I can’t say that I ever intended to, of all things, go horseback riding here in Iceland. I tried riding a horse once when I was eight. I screamed a lot. I might have been sick. I didn’t like it. So when I was asked if I wanted to ride a horse this week, my gut kicked me in the larynx before I remembered the rule I made for my trip—don’t decline any opportunity this country throws at you.
Just a hop, skip and a bus ride away (the good people of Laxnes pick you up from wherever you may be), I found myself at a gorgeous old farm in the Mossfellsdalur valley. The horses we would soon be riding were placidly standing in their pen, welcoming petting hands and cooing voices. First step was to go pick a helmet that fit right and drop any extra luggage. The horse trainers then assigned us a horse according to experience and comfort level. I was handed a sandy blonde 16-year old named Gossi, before promptly stepping in some manure. All of the horses had names, although the staff had no pretensions that the horses knew their own names nor could they understand human language.
We were taught how to start and steer our horses, yet getting the hang of it was not so obvious. Suddenly a trainer took off ahead of us and all the horses followed in a pack without our say. The first twenty or so minutes of the ride were taken at a gentle walk gait. The Icelandic horse has five gaits, (two more than most breeds of horses), walk, trot, gallop, tölt and skeið (pace). We would only experience walk and trot, but the change was sudden and rapid. When the trainer at the back riled up the horses to trot, the 8-year old in me emerged for a moment.
We trotted our way down to a bucolic valley where a waterfall ran through and the horses could stop and graze for a while. It was also a chance to stretch our legs and enjoy the beautiful countryside before the ride back to the farm. One of the trainers told me that the horses behave very differently depending on the weather, so we were lucky to have such a nice sunny day and that I was lucky to have a nice horse, even though I thought he was being a bit stubborn with me.
On the ride back, I took her word for it. I somehow settled right into the correct posture—heels pressed down, back straight, shoulders loose, hands low—and learned how to kick Gossi in the stomach to get him to go. We suddenly trusted each other and it was exhilarating. All the horses began to race each other, nearly running rider into rider, for a screaming good time. Now that it was comfortable and fun, the ride back ended all too quickly, and I had to hug Gossi goodbye.
But boy, was he ever gassy!
- Location: Laxnes Horse Farm
- Web: www.laxnes.is
- Phone: 354-566-6179