The Icelandic horse is a large part of Icelandic culture. The small, hardy horse (don‘t call them ponies) has been a part of Icelandic culture since the settlement. Going horseback riding in lava fields is the perfect activity for those who like horses and riding.
The Norse settlers brought over their best horses from various origins that have through the ages developed into the only breed of horse in Iceland, the Icelandic horse. It is the most colourful breed in the world, with over 40 different colours and 100 variations found in the breed. The Icelandic horse also has a unique fifth gate, tölt, that isn‘t found anywhere else. There are over 80 thousand horses in Iceland and 170 of those live at the Íshestar stables. Íshestar runs daily horseback riding tours for people of all ages and experience levels and the large number of horses makes sure they are rotated regularly and no horse is overworked.
It was an overcast day, with large grey clouds threatening rain, when we drove up to Hafnarfjörður just outside of Reykjavik to the Íshestar stables. We were there to participate in the Lava tour, suitable both for beginners and more experienced riders. After a warm welcome from the receptionist we were shown into a large storage room where we could borrow rain gear and wellies. Considering the cloud banks outside I decided to put on the whole lot. After receiving our mandatory helmets and watching a short introductory video explaining the safety guidelines we were taken outside to meet the horses.
Despite having taken a couple of summer horseback riding courses as a child, I am still a city-girl at heart and therefore felt it safer to present myself as a beginner. I was given a lovely red-brown horse named Mars. After spending a couple of minutes getting to know each other I got up in the saddle and once everyone in the group had done the same, we were off.
Led by our three guides we set off into the lava fields of Hafnafjörður at a gentle walk. Being on horseback is the perfect way to experience the unique landscape of the area. The pale green moss covering the centuries old lava compliments the newly green buds of the trees and the blues and browns of the mountains.
After a short while we reached a fork in the road. The group was given the opportunity to split into two, with one group going faster and trying the different gaits and the other group continuing on the slow walk. I light of my aforementioned city-girlishness I decided to stay in the slower group. That way I‘d have more opportunity to enjoy the views and take pictures, I reasoned with myself. However my horse Mars did not agree. He wanted to go in the faster group with the other cool horses. After a brief discussion, me and Mars reached an agreement and joined the slower group happily (me) and maybe a tad resentfully (Mars). That‘s the joy of horseback riding, the feeling that you are taking this journey with another living being with opinions of their own.
It‘s hard to believe that such tranquillity and isolation exists just outside of the hustle and bustle of Reykjavík. The clouds that loomed overhead in the beginning quickly gave away to blue skies and sunshine. I soon regretted borrowing all that raingear as I quickly got very warm and slightly sticky. However the few freckles that showed up on my nose made it all worth it. Summer was finally here!
After walking through the lava fields for about 40 minutes we reached a large open area surrounded by the Bláfjöll Mountains where we stopped for a breather and some pictures. The horses immediately set about tasting some of the freshly sprouted green grass. After the break we headed back home and you could feel the excitement of the horses in anticipation of getting their saddles off so they could scratch their backs after the unusually hot day.
Once we reached the stables and had all taken off our outerwear in relief, we took some time to pet the horses outside in their pen and taking even more pictures. There is just something so soothing about being around these friendly and curious animals. And wouldn‘t you know it, as soon as we headed for the car it started to rain. I guess the sunshine was all a part of the magic of the Icelandic horses.