Since the Icelandic horse has lost most of its practical value in modern society, having been replaced by more modern modes of transportation, mainly the automobile, riding horses has become a hugely popular hobby in Iceland. The Icelandic horse has also become a very popular riding breed in Europe and North America, chiefly because of its unique gaits. Apart from the usual walk, trot, and canter, Icelandic horses are able to tölt. The tölt is a four-beat lateral gait in which the horse always maintains at least one foot on the ground. Since there is no moment of suspension, tölt is very smooth and comfortable for the rider
It had been over ten years since I last sat on a horse and I was a little worried that it might show. Riding a horse is different from riding a bicycle in that manner. You are dealing with a living animal, not an object. In other words, unlike bikes, horses have character – some of them are moody and others are lazy, so even if you do not forget how to ride a horse, building confidence in your skills requires you to spend time with the animals and to get to know them.
All my worries vanished when I met the guides, however, who obviously had things under control and were used to dealing with the horses and, more importantly, insecure riders such as myself.
They lectured me on the basics – sit deep in the saddle and keep your heels down in the stirrups. They schooled me on their two rules: have fun and do not scream. Then they brought me a horse named Móri after the most famous of Icelandic ghosts. Luckily, Móri the horse was far more even-tempered than Móri the ghost.
It was a fine day for riding horses. It had rained earlier in the morning, but the rain had let up and the weather was still, with cloudy skies and a mild temperature of around 10° C – the perfect conditions to enjoy the outdoors. Our two-hour ride went smoothly and took us around the beautiful lava formations around Hafnafjörður and the surrounding area.
It is an incredible feeling to experience nature from the back of a horse rather than behind the wheel of a car. Perhaps because essentially the horse is a part of the very nature you are exploring. You are able to enjoy the full range of your senses, with sounds, smell, and even taste being a part of the experience. Unfortunately, the tour was over just when I had built enough confidence to start trying some of the trick manoeuvres.
Tour provided by Íshestar Riding Tours Sörlaskeiði 26, 220 Hafnarfirði Tel.: 555-7000, www.ishestar.is