Tölting Through Time: How To Ride Like A Viking

Aliya Uteuova
Photos by
Art Bicnick

Hundreds of thousands of people come to Iceland with a singular purpose: to meet one of the island’s most interesting creatures. It’s not the trolls, the hidden folk, or the elves—it’s the humble Icelandic horse.

Famed for their calm and friendly demeanor, Icelandic horses’ mild temperament reflects the relaxed lifestyle that most Icelanders lead. But that’s not the only trait that make these horses stand out from the herd.

Purebred explorers

This unique breed is among the purest in the world—crossbreeding was forbidden as early as the settlement of this North-Atlantic island. This means today’s horses are just like the original Viking steeds—so it only makes sense to experience riding them with Viking Horses.

“Exploring the hills on horseback felt like recreating scenes from the original Sagas.”

Viggó Sigurdsson ran a horse farm with his mother until 2014. It was at that time that he and his girlfriend, Verena Wellenhofer, ventured out to begin their own equestrian adventure in the quiet Almannadalur valley. Located right on the edge of Reykjavík, the family-run Viking Horses is just a 20-minute drive from Harpa, ideal for the city slicker yearning for an afternoon in the saddle.

On my day on horseback, the riding group comprises four people: a couple from Australia, the Grapevine’s trusty photographer, and myself. We were matched with horses based on our riding abilities. I rode Sprettur, a horse the colour of brown Autumn leaves. Despite the name, Sprettur wasn’t much of a sprinter, which suited me just fine.

Living the Sagas

We went out on a morning volcano tour, which began with a short riding lesson. After getting acquainted with basic horse signals, we rode out to the Hólmsheiði hills, passing icy lakes and volcanic rock formations backed by a scenic view of the city.

The hills around Reykjavík are absolutely breathtaking, and exploring them on horseback felt like recreating scenes from the Sagas. Wind, rain, and sleet only added to the drama, and, luckily, Viking Horses provided us with waterproof gear. The only thing that would’ve made me happier are glasses with windshield wipers.

Five gaits

Icelandic horses can perform five gaits. And this, as it turns out, is a big deal. With over 350 breeds of horses and ponies in the world, Icelandic horses are the only ones that not only walk, trot, and gallop, but also do “flying pace,” which is—as the name suggests—very fast, and the “tölt,” a quick walk during which horses touch the ground with one hoof at a time.

During the tour, we got to tölt on more than one occasion. Richard—one of the Australian guests—came in with zero riding experience, but his tölt looked impressive thanks to his well-trained horse, Óðinn. After the seven kilometre tour, Richard vowed to go riding again.

Human connections

What makes Viking Horses special is the personal touch. After the 1.5-hour tour, we were welcomed to Verena and Viggó’s cosy loft, where our lovely hosts served us a traditional spread of skyr, smoked lamb, blueberries, kleina, and locally produced chocolate. Over a cup of coffee, we had the chance to share stories from home, and we discussed everything from Stephen King and Australia’s own—notoriously dangerous—native animals, from insects to jellyfish.

The gesture of inviting someone into your home speaks volumes when you’re in a foreign land. With 60 Icelandic horses, three Danish-Swedish farm dogs, and one absolutely adorable baby, Viggó and Verena are definitely busy. “When you work with horses, you miss the human connections,” said Verena. “That is why we love meeting our guests from all over the world.”

Go Horse Riding now
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