I received strict directions before arriving in Reykjavík from a family friend who’d just visited Iceland—“don’t call the Icelandic horse a pony.” Noted. While these furry animals are definitely shorter and stockier than your average American breed, they are in no way inferior. As a matter of fact, I believe they’re the Spartacus of horses. They withstand the brutal winds and cold of Iceland like champs. As you’re driving around the country and feeling very thankful to be in the shelter of a vehicle, you’ll frequently see these guys just hanging out in the fields, seemingly unaffected by the blizzard going on around them. Never underestimate the small and mighty.
Riding an Icelandic horse is both a necessary cultural experience as well as prime for bragging rights. Not many people can say they’ve ridden the only horse that has a fifth gait. The tölt, one of the gaits that sets the Icelandic horse apart, is such a smooth ride that Icelanders know it as the gait to drink a pint of beer with. While I didn’t get to test this theory while horse riding with Viking Horses, I still received an extremely authentic and charming experience with the company.
Viking Horses prides itself on offering small tours, trying to never book more than eight people for a ride. On this particular afternoon, I was one of three in my group. The company is owned and operated by a wonderfully friendly couple who instantly make you feel like a longtime friend visiting their stables. I stripped out of my raincoat and hat and suited up in all of the warm and waterproof clothing that Viking Horses provides. No need to stress—you don’t have to get that nice Patagonia dirty.
The first part of the tour consisted of a brief lesson in how to control and ride a horse and then about 10 minutes of riding around the ring. This allows you time to feel comfortable on your horse before heading out onto the trail, but trust me—Icelandic horses are very people-friendly and calm animals. I found them to be much less intimidating and easier to control than the breeds I’d ridden before. One of the men in my tour had never been on a horse before and he said he instantly felt comfortable with the animal.
The three of us, led by one of the owners, set off on the trails surrounding the stables. We rode through a forest, down to a lake overlooking parts of Reykjavík and over to a cluster of pseudo craters called Rauðhólar. The entire time I couldn’t quite put my finger on why the surroundings felt peculiar. Yes, the lava fields looked like something straight out of Game of Thrones, but so much of Iceland is covered in dramatic and unusual landscapes. And then it dawned on me— it was green! I’d been unknowingly living in a black and white world (Iceland has virtually no trees) and now I was cruising through a beautiful green birch forest. How a tree-hugging gal like me survived so long without this tranquil environment will forever bewilder me.
After trying to absorb enough fresh photosynthesis to last me the remainder of my days in Iceland, we were invited into the owners’ home for a delicious Icelandic meal consisting of lamb soup, a flatbread and cheese board, a skyr dessert, and a cup of tea or coffee. It was remarkably personal. We had the opportunity to learn more about the owners, how they started this business and the nuances of the Icelandic horse. But mostly we chatted about good food and where to find the best cake in Reykjavík. Priorities.
I found the whole experience to be extremely intimate and exclusive. It’s obvious that the owners of Viking Horses want to get to know all of their clients and tailor the experience to the clients’ liking. It doesn’t feel like a business; it feels like a gathering of friends. As we drove away from the stables, I felt a little sad to be saying goodbye to the horses. Their furry coats are just asking to be cuddled and their affectionate demeanor is incredibly charming. I now understand why Icelanders take so much pride in their horses.
Good To Know
Who should do this tour
This tour is great for both first time riders and those with more experience. Since Viking Horses keeps their tour sizes small, they can easily tailor the level of riding to those in the group. Those looking for a personal, high-end excursion will not be disappointed with Viking Horses. The tour is also great for those who are interested in a more typical Icelandic cultural experience, since you’re served the Icelandic meal and have ample time to chat with the owners about the horses and their history.
Pickup and drop off
Viking Horses will pick you up and drop you back off at your accommodation. The time depends on which tour you book; they offer morning, afternoon, and evening tours. Since the owners serve a meal at the end of these tours, the drop off time can vary a bit depending on how long you want to hang around and chat in their lovely dining room. Although the website states that drop off for afternoon tours is 5:30pm, I was dropped off closer to 6pm. My group got a bit distracted petting the 2-week-old puppies in the home.
How to book
Lucky for you, you can book the Viking horses riding tour right here through the blog. I Heart Reykjavík makes a small commission of everything you book through the blog but you don’t pay anything extra. This small commission allows the team to carry on providing excellent, relevant and free travel advice for you and everyone else traveling to Iceland.
Viking Horses provides waterproof pants, coats, hats, and gloves if you need them. However, I recommend you still wear plenty of warm layers underneath. Wear shoes that you don’t mind getting a little muddy.
What to bring
Viking Horses provides all the equipment and food you need. You can bring your own camera, but your tour guide also takes pictures along the ride.
This post is a part of a series of posts where Sarah, our 23-year-old Coloradan blog-helping-elf, shares her findings during her 5-week stay in Reykjavík. Before Sarah joined us here in Reykjavík she spent a year in New Zealand where she got a taste for the sweet life of travel. After Reykjavík she’s headed south again to spend a year in Australia.
Read more of Sarah Takes on Iceland here.