Ride a Horse Through Lava Fields in Iceland
The Icelandic horses are small and unbearably cute, but one thing you should never do is to call any of them a pony. Many breeders – and even the horses themselves! – take offence at this, as all of them take pride in the native creature and their unique traits.
First, the Icelandic horse is incredibly resilient. Icelandic law prevents any import of horses into the country; Icelandic horses that have been exported out of Iceland are also prohibited from returning. This results in a pure breed that’s raised primarily in Iceland, a species that’s seldom plagued by illness or disease. Many of these horses hence live long lives!
Secondly, all horse breeds have three natural gaits, known as the walk, trot and canter. The Icelandic Horse, however, has another unique gait, known as the ‘Tolt’. During the Tolt, one of the horse’s hooves always touches the ground. This gives the rider a smooth and almost bounce-free ride, even at a fast pace.
You might pass by some of these horses along the roads but the best way to get up close and personal with these darling creatures would be to go on a horseback ride. These rides are usually organised by farms, and bring you through dramatic lava fields. The farms also provide you with protective equipment, such as a helmet, boots and a raincoat. Before the ride, we were shown a video that detailed how to interact with the horse and the signals we should look out for during the ride.
These horse farms are usually run by generations of families, who are often aided by a little horse-dog (like a sheepdog, but for horses!). If you’re lucky, you might even be able to catch the herding process in action!
The first step to horseback-riding is to make friends with your horse. The trick is to approach them slowly and speak in a soft voice. Approach from a diagonal direction from the front; this is to allow the horses to see you coming, as they have a blind spot right in front of their nose. Hold out your hand for the horse to sniff, before proceeding to pet it. Don’t worry, Icelandic horses are very friendly and will cosy up in no time!
My ride for the day – a beautiful and elegant steed called “Sleeping Beauty”.
I booked myself in for a 1.5-hour ride, most of it taking me through sprawling lava fields. My group consisted of about ten people and we rode in a single file most of the way. We were also accompanied by two guides from the farm!
There were even some river crossings, which made me feel like a real warrior in a movie! My favourite parts were when the horses picked up pace or when they did their signature ‘tolt’.
Even if you’ve never been on a horse, this experience is catered for everybody – yes, even beginners! The farms are usually easy to reach with a car; if you don’t have your own transport, you can also opt for two-way pick-ups at an extra fee.
If you’re feeling adventurous, some tour companies offer a combo tour, where you can spend half the day horseback-riding and half the day snorkelling between tectonic plates at Thingvellir National Park.