An Overview of Horse Tours in Iceland
Iceland and its horses are our passion and we go to Iceland to ride with our outfitters and guides as often as possible. Our clients tell us how much they appreciate being told what to expect in this faraway land so we explore as far and wide as we can while we are there, checking out hotels and restaurants when we get off the horse, and finding the best hot springs. It's a very tough job!
Most of the tours we feature are in the very old Icelandic tradition which involves traveling some distances on their horses, and generally the Icelanders ride at a pretty fast pace.
Of course, the big deal in touring in Iceland is that on the longer rides you ride along with a herd of loose horses. These horses serve as your remounts allowing you to ride perhaps 3 horses in a long day.
We have ridden in, and considered offering tours in, several other lands (sometimes even on Icelandic horses) and this singular aspect of herding remounts seems to be exclusively Icelandic.
The idea of riding tours didn't come from someone in the tourist industry-it's been developed by Icelandic farmers in centuries past. In a near-Arctic pastoral country Icelanders had to round up their sheep and horses from far flung mountain valleys each autumn. This is an arduous week's work for man and horse, so they condition their horses by riding them in the wilds, over hills and passes, traveling from farm to farm and up to the remote huts where they would stay during the roundups. It conditions the horses, gives the farmers a chance to look over herds and flocks up in the hills...and,Yeah, it was a vacation of sorts from the daily routine of farming.
Many horse treks in other parts of the world are at a relaxed speed, and we can send you on rides in Iceland that travel in a more leisurely way -some walking and tolting, along soft trails; and it's a good way to see the country and experience a bit of the horses. But, if you been riding for a time, and are comfortable with horses, and would like to experience a bit of unique equestrian tradition talk to us about riding with the herd, as is commonly done in Iceland.
Picking a Riding Tour
Picking an outfitter for a riding vacation in a faraway land isn't easy. A little advice and help in making arrangements can go a long way to keeping the adventure where you want it. This should be when you're on an Icelandic horse riding across the magnificent countryside that Iceland has preserved- not when you're wondering if this ride is right for you!
Because we very much like Iceland, it's horses and people, we relish the idea of introducing people to the Icelandic Horse. People are always amazed at what this little gaited horse will do! We've ridden with many outfitters in the last few years, learning their strengths and routes, their guides, horses and accomodations. We've gotten to know what sort of traveler will get on best with each of our outfitters. In the last 13 yearsof doing this, the people whom we've sent riding in Iceland have come back from their trips with praise for our suggestions and support and usually with high praise for Iceland and its horses.
Horses North offers a wide variety of horse riding tours, and we are happy to help you pick the level of adventure travel that suits your style. There's some real variety, starting withday rides for a few hours, near Reykjavik, where you'll be picked up and delivered back to your hotel after a short time on some very gentle and smooth gaited horses. At the other end of the scale there are tours where you'll cover up to 30 miles on some days, and you'll really appreciate the gaited qualities of the Icelandic horse. You may not have hot water all the time, but you will get into some amazingly rugged and beautiful, areas that would be hard to reach any way but on a horse. And the Icelandic horse makes it all easy!
New categories to make it easier to pick a ride
For 2011, we're organizing our rides into general categories based on a few aspects - number of riding days, length, and terrain of daily rides, accommodations and riding with the herd - but there's some overlap between them. You'll see a description of the various categories below, but please get in touch to discuss more fully - we're always happy to chat!
From an hour to a day, there a number of nice opportunities for those with just a bit of time for horses. Whether just beyond Reykjavik proper, or out in the country, a short ride offers a nice taste of the tolt. You can also take a day-long ride, or use an 8 hour riding clinic to sharpen your riding skills. Day rides are generally priced without airfare, as most people just add them on to other Iceland activities. If we are booking other elements of travel services for you we'll help you find the day tours that work out best for your location and interests. Most our activer clients want to to try at least a short ride on the amazing creatures.
Short rides 2-4 days, generally through terrain that's not too rugged with one horse per rider. As you're staying in hotels and farm guesthouses rather these have a greater level of creature comfort. Good for newer riders, families with older kids, or those who want to relax and enjoy the landscape at a comfortable pace. Fun riding but no break neck pace. Pretty relaxing at day's end and a chance for other activities-hiking, fishing, bird watching- as well.
Level 2 Rides - more complex, farm and hotel based
Multi days rides, but each rider will have one horse, and you don't ride with the herd. But some real riding -occasionally challenging terrain and some long days. You'll want to be comfortable and in control at walk trot and up for short canters. As in Level 1 rides you'll stay in farm guesthouses or country hotels. You'll want to be comfortable on horseback but it's fine if this is your first experience with Icelandic's.
Our most popular touring option! Iceland's wild back country is not far off Highway 1, and these rides will get you there quickly. From 4 to 9 days, 20 - 50 km a day, these tours are like those taken by Icelandic farmers, conditioning their horses for the fall round ups. Mount up after a good breakfast a good breakfast, proceeds at a pretty good clip, with stops to graze both horse and rider (lunch) and then ends with a home cooked dinner in a mountain hut, community center or farm guesthouse. Nights in sleeping bags (on mattresses) and we upgrade your accommodations if there's a last night in Reykjavik. At the end of the day, the food is hearty, the songs are plentiful, and the surroundings are lovely. Many Level 3 rides travel with a herd of loose remounts but not all. Icelandic experience isn't required, but you do want to have time in the saddle, have a firm seat and be ready for long days of riding.
In the old days, Icelanders would travel north to south on tracks through the highlands, to get to Thingvellir for the annual parliament. You'll want to be fit and happy with long days in the saddle, some real speed and challenging terrain - most outfitters suggest these only for those who have ridden in Iceland previously. But if you're ready for it, it's the real deal, Iceland Style!
Riding with the Herd: Something Special
A lot of riders are astounded to hear about Iceland's tradition of riding with a herd of a herd of loose horses for remounts. We think it's a unique tradition in the world - and we're delighted to be able to help Americans enjoy this special aspect of Iceland and it's horses. When farmers go riding in the summer to train the horses, and to get them ready for the work of the roundups in the fall, they always drive a good sized herd of remounts along. On a long day of riding that might cover 30 miles or so they would each ride three or four horses. Not all of the modern day tours that are available do this, but if it's something you want to try we can steer you to those tours that do ride with a loose herd. It is an experience that will stay with long after you're back home!:
Few things are more fun for a group of friends than riding together in Iceland. It's quite easy to custom make a ride for groups, large or small, and it's not necessarily more expensive than the using a scheduled tour. We work with outfitters and farmers who take you on a tour that you and your pals will long remember!