Truly magical trip on a horse back: One week of riding with a herd of Icelandic horses
Map of Iceland • Introduction • Grytubakki farmhouse • Godafoss • Bardardalur • Stóratunga • Tunguhraun • Myvatn • Námaskarð • Reykjadalur • Facts about Iceland
Even though you wouldn’t be planning a trip like this right now (but you will!), you will find many tips on different sights on Northern Iceland. And inspiring photos, above all.
Map of Iceland
I went to Iceland in the middle of August and it was fine weatherwise. You should know, though, that the Icelandic weather is totally unpredictable. In one moment you sit on the meadow wearing your t-shirt having a cup of coffee, enjoying the sun, in the next the rain – mixed with snow – is pouring down. So, make sure to keep change of clothes in the bus, especially dry socks. And think layering.
The Fascinating North Iceland Tour with Pólar Hestar is more for experienced riders. The terrain is a bit tough at times, the horses are energetic and the best part: You will be riding with a herd of 40 Islandic horses. For a week!
We were a party of 16 people consisting of Germans, Americans, Swedish and Finnish.
First day: Arrival
We get picked up at the airport and the drive to Grytubakki takes approximatelt 30 minutes. We meet the other riders for the first time, have dinner together, plan for the ride next day and sleep over at the farmhouse.
There are only Icelandic horses in Iceland. You do not import horses to Iceland and horses that have been outside Iceland will never return. The Icelandic horse is the most purebred horse in the world and has few diseases but she is extremely susceptible to infections from abroad.
If you bring your own riding gear, like riding cap and boots, they must be carefully disinfected. Also, your riding clothes should be washed in 40 degrees.
Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority recommends Virkon S for desinfection.
The breed is strong and sturdy and most of the horses stay outdoor all year around, even when it snows. The Icelandic horse tends to be between 125 and 145 cm tall.
The Icelandic horse has five gaits: walk, trot, canter, tölt and flying pace. They start to tölt automatically quite often when the leader horse does, but wouldn’t that be the case this is how you should do: Sit deep in the saddle (generally speaking, you actually sit on the cantle), hold the reigns a little tighter and lean back, squeeze with your legs and play a little with your reigns.
Second day of riding in Iceland
Godafoss, Bardardalur Valley
5-6 hours in the saddle
You will soon learn that when you see the bus it is time for a break and a bite.
Godafoss, “Waterfall of the Gods”. The story goes that the lawspeaker Torgeir Ljosvetningagode Torkelsson threw all the statues of the Norse gods into the waterfall when Iceland converted into Christianism year 1 000. Foss means waterfall, by the way.
Godafoss is 12 meters high and 30 meters wide.
After Godafoss, we continue to Fremstafell to pick up the horses. Stefán, our guide and the owner of Pólar hestar, gives you a small note every morning where he has written down the name of two horses. You will be riding the first one in the morning and the second in the afternoon.
I say: “I’ll have Tuborg”, and wait till someone picks him up for me.
The wind is always blowing which is why the horses stand with their butt aganst the wind, to protect themselves.
Third day of riding in Iceland
Stóruvellir, Stóratunga, Ódaðahraun, Aldeyrarfoss
4-5 hours in the saddle
When you are driving the herd you will either be riding in front of the horses just after the point rider, or after the herd, making sure that it keeps on moving. Obviously, it is more fun to be among the fore riders than to be a dragrider since the pace is really fast at times.
Some horses are more suited to running in front of the herd, some in the rear group, and some are good at both.
Stefán looks after his horses really well and we take several pauses during the ride. Every one will be helping out to gather the horses when it is time to move on.
We ride over the lava fields of Ódaðahraun. According to the legend this is the home of elves and trolls and even though I didn’t see any it truly felt a little spooky and – the horses were more excited than usual.
We take a walk to the waterfall Aldeyrarfoss when we arrive at our accommodation in Stórutunga. It is raining and so cold but when we return to the lodge it looks like this:
The Icelandic weather in a nutshell.
The old farm. A friend from Iceland told me that when her mother grew up they only had warm water at home, the Icelanders make use of the hot springs.
Fourth day of riding in Iceland
Stóratunga, the river Skjálfandafljót, Tunguhraun, Tunguhamri, the river Svartá, the river Suðurá, Réttartorfur, Hrafnabjörg Waterfall
5 1/2 hours in the saddle
Tunguhraun. Approximately 11 % of the surface of Iceland is covered with lava.
During the break you unclasp the reign and just leave it hanging loose. The horses stay and grace. Sometimes you take the saddle off and sometimes not, depending on the length of the break.
Fifth day of riding in Iceland
Myvatn, the Perles of the North: Skutustaðir, Dimmuborgir, Námaskarð
3-4 hours in the saddle
The horses standing with their butt against the wind, always.
Every one gets their own saddle the first day. You write your name on it so you know which one is yours.
The restaurant is open in the ditch close to you. You’ll have sandwiches you made yourself earlier in the morning for lunch and coffee, cake and fruit. The food has never tasted this good. And we never run out of food.
Myvátn is a volcanic lake and famous not only for its beauty but the abundance of birds thus making Myvátn for a paradise for birdwatchers. And even for flyfishers.
Myvátn means lake of midges because the number of midges summer time is huge!
The Mid-Atlantic Ridge runs throughout Iceland but especially the area around Myvátn is full of active volcanoes, sulfur pools and lava formations.
Western Iceland belongs to the North American plate and the Eastern Iceland the Eurasian plate.
The tectonic plates are slowly separating 1,5-2 cm per year. Due to the geological activity, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes are common throughout Iceland.
Iceland consumes most energy per capita in the world. However, they are also good at renewable energy and c. a quarter of theelectricity is produced by pumping up hot water from the underground.
C. 90% of the Icelandic households get their district heating from geothermal heat.
Dimmuborgir area is composed of lava fields and unusual rock formations. It is also a home of trolls with killer instincts.
We did not see any and left the place alive.
Námaskarð is a geothermal area consisting of boiling mud and sulfur pools.
The Danish fleet produced powder from Námaskarð sulfur during Christian IV 1578–1648.
There is no vegetation here as the constant emissions of smoke and steam have made the soil acidic and sterile. The sulfur vapors can be dangerous even for people to breathe in.
Sixth day of riding in Iceland
Myvatnsheiði, Reykjadalur, Breiðimyri
6 hours in the saddle
The Icelandic horse is such an amazing creature. She is hardy and fun, always doing her best. And don’t get me started on her temperament!
I ride big horses usually so I could have not imagined how tough and truly special the Icelandic horse is.
Sleepover in an old school.
Seventh day of riding in Iceland
Vatnshlið, Fljótsheiði, river Skjálfandafljót, forest Fellskógur, waterfall Ullarfoss and Barnafoss
6 hours in the saddle
Two meters to your left you have a stoop of hundreds of meters. Stefán told us that he lost a horse here earlier when she just went mad and jumped down.
Those who dare to look down from the horseback will see the Reykjadalur valley, the smokey valley. Reykjadalur is a popular travel destination with its hot springs and beautiful scenery.
Departure, Akureyri Airport
Every one said goodbye in tears. This is the most fantastic trip I have ever experienced, ever.
At least for now.
Facts about Iceland
- Currency: Króna
- Temperature: Mild all year around thanks to the Golf Stream. The average temperature in Iceland in June is 11 degrees.
- Beer prohibition. It was prohibited to drink beer in Iceland untill 1989.
- Gender equal. Iceland is the most equal country in the world. (Source: World Economic Forum 2015)
- The military base in Keflavik was discontinued in 2006 and the American troops left the country. Iceland is member of NATO but has no military forces of its own.
- Akureyri is the second largest city in Iceland with a population of c. 18 500. If you visit Akureyri don’t miss the beautiful stone church Akureyrarkirkja.
- Ragnar Axelsson, world famous documentary photographer. Check him up, he is great!
- Bless! Bye!