– Reykjavík, Iceland –
Today was the big day- we finally got to ride Icelandic Horses! Don’t tell Mark, but this is really the reason I came. You don’t see very many of these little horses outside of Iceland, since they don’t really believe in exporting them, so it is really special to ride them.
We actually woke up before our alarm to the sound of sleet hitting our hotel room window, which didn’t bode well for the day, but since it was still early, we ignored it and dozed until our alarm went off at 7am. Since we had a lot to do, we ate our breakfast skyr with purpose. We showered and layered up, since we knew the day was supposed to be damp and cold. We’d heard it sleeting earlier, you’ll remember, so we thought that Iceland really had it in for us today. We were damned well going to be as prepared as we could.
At 8:15, we picked Lauren up outside her hotel and drove the 20 minutes over to our riding stable, where we were supposed to meet at 9am. We were pretty early, but we hadn’t wanted to be late in case we got lost, so we were being cautious. It turned out that we were atrociously early, since all they wanted us to do beforehand was sign some paperwork that basically stated that we were taking our lives in our own hands. You’ve signed forms like that before, right? It kind of makes you wonder what you’re getting yourself into.
When 10am rolled around, everyone had finally arrived and our tour began. We watched an introductory video about how to ride, which startled us, since we were under the impression that we’d booked a ride for advanced riders only. More on that confusion later, though. Our group consisted of about 25 or 30 people.
We were given helmets and offered rain jackets and gloves, although Mark, Lauren, and I had brought our own foul weather gear, so we were set. Lauren and I were even wearing two pairs of pants. We were prepared. After we put on all of our equipment, we were taken back and given our horses. They asked for beginners first, which ended up being everyone but the three of us, and one other couple. We were taken aback, but we went with it. What could we do, at that point?
We were each given some of the more spirited horses, and told that the advanced riders would enjoy the first group more, so we should go with them when the time came. We nodded like we knew what was going on and mounted up on our tiny horses with unpronounceable (at least for us) names. We were near the back of the long line of horses, and it was pretty slow going.
After a few minutes, we came to a fork in the road, and we were told that the fast group was going to the left, and the slow group was going to the right. The three of us followed off to the left, since fast definitely sounded better than slow. Our group now consisted of at least 15 people, I would say, and many of them had no business trying to go fast. I saw some really terrible riding, and I was convinced that at least one person was going to fall off before it was all said and done.
Many of the riders couldn’t actually make their horses go fast at all, and one in particular had a really difficult time getting her horse to do anything at all besides eat leaves and meander along the trail. Fast, by the way, was the tölt, which is something akin to a trot. It is still a four-beated gait, like a walk, but it is as fast as a trot and sometimes even a slow canter. Some Icelandic Horses trot instead, and don’t tölt at all when asked, even though they are capable from birth. The more advanced riders were given the best gaited horses, because some of the other horses only trotted.
We were very surprised when the ride ended abruptly at noon, and we were asked to unsaddle our horses and leave them tied to the fence. Mark went up to ask what was going on, since we thought we’d booked a much longer advanced ride. We were given a lunch we didn’t know about, and told that our advanced ride started at 1pm. The morning ride had just been a warm-up. Only the three of us remained behind from the morning trip for our afternoon ride.
Our lunches, since we were unprepared for them, turned out to be lamb, which I’m sure would’ve been tasty for some, but since Mark and I are vegetarians and Lauren is a vegan, we had to give them back. The woman at the desk was offended that we hadn’t told her beforehand that we were vegetarians, as they would’ve prepared the correct meals for us, but we hadn’t really known that we needed to specify. Totally our fault, since they would’ve catered to us if we’d let them know.
We did keep the desserts, although Lauren had to decline hers, since cream is not vegan. Thus, Mark had two tiny cakes for lunch, I had one, and we passed around Lara and Luna bars like the adorably over-prepared non-meat-eaters we are. We also had tea. It was an adequate lunch, if a little heavy on the sugar.
At 1pm, we mounted back up with another group that was going out for a ride very similar to the one we’d taken that morning. Luckily, we were not going on that particular trip with them, we were just leaving at the same time. We were given newer and faster horses, and told that we had a group of five going out with a single guide for a three-hour afternoon ride to experience all of the gaits of the Icelandic Horse. That sounded a lot more like what we had signed up before.
We mounted up on our new steeds and forged ahead down the trail with our guide, and the promise of sunshine turned to lies in front of our very eyes, for we weren’t even out of the barn area before the wind whipped up and clouds formed overhead like magic. We couldn’t see for the sleet being driven into our delicate little faces. We were all very sad for a few minutes as we left the barns, since we’d had such a pleasant morning that Mark and Lauren had left their scarves back at the car.
Lucky for us, while it remained cold and windy, the driving sleet died down, and our ride continued more pleasantly. We discovered very quickly that we were in for a much faster ride than our morning had been. It was not long at all before we were tölting along at a pretty good clip. Lauren and I had much smoother rides than we’d had that morning, but Mark’s horse had a rougher gait, since they’d given him a stouter horse for the afternoon. She was sweet though, and he said she listened a lot better than his previous ride.
Since I was the only one with a scarf, I was the only one lucky enough to have it to wrap around my face to protect me from the wind and occasional pellets of sleet. It was especially nice when we were going quickly, even if I did look like a bandit.
We went through some beautiful country on our ride, through lava fields and cliffs and valleys, all with the mountains decorating the background. The clouds made the sky more interesting, and even if the bad weather was a little inconvenient, it made for some nice photographs. We took a few stops along the way to rest our legs and our horses, and that gave Mark the opportunity to take some pictures of our surroundings.
Iceland is a beautiful country, and it is really something to experience it from the back of their native horses. It’s a lot of fun, and it just feels right. I like horses, though, so I might be biased. Lauren agreed with me, I think, but she’s a horse person too, and people always say that horse chicks are crazy. I can’t speak to that, since I’d probably be the last to know if it were true.
We rode our horses quite quickly from time to time, anywhere from a canter to a gallop for sure, with what could’ve been some flugskeið, or flying pace, in between. It is hard to tell when you are doing it, since you can’t see exactly what the horse is doing from its back, and none of us are experienced with the gaits of Icelandic Horses. I’m sure the guide could’ve told us, but none of them were very talkative, so we were never quite sure.
It was actually Mark’s first time going any faster than a gentle canter, and he was pretty surprised the first time we took off, since we didn’t really have any advance warning before the guide set off. Once she was moving, our horses picked it right up, and we were taken along for the ride. I don’t mean to say that we couldn’t have stopped if we’d really wanted, but we didn’t actually ask our horses to run like she did, they just assumed and followed suit.
I noticed during the ride that it was a lot more comfortable to lean way more forward than you would when riding any of the other disciplines I am accustomed to. If you leaned forward and really put your weight down through your heels, the horses were actually quite easy to sit, even at a dead run. Lauren said the same, but Mark had a bit of trouble, since he doesn’t have as much experience with horses. He ended up hanging onto the saddle of couple of times to stay on, which I’m glad he remembered to do.
Thusly, we all stayed on and managed to gallop, or maybe flugskeið, through our afternoon. Those little devils can certainly move when they want. They look like an 80s hair band, all lined up together, though.You’ll notice in the photo below that my little chestnut mare was quite lathered at one of our stops. She was working pretty hard.
When our three hours were up, we made our way back to the barn and and dismounted. We were all pretty stiff, and I know we will be sore tomorrow. We were certainly ready to be done, since we hit another batch of driving sleet in the last part of our ride. We unsaddled our sweet little horses and said goodbye before wandering back into the main building for hot drinks and a bathroom break.
You can see that I looked pretty windblown, and I was the only one who had anything protecting my face, so I was the most protected of the three of us. Still, by dinner time, we all looked relatively normal, so I guess we won’t be suffering any permanent wind damage.
Mark drank his coffee from a saddle, because apparently he hadn’t had enough yet. He didn’t look quite as dashing mounted on a stool as he had on his little grey horse.
We dropped Lauren back at her hotel shortly after, and agreed to meet at 6pm for dinner, after everyone had time for a shower and a change of clothes. I did some stretching, too, since my calf muscles were quite tired of holding me up after the unaccustomed riding position. Mark complained of sore “sitting parts.” I’ll let you figure out which ones those are.
We had dinner at a local Indian place in Reykjavík, where they had vegan thali plates for Lauren to enjoy. Mark and I had the vegetarian version, which I guess had cream and a little butter. It was pretty good, if a little more expensive than I like my Indian food. Lauren leaves on Tuesday, and we are leaving Reykjavík tomorrow, so we bid her a fond farewell at the street leading back to her hotel. She’s off on her own adventure to Golfass tomorrow, from what I understand.
As for Mark and I, we are packing up our things and driving to Vík (technically Vík í Mýrdal, in full) tomorrow to set up a base camp for our next two days of adventure. Even we aren’t sure exactly of everything that we are going to see in between.
– Trip Total : 4,221 miles –