Exploring Iceland on Horseback: The Icelandic Horse Experience
Icelandic horses are one of the most photographed animals in Iceland. You will spot them grazing in vast fields during your Iceland road trip. These equines are considered to be curious and kind, making them a tourist attraction of their own. We are going to tell you all about Icelandic horses, what makes them so unique, and how you can visit them with your rental car. After learning about them, book a horseback ride through Iceland’s landscape, you will not be disappointed!
The History Of The Icelandic Horse
Icelandic Horses have a long line of history that dates to the 9th century. When Norse settlers came to Iceland, they docked their Viking ships on the coast. On that ship were their beloved Icelandic horses, which pretty much acted as their mode of transportation throughout the country.
It is said they were chosen over other horses due to their smaller size. This made it easier for the settlers to bring more on the ship. They are built well for labor and are known to be hard-working horses.
They were bred and kept on the island, then in 982 AD a law was passed in Iceland that stated no horses were allowed to be imported to other islands. This secluded the horses in the best way possible, making them the breed of the island and keeping them protected.
These Icelandic animals also have a long line of folklore and Norse mythology attached to them. It is said that Icelandic horses were known to be special animals to the settlers.
Basically, if you had one you were held to a higher standard. Some of the kings were even buried with their horses because they truly meant that much to them.
They were also very protected from thieves in the country. If someone stole one, they were shunned and then banished. More commonly, thieves were just killed on the spot once someone found out that they stole one.
The story of Loki is Iceland’s most popular folklore regarding Icelandic horses. A craftsman in Iceland was trying to build a large wall around Asgard. The citadel was being built to keep out the giants who may attack from any direction. The craftsman requested payment from the gods, he demanded that the goddess Freyja be his bride and that he receive the sun and the moon also.
The gods thought this to be outrageous, but allowed it since they did not think he would finish the request in time. Loki convinced them that even with the help of Svadilfari, the man would not keep up his end of the bargain.
The craftsman was able to finish it though, thanks to his stallion, Svadilfari, who did most of the work. The gods came together and decided that Loki was to blame and that there had to be a way to avoid payment.
Loki said he would sabotage the craftsman from finishing the rest of the project. If he didn’t he would be killed for putting the gods in that situation.
Loki decided to do the unthinkable, he turned himself into a mare that appeared in the nearby forest. The stallion could sense the mare was in heat, which resulted in him running away from the craftsman and towards the mare. This meant that the craftsman would not finish in time, resulting in the gods not having to make payment.
The night the stallion and Loki ran off into the woods, another horse was later created. It was named Sleipnir, which is the eight-legged horse of the stallion and Loki.
The owner is Odin, who is a Pagan God. Sleipnir is known to be one of the best horses Iceland has ever seen.
Sleipnir has been linked to the creation of Ásbyrgi canyon, which sits in Northern Iceland. The canyon is famous for its horseshoe shape and that horseshoe was from the infamous Sleipnir.
The folklore goes that Sleipnir’s hoof touched the ground when Odin stepped on earth from heaven. Today you can visit Asbyrgi Canyon for yourself when renting a car in Iceland.
The Horse Naming Commission
As you can tell from the history and mythology, these Icelandic horses are very important to the people of Iceland. Which may be why there is a Horse Naming Commission!
It was created in 2017 when news spread that Iceland horses were being given inappropriate names. So how does it work? The owners of Icelandic horses and their breeders register them in WorldFeng. This is a world database of Icelandic horses that helps track breeding registry heritage.
It is said that they have over 400,000 horses, alive or dead in the database. You have to pick your name wisely too, as names cannot be changed after the horse has participated in a competition or had a registered offspring. The names must be approved before the horse is officially registered.
Can Iceland’s Horses Stand Frigid Weather?
It is hard to believe that these small horses can withhold Iceland's weather, but they can! They have a thick fur coat that grows in the winter and keeps them warm in below-freezing weather.
They do shed the coat off in the summer, which means they can withstand the heat and feel comfortable on summer days. They are even known to be good swimmers and can swim in cold water if needed.
The Striking Appearance Of Icelandic Horses
Iceland horses can appear smaller than the average, but they are not ponies. In fact, they may even get a bit offended when you call them one!
Their colors range from light beige with blonde hair to different shades of dark brown. Their appearance is majestic which is why most stop to admire them.
Icelandic Horse Ettique
Meeting a new animal can be intimidating but it shouldn't be when it comes to Icelandic horses. Their reputation is popular for being one of the friendliest breeds of horses in the world!
Here are some tips and tricks on what you should, and should not, do when meeting one!
Petting Icelandic Horses
Is it okay to pet an Icelandic horse? Yes and no. We get it, they are super cute, and giving them a pet can show your admiration.
It is allowed when the owner of the horse is there and permits you to pet them. If you randomly spot one on the side of the road, do not run up and give it a pet. They sometimes can act like wild horses, which means they could feel uncomfortable and kick or bite you.
Fortunately, the Icelandic horse temperament is known to be curious and calm. They are said to have a very friendly personality, so you may get a chance to give them a pet after all.
Feeding Icelandic Horses
You may have some leftover granola in your car, but that doesn’t mean the horse should have it. Don't feed them, even if the horse seems interested in having a snack with you. This could mess up their health or give them an upset stomach.
If you are at a stable or horseback riding experience, ask the guide if they have any treats you can give them. The proprietor will supply food items that are compatible with their dietary requirements and are nutritionally balanced.
Riding Icelandic Horses
Can you ride Icelandic Horses? Absolutely you can, by booking a horseback riding tour. You should never mount a horse that is in the countryside. You should only ride a horse under the supervision of its owner.
Fortunately, Iceland has so many horseback riding tours for you to take advantage of. We will highlight our favorites at the end of this blog.
Types of Riding
One of the most distinctive characteristics of Icelandic horses is their gaits. Normal horses can perform three traditional gaits which include a walk, trot, and gallop. Iceland Horses can showcase these three traits, but they also can perform two more unique gaits.
They can do a tölt, which is a smooth movement without the bumpy bounce you usually experience during horse riding.
During the tölt one of the horse’s hooves hits the ground at any time.
Next up is the Skeið, which is a fast trot that mimics a flying pace. They are as fast as 48 kmh or 30mph.
You will see both of the horse's legs on one side touch the ground at the same time. It is similar to how humans run on the ground. A unique gait of the Icelandic horse!
Horseback Riding Tours
Now that you know some of our favorite Icelandic horse facts, it is time to get out there and ride one. There is plenty of Icelandic horse riding for you to partake in.
Here are some top picks in different locations throughout the country.
Take a horse riding tour in the Icelandic countryside, in the area of the Þjórsá river. Núpshestar is one of the top-rated places to go horseback riding in Iceland. They accept both beginners and advanced riders, as well as children.
Rides here are available from May to September. They have so many tours for you to indulge in.
If you are new to horseback riding, try their 1-hour ride which is 9.000 ISK or $62. From there, you can try the 2-6 hour ride or one of their multi-day trips.
This is an outdoor lovers' paradise as you will be sleeping in mountain cabins that are paired with authentic Icelandic dinners. You can expect to be riding for seven hours a day with many breaks in between.
With small groups, you will spend less time waiting and more time enjoying the Icelandic horses. The group size is usually between 2-10 people.. After every ride, you will be able to take advantage of coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and snacks in our stables.
You have to book their morning ride Volcano Tour! For just 19.900 ISK or $130, you can enjoy your morning horseback riding through the small forests at Hólmsheiði hills. Here there are unique lava formations of Rauðhólar, which are clusters of 5200-year-old pseudocraters. The tour is 4 hours long and rated as one of the best things to do in Iceland!
Skorrahestar Icelandic Horse Rental and Accommodation
Horseback ride in East Iceland when visiting Skorrahestar Icelandic Horse Rental and Accommodation.
This friendly riding establishment has a slogan of “Come as a guest. Leave as a friend.” So you know you are in good hands.
The riding tours will bring you through the gorgeous area of the farm which is surrounded by waterfalls and mountains. You will have a spectacular view of our beautiful fjord, Norðfjörður.
Try their Easy Ride, which Easy ride is offered from May to September. The start time is either 12:30 PM or 3:30 PM and is about 1 hour long. Your guiding riding tour will also provide you with a helmet, rain gear, and saddlebags. The Easy Ride is only 12,500 ISk or $86 per person to enjoy.
You can also turn your day trip into an overnight one by spending the night at their Guest House. They have plenty of accommodation options from a family room to a double room. A perfect place to play all day with the Icelandic horses and relax all night.
Ishestar Horse Riding Centre
One of the most well-known places to ride a horse is the Ishestar Horse Riding Centre in Hafnarfjörður. They have been open since 1982 and have become a leader in equine tourism ever since.
They have a tour for everyone too, ranging from shorter day tours to longer multi-day tours.
Book the Horses and Waffles Tour. Cause let's be real, there is no better combination than that. This tour is offered during the winter months, which is great for those coming to Iceland during the off-season.
The ride brings you through the snowy landscape for about 50 minutes. Once the ride is over, you will enjoy freshly baked waffles with toppings of your choice as well as hot chocolate, coffee, or tea.
You can experience this tour for 13900 ISK or $96, we can't think of a better destination to take your car rental in Iceland. We suggest you explore the rental cars to choose the most suitable one for the trip. Based on the number of people, it can be a medium size car, a 4x4 SUV or a minivan.
If you want to experience horseback riding in Northern Iceland stop by Pólar Hestar, “Where Horses meet the Elves”. The farm is surrounded by mountains and is located in Akureyri.
The area is also known to be home to many elves that live in the lonely fjords, a majestic area for trail riding. This company has been offering riding tours since 1985 and recently celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2020.
If you want something different, book the Riding & Mini Golf Tour! Ride your horse for an hour and a half through the green meadows along the river Gljúfurá. Once you get back, enjoy homemade cakes and hot drinks.
After you fuel up get ready to play a game of mini golf on their little minigolf course. The price is 12.000 ISK or $83 for this unique tour.
The International Day of the Icelandic Horse
There is also one more way you can celebrate Iceland’s horses! The day is celebrated on May 1st and people from all over the world observe it. It is a popular event for those who are a part of the Icelandic horse association too.
You will see many stables open to visitors so everyone can appreciate the horses. In Iceland specifically, there are races held where riders can partake in the festivities. This will range from competitions that highlight speed or jumping.
One of the most entertaining races you may find taking pace is the Beer Tölt Competition. During this race, each competitor rides 3 sides on the oval track with a pint of beer in hand. If the beer spills you will be disqualified! Grab a beer of your own while enjoying this race.
Frequently Asked Questions
What do they do with the horses in Iceland?
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