An Iceland Vacation Experienced From the Back of an Icelandic Horse

Last Updated on June 3, 2014 by Jody Halsted

As we landed at Keflavik Airport for our first Iceland vacation, my husband was silent. He then turned to me for a brief moment and said, “I am taking in the lunar landscape.” Iceland has a unique and breathtaking landscape that is literally alive and breathing. The island sits right on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, so the volcanic and geothermal activity keep the landscape always changing. We were immediately captivated by the raw beauty of Iceland as well as how carefully the Icelanders preserve it. During each of our two trips to Iceland, our family opted to ride Icelandic horses for a unique way to experience the extraordinary landscape. When we signed up for our first horse riding tour, we had no idea how much riding would truly capture the essence of Iceland.

Iceland vacation, Iceland's unique landscape
Volcanic and geothermal activity in Iceland continues to create breathtakingly unique landscapes throughout the country.

Riding an Icelandic horse is a trip through time

When you ride an Icelandic horse, you experience a trip through time. Today’s Icelandic horses are actually descended from Scandinavian horses originally brought to the island in the 9th or 10th century. Iceland has worked hard to maintain the purity of this strong breed. In order to ensure breed purity, other horse breeds actually cannot be brought to the island. Additionally, an Icelandic horse that has left the island cannot return. With a bloodline so preserved, riding an Icelandic horse is truly like riding a Viking horse from centuries ago. Meeting these magnificent animals was like reaching our hands back in history to the time of our ancestors.

Icelandic horses
Majestic Icelandic horses are descended from horses brought to Iceland by the Vikings.

Perfect experience for beginning riders

Since neither my daughter nor I had ridden horses before our trip, I was a little nervous during our first riding adventure. Icelandic horses are pretty strong and look rather muscular! However, we found the horses to be exceptionally gentle. The horses are compact and short yet very hardy with a shaggy coat in winter. Despite their hardiness, Icelandic horses are stunning and we immediately fell in love with their beauty and spirit. Each of our horses had his or her own personality. The rides themselves were enchanting but each horse’s individual spunk added something a little more–eliciting a number of chuckles from our little one!

Iceland Vacation, Icelandic Horses
Meeting a new friend while riding with Laxnes.

For our first ride, we chose a tour with Laxnes Horse Farm. Laxnes has various tour options based on skill level and desired length of ride—including some multiple day adventures. Being beginners, we chose a shorter ride on charming Videy Island near Reykjavik. Videy is a beautiful natural space with only a few buildings. The main building on the island is a quaint stone home that happens to be one of the oldest in Iceland. A restaurant is housed in the home and after our ride, we were treated to waffles and hot cocoa inside. The island is also home to outdoor art including Yoko Ono’s Imagine Peace Tower.

Breathtaking. Only one word is necessary to describe our journey. Despite several bouts of rain, we were captivated by our ride. The horses were friendly and were very capable despite the changeable weather and terrain that is Iceland. The island was beautiful and the ride thoroughly relaxing. Our guide was patient and gifted at working with novice riders. He kept us riding at a pace that worked for us and helped us with pointers the whole way.

A return trip to Iceland means more horse riding

Entirely enchanted by Iceland, we returned the following year and were determined to ride the majestic horses again. For our second adventure, we chose a tour with Ishestar Horse Ranch. This particular tour was a combination tour with a lovely horse ride and a visit to a geothermal spa. Ishestar has many tour options, just as Laxnes, including partial day, whole day and multiple day rides. We began the tour in the Riding Center. Ishestar’s Riding Center provides for a pleasant respite before and after rides. Housed in the Riding Center is a restaurant–perfect for a bite to eat after a ride. The space is light and airy so you will enjoy a little rest even if just to have a spot of tea!

Ishestar Horse Ranch, Iceland vacation
Ishestar’s Riding Center is surrounded by a picturesque landscape including stunning lava formations.

Of course, the stars of Ishestar are the majestic horses! Our guides helped us choose horses based on skill level. This time around, our group was larger than with Laxnes. So, we felt like we were in the middle of a melee when saddling up. But, we survived and surprisingly the horses were calm the entire time. We rode through an equally breathtaking landscape. The combination between flora and lava beds was just amazing to behold.
A little fact about Icelandic horses–they have five gaits as opposed to the typical three. They are particularly known for their sure footedness on rough terrain. While riding through the lava beds, we were certainly happy to have expert Icelandic horses! Our guides had us ride at different speeds, so we could really feel what it is like to ride these magnificent horses. With horses with very distinct personalities, we could not help but smile throughout the ride. However, our horses were very gentle and listened well to commands either out loud or via reigns—well, except for my husband’s! His went a little slower than desired…..

An unforgettable way to remember Iceland

While we were riding Icelandic horses, we really were wrapped in the moment and were able to experience a true slice of Iceland. Since Iceland has kept the breed so pure, we were riding horses that are the most closely related to Viking horses in the whole world. Making that connection to history like that does not happen every day! With Iceland’s stunning landscape and the opportunity to ride these magnificent horses, we created memories that will always remain magical for us!

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