From Iceland — Horseback Riding In The West: The Norse Horse

Horseback Riding In The West: The Norse Horse

Published May 6, 2011

Photo by
Vanessa Schipani

Whether you’re looking for a tranquil stroll through the beautiful Icelandic countryside, or an exhilarating jaunt, this trip has got you covered. Íshestar provides a variety of different horseback riding tours around Iceland catered to every riding level. Their scenic Lava Tour is directed at beginners, but what it lacks in challenge, it more than makes up for in pristine scenery.

I was picked up from my hostel at 13:00, and the stables were only an hour drive away, on the lava fields around Mount Helgafell. Our group of eight entered a rustic cabin-style lounge and was greeted with some kind of legal waiver we had to fill out. I assumed I was signing away my legal rights should I get trampled or kicked in the face, but that beats having to read an entire legal form, so I signed away. We then had to watch a five-minute instructional video (again, I’m assuming for legal reasons). Finally, we strapped on some helmets, stepped into some thermal coveralls, and went out to meet the horses.

pony and landscape by Vanessa Schipani


The Icelandic horse is a very distinctive breed. They are slightly smaller than most horses, although quite robust, and have long, coarse fur. Watching them standing there in their natural setting, with the wind and snow blowing through their manes and the solemn lava fields around them, you get a sense that this is an ancient breed.

All poetics aside, the Icelandic horse really is an ancient breed. Settlers brought them to Iceland as early as the 9th century, and the breed has stayed pure to its earliest ancestors. No other kind of horse is found in Iceland, and exported Icelandic horses are not allowed to return, in order to ensure the purity of the breed and to protect them from outside diseases. Icelandic horses are also unique in that along with the traditional walk, trot, and gallop, they have two additional gaits: the tölt and the skeið.

horse and human by Vanessa Schipani

The tölt is a natural gait present in Icelandic horses from birth. It is faster than a trot, but not quite a gallop. The tölt is especially helpful when crossing rough terrain quickly, such as lava fields, because it allows the horse to more carefully place its footing.

The skeið, or flying pace, is known for being fast like the gallop, but much smoother.  It is also visibly unique in that the horse runs with both hooves of the same side landing simultaneously.

girl and horse by Vanessa Schipani


These horses are as used to tourists as they are to snow, so even first-time riders can easily hold their own. We set out from the stables and the horses instinctively fell into a single file line. We started at a very slow walk, and got up to a quick trot at times. Not necessarily the most exciting tour for experienced riders, but it was a wonderfully calm and enjoyable way to see the Icelandic countryside, especially for folks like me who don’t feel totally comfortable on a horse.

As we rode among the lava fields with Mount Helgafell looming in the distance, it began to snow. We walked between sharp lava formations jutting up from the rolling white snow cover and through frosted pine trees. Rocky, my trusty steed for the day, was clearly a seasoned professional, as I really didn’t have to do much during the tour, apart from an occasional tug on the reigns or a light kick to get him into a trot. At times, I even completely let go of the reins during the slower walks and took photos.

In Yo Face Pony by Vanessa Schipani

For riders with a bit more comfort on horseback, the tour group split up at a midpoint, allowing some riders to take a more advanced route and riding into full gallop. I opted to take it easy and soak in the scenery.

The entire tour took about two hours, just enough time to soak in the scenery while enjoying the time with your fuzzy ride. It is a truly authentic Icelandic experience. Where else can you get snow, lava, and Icelandic horses all in one charming tour?

This trip is provided by Õshestar and costs 9.550 ISK. It lasts about 3 hours, 1 hour driving, 2 hours riding. Transport provided, along with thermal gear and riding safety gear, and a guide. Lunch not provided, but food is available at the lounge near the stables. Book trip at or call +354-5557000

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