas in the entire continent of Europe and hence has retained its natural beauty free of any human interference. All riding trails in the highland areas are very difficult to conquer but nothing beats the Icelandic horse. While the horses will get you through the trails, the ride can still be a bit bouncier so only experienced riders should join this tour.
Horse Riding in the highlands will probably be the most rugged and raw kind of riding you will get in the country. It demands long hours in the saddle, traveling with a loose herd of horses and staying in mountain huts. You will be bathing in hot springs and it will take several days to cover the whole trail. It is the perfect trip for you to take if you are looking for something more than just a simple ride with adorable little horses of Iceland.
Located in Fjallabak Nature Reserve, Landmannalaugar is the prime site for hiking and horse riding in the Highlands of Iceland. Famous for its kaleidoscopic mountains that feature beautiful colors like a rainbow, Landmannalaugar also contains several thermal pools that are absolutely free to visit. Thórsmörk is where you will start most of your rides. The place is named after the Norse god of thunder Thor. The riding tours in Landmannalaugar lasts for multiple days since there are many sites to cover like Hekla Volcano, Torfajökull and Eyjafjallajökull volcanoes, mountains, hot springs, lakes valleys and more. Horse riding in Landmannalaugar shall be done by experienced riders.
Skagafjörður for Newbies
Suitable for riders from all skill levels, the small town of Skagafjörður is often referred to as the “cradle of Icelandic horsemanship”. The riding tours in town are specifically suitable for nervous first-time riders due to the easiness of several trails. The tours available for beginners only last for a day while the ones with a little higher level of difficulty can last multiple days. Top sites you need to cover when on one of these horse riding tours in Skagafjörður include Gilhagadalur canyon, Svartádalur valley as well as Hofsjökull and Langjökull glaciers. Multi-day horse riding tours will have you stay in a remote location on mountain huts which adds an authentic rustic feel to the trip. You can enjoy nature in its true glory at Skagafjörður.
Filled with mentions in Norse mythology, Eyjafjörður is the longest fjord of Iceland. It is surrounded by various mountains on all sides and contains trails that were once traveled by the Vikings. If you are a history enthusiast, Eyjafjörður has a sure-shot chance of making it to the top of your list for being the most exciting adventure on the back of a horse. It is also one of the best places to experience the midnight sun and is suitable for beginners to ride as well.
Black Sand Beach
Imagine those old 80s songs with the actors running on an extremely beautiful but secluded beach? Now, imagine you are one of the actors and you are not running but riding a beautiful and smart horse and the beach is every bit and even more beautiful but with black sand. The black sand beach of Iceland in Víkurfjara is a place no one should miss out on due to many reasons. It is exceptionally beautiful, one of its kind places and it can give you a chance to do some whale watching from the shore without having to ride a vessel. The white foamy ocean creates the perfect contrast against the jet-black sand of the beach.
South Coast - Perfect for Beginners
Along the south coast of Iceland, you can find variety of horse farms that offer horse riding tours. The duration of the riding tours can be from 1 hour and up to 8 hours. On the tours you will be riding along the beaches and mountains, and you can even take a riding our up to Reykjadalur valley and dip into the hot spring at the top of the mountain.
The short riding tours are the perfect activity to add to your self driving tour along the beautiful south coast.
Riding Attractions - Division by Area
- Golden Circle – Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall, Geysir Geothermal Area
- South Iceland- Vatnajökull National Park, Vatnajökull Glacier, Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Skógafoss Waterfall and Vik’s Black Sand Beach.
- North Iceland- Mývatn Lake, Goðafoss Waterfall, Dettifoss Waterfall, Ásbyrgi Canyon (the unique horse-shoe shaped canyon believed to be created by Odin’s horse Sleipnir), Skagafjörður and Eyjafjörður.
- West Iceland- Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
- East Iceland- Eastfjords, Berufjörður, Borgarfjörður Eystri, and Hallormsstaðaskógur Forest (Iceland’s largest forest).
Dress Up for The Occasion – What to Wear
Wearing the right kind of clothes is very important for any adventurous activity so that you stay comfortable and can enjoy it well. Here are a few tips to help you pack or carry the right kind of outfit.
- Comfortable Pants- Stretchable pants like leggings or sweatpants are the best kind of pants to wear for horse riding. They will be comfortable throughout the ride and won’t cause any allergies either. You can layer with some kind of warmers if the weather is colder than you can handle in a single layer.
- Insulated Jacket- Iceland is chilly even in summer so a good insulated jacket is required at all times. The weather tends to change in an even drastic manner in the countryside, on glaciers and other remote areas so you need to be fully prepared.
- Warm layers- They will come in handy when you get tired of your heavy insulated jackets. If you are wearing enough warm layers underneath the jacket, you will be able to take it off in sunny weather and walk around comfortably without feeling cold.
- Helmet and Closed Shoes- Safety reasons require you to wear a helmet and closed shoes. Waterproof shoes are the best option for you to pick for a horse ride no matter what the season. Many horse riding tours will provide those for you.
- Important Accessories– Gloves and warm hats will be required if the weather is chilly and windy. Horse rides are rather bouncy so make sure you are carrying the right kind of brassiere.
What to Expect?
If you are a first-time rider, expect some initial discomfort that comes along with using the saddle for the first time. You will have to make stops for the horses to rest and relax as well so be prepared for that. Some trails are more difficult than others hence prepare yourself mentally for a thrilling bouncy ride. But most of all, you can expect to have an experience of a lifetime with the beautiful horses of Iceland which can be beaten by scarcely anything else.