Disclaimer: I was kindly gifted a horse trekking experience with Viking Horses during my Iceland trip. However, all opinions are my own and I was not obligated to write this post on their behalf.
A must for any animal lover who visits Iceland is to spend a day with the country’s greatly loved Icelandic Horses. Fluffy, cheeky and inquisitive, meeting these big personalities in pony-sized packages (though calling them ponies is a big no-no and the Icelandic natives will get rather offended if you do!) was certainly a highlight of my trip. Icelandic horse trekking is a unique experience to have in Iceland no matter what season you travel in, but, there is a lot to consider when preparing and booking a tour. Now I’m a girl who likes to know what I’m getting myself in for so I figured some of you guys are too! That’s why I wrote this post to help you choose a responsible tour company and have the best time on your Icelandic Horse Trek!
About The Icelandic Horses
The Icelandic horses were originally brought over from Norway by the Vikings when they first began settling on the Island. Since then, the horses have flourished in the immensely changeable landscape and become an integral part of Icelandic heritage. For their size, they can carry significant weight, and are incredibly tough; they stay outside year-round in herds imitating a smaller, fluffier version of the wild mustangs of the American West. However, there are no wild horses in Iceland, despite their seemingly free-range lifestyle, all are owned. The Icelandic horse is incredibly unique in the way that it can achieve 5 different gaits. The average horse has 4 gaits; walk, trot, canter and gallop. The Icelandic horse has a fifth gait exclusive to their breed called a tölt, a smooth 4 beat gait which can vary in speed dramatically but should always be incredibly comfortable and bounce-free. Another unique thing about the Icelandic horses is that once they leave the country they are unable to return. This is because Icelandic horses are naive to equine flu and many other diseases found on the continent and are also never vaccinated while on the island so have little to no immunity to many common equine diseases.
Things To Consider Before Booking An Icelandic Horse Trek
There are a few things everyone should consider before booking a tour which should to an extent influence what company you choose and what experience you aim to have.
First and foremost is your experience level and it’s important to BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF!! If you have never sat on a horse before that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy an Icelandic horse trek but you need to ensure the company you use are equipped to take beginners. At the other end of the spectrum if you’re an experienced rider you may want to take a tour that may challenge you a little, so, again look for a tour which caters to those comfortable in the saddle. It is important that you’re not only honest with yourself when booking the tour but that you are also honest with the company so they can advise you accordingly and pair you with a horse which suits you. Viking Horses, the tour company I used for my trek catered to all riding abilities and I felt like I was in safe and knowledgeable hands throughout the experience.
Secondly, consider the company’s reputation. Just because it’s well-advertised does not always mean it’s reputable. Do your research and look at reviews. Of course, many great companies may have the odd bad review but if the same issues keep coming up, again and again, consider it a red flag. Also, although it can be hard to tell until you get there, look out for welfare issues. As a vet, this is something I am incredibly passionate about when it comes to animals used in tourism. My rule is if you don’t like something call them out about it. Ask questions about the care of the horses, if something doesn’t seem right to you, make some inquiries. At the end of the day, these companies rely on tourism so it’s up to us to drive the force of change and strong-arm companies into treating their animals well if they are going to be used. Sorry, I’ll get off my podium now but it is something we should all be looking at when taking part in animal-centred tourism. After the intense vetty grilling I gave to my Viking Horses guide and from the general well-being of the horses and appearance of the yard, I was incredibly comfortable that this company loved their horses and their care and well-being was the priority. This is the vibe you should expect to get from your tour company.
The length of the trek is something you should consider. If you’re a beginner a shorter trek is probably sensible, because trust me, being sat in a saddle for hours if you aren’t used to it, can be tiring and give you a hell of a leg work out! If you’re a competent rider you may want to aim for an all-day tour for a more immersive experience.
The time of year should also come into consideration. Firstly, it may not be as pleasant doing a full day trek in winter when you could be facing hours of snow and gale-force winds. Even for a more experienced rider, a shorter trek may save fingers and toes from dropping off! Many companies offer different tour options in winter vs summer to cater to the seasonal changes. Also in winter months tours are more likely to get cancelled due to extreme weather. Most companies have a policy where you can try again on a different day so ensure, if an Icelandic horse ride is at the top of your list of experiences, that you allow for some time to reschedule if necessary.
What To Pack For A Horse Trek In Iceland
In particular, if you opt to go riding in Winter ensure you’re prepared for the weather. Even in summer the meteorology can be very changeable so pack for the worst and best case scenario because, in my opinion, there’s nothing worse than being cold! Here is a list of things I would consider wearing or packing for your ride:
- Waterproof and windproof jacket
- A thin hat or warm headband to wear under the riding hat to keep cosy
- Waterproof trousers
- Thermal baselayers – Merino ideally as it provides better breathability than synthetic fabrics and you may find yourself sweating
- A phone or pocket-sized camera for taking photos
- Hand and feet warmers – I brought the disposable ones with me and put them on my hands and feet which were a Godsent as sat upon a horse those parts of you aren’t moving much and are prone to getting cold.
- Ensure you have movement in the clothes you choose so you can mount, dismount and straddle a horse without fear of ripping your trousers
- Several warm layers if trekking in winter
- A scarf, buff or equivalent
- A bottle of water may not be a bad shout on a longer tour
- Sturdy, warm boots
- A decent pair of thermal socks
Note that some tour providers like in the case of Viking Horses, the tour company I used on my trip will have spare cold-weather gear and waterproofs if you want to layer up or don’t have the right gear. I am a believer in being prepared but it was nice to know that Viking Horses had you covered if you forgot something or felt you needed some extra warmth. Because I have a fear of being cold I wore all of my own layers plus some of theirs!
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What To Expect From A Trek
On my tour with Viking Horses, I did a morning trek which was 1.5-2 hours in duration. I was picked up from my accommodation and driven out to the stables where I met the rest of our group (pick up is something many companies offer and if you’re not driving this is a great option). Viking Horses do small group tours which I really liked. There was 6 of us in total then 2 guides who came out with us; one to lead and the other to bring up the rear. We were lead to a tack room to get kitted up with any extra layers and had riding hats fitted before going out to a paddock to receive a demonstration on how to guide the horses. After that our guide went round each of us in turn and asked about our ability level then matched us up with an appropriate horse. It was then time to set off. We were lead out on a planned circular route through some beautiful snow-covered lava fields and into a small forest. There was lots of up and downhill but the horses are incredibly sure-footed and navigated the terrain with ease. I found the Icelandic horses to be very keen and forward-going but a pleasure to ride as they had a comfortable gait and weren’t easily spooked like many horses in the UK. On several occasions, we were allowed to attempt the tölt which was really fun and a very unique riding experience. We all chatted as we trekked and it was a really pleasant experience to be out in the fresh air riding. We stopped several times for photos which was a really nice touch. The guides got off their horses and you took it in turns in your group having souvenir photos taken on your own phone or camera.
Upon our return, we dismounted and while the staff sorted the horses we headed up to a barn conversion to have a hot drink and some traditional Icelandic snacks. This was a really nice touch and a great way to warm up after the ride. It was a lovely extra that Viking Horses provided to be able to sit around a table and chat to the other tourists and the guides and learn about everyone’s trip so far and where they called home etc. We finally piled back into the minivan to be deposited back at your desired location.
Obviously, this was my experience with Viking Horses and other companies may do things differently but to give you an idea of what may be involved I thought I would share my experience if you’re wondering if it’s for you.
If you would like a company that I would recommend for your Icelandic equine adventures, my experience with Viking Horses was an exceptional one! As previously mentioned they are versatile at handling people of different riding abilities, they love their horses and care for them well and if you go on Tripadvisor, their reviews speak for themselves! They can be found on all relevant social media platforms for you to nosey through but I’ll pop a direct link to their website here so you can have a look through their tour options and get to grips with who they are as a company.
So there you have my complete guide to booking and experiencing an Icelandic Horse trek! I hope you found this useful and like always if you have any questions or comments fire them my way via email or in the comments box. I love hearing from you and helping out fellow travellers!