All About Horse Riding Tours in Iceland Skip to content

All About Horse Riding Tours in Iceland

By Michael Chapman

A close-up of an Icelandic horse
Photo: Golli. Horses are a big part of life in north Iceland’s Fljótin region.

Horse riding tours are one of the most popular activities in Iceland! How can you take part, and what do you need to know and bring before climbing up on the saddle? Read on to discover all you need to know about riding during your Iceland holiday.

When most people think about riding horses, a couple of stereotypical images come to mind. One is of the rugged cowboy charging his steed across the desolate sands of the wild west. Another is that classic English image of hoighty-toighty equestrians trotting along a quaint country path. 

 

Better known for their dragonhead longships, the notion of Vikings riding horses is somewhat less common, but in Iceland, this was once very much true.

Modern day horsemanship in Iceland fits somewhere between these stereotypes. While donned in the appropriate protective gear, the landscapes of Iceland are more reminiscent of the American southwest in terms of their open and untamed nature. This means that riding horses in Iceland balances intrepid adventure with a gentle dose of saddle-bound sightseeing. 

History of horses in Iceland

Icelandic horses Berglind Jóhannsdóttir
Photo: Berglind Jóhannsdóttir. Icelandic horses

Small in size, yet loyal, personable, and intelligent, the Icelanders have no better animal ambassador than their horses. Hardly larger than your typical pony, these noble steeds remain an integral part of this island culture, having played a large part in the development of this country since they were first brought here in the 9th and 10th centuries by Norse settlers.

As such, records of Icelandic horses can be found throughout the mediaeval sagas, with the locals continuing the Germanic trend of venerating these animals. This undying devotion meant that celebrated warriors were often buried alongside their four-legged companions, for they were considered just as important for survival as their weapons and armour. 

Whereas once their company was crucial for the simple fact that Icelanders required a reliable means of traversing their wild and undeveloped land, in our modern times, they are a key part of the nation’s tourism industry. Horse riding tours are just as popular today as they were when Iceland first became of interest to the travelling public. 

 

What makes Icelandic horses so special?

Icelandic horses are considered particularly noteworthy due to their purebred nature. Having been isolated for centuries from their larger cousins overseas, this breed has developed into an animal that is known for its ability to withstand the cold – in part due to its thick double-coat – as well as resist diseases and live long lives. 

Icelandic horses come in many colours, so much so that there are over 100 words in the Icelandic language to describe their various shades. While driving throughout the country, it can be very engaging to keep a lookout for all the different colours. Horses are as common a sight as lava fields and mountains in Iceland, so you’re positive to see plenty of different types during your time here. 

On a final note, Icelandic horses are capable of five-gaits, meaning they trot, gallop, canter, as well as walk in two other ways. As such, they demonstrate surefootedness and a great ability to traverse difficult terrain. One of these unique gaits is known as the tölt, where a horse can exhibit explosive speed from a slow amble, while another called ‘the flying pace’ is a demonstration of a smooth and speedy run. 

Why take a horse riding tour in Iceland? 

Icelandic horses are a unique breed, bred in isolation in Iceland since settlement times.
Photo: Golli. Riding Icelandic horses is a brilliant winter activity in Iceland.

There are countless reasons to take a horse riding tour in Iceland. The first, and most appealing, is they present the chance to meet these magnificent animals up close. 

The second major reason is that horse riding tours allow guests to experience the Icelandic landscape from a wholly unique perspective. Just as this island’s ancient settlers once did, visitors can appreciate the diversity of the island from the saddle, offering a slower pace to enjoy it than one might find in a car, coach, or SuperJeep.

Finally, horse riding tours in Iceland are open to both experienced and beginner riders. Regardless of whether you’re looking to trot or gallop, your guide will make sure to assess the experience-level of the group and adapt the riding accordingly.

Where can you take horse riding tours in Iceland?

Horse riding at sunset
Photo: Dagmar Trodler. Horse riding into the sunset

Horse riding tours are available across the country. The most popular are found near Iceland’s capital, and one true city, Reykjavik. Single activity tours mean that you will only be riding horses, but there are also countless combo tours available to help mix up your experience. 

For example, you can start your day by riding a horse through the scenic hillsides close to Reykjavik, and then in the afternoon, take a sightseeing tour on the famed Golden Circle. Alternatively, you can spend the morning enjoying picturesque trails around local farmsteads, only to board a vessel in the evening for an oceanbound Northern Lights tour

Horse riding tours in Iceland
Photo: Viking tour

These are only a couple of examples. It is also possible to combine your horse riding with a spot of whale watching, seeing Icelandic puffins, a rapid river adventure with whitewater rafting, or bathing in a relaxing hot spring. In short, the combinations one can book are seemingly endless in Iceland, such is the popularity of equestrianism, and the abundance of horses around the country. 

On the South Coast, many visitors opt to go horseback riding on the black sand beach, Reynisfjara, found closeby to the remote Vík í Mýrdal village. In the east, riders will journey towards an abandoned farmstead known as Kleif, soaking in the exquisite landscapes of this amazing, and rarely-visited region. 

In the north, there are other great horse riding excursions available. For instance, it is possible to go horse riding at the beautiful Skjálfandi bay, or explore the dramatic mountainous fjord, Skagafjörður.

What should I bring on my horse riding tours? 

Horse in Iceland
Photo: Golli. An Icelandic horse in Skagafjörður

So, you’ve booked your horse riding adventure in Iceland. Now, it’s simply a matter of packing the necessary kit. Thankfully, there is not much you will need to bring… but that which you should depends largely on the season. 

When it comes to clothing items, summer riders should opt for a lightweight jacket, comfortable trousers, and good boots, so long as the weather permits. While Iceland is rather temperate in the summer – and, believe it not, even quite warm on certain days – spending considerable time outdoors always has the potential to bring an air of chilliness with it, so use your discretion. 

In the winter, guests will want to dress more appropriately, protecting themselves in many thermal layers, a waterproof coat, and necessary cold weather accessories, including gloves, hats, and scarves. You will also be provided with a full-body thermal suit for that added layer of warmth. 

Enjoying a horse riding tour in Iceland
Photo: 04F – Horses and Puffins

Your tour will be led by an experienced horse-riding guide who will provide you with anything else you might need. This will most certainly entail a riding helmet and a bandana to wear beneath. A few operators may also offer riding gloves so as to keep your hands comfortable when holding onto the reins. 

Regardless of the season, make sure to bring along your camera too. With their gorgeous coats, swishing manes and expressionate eyes, Icelandic horses are incredibly photogenic animals who are accustomed to having their photograph taken. Besides that, there will be plenty of opportunities during your ride to stop and capture scenes of the countryside. 

Aside from the right clothing items, all you need to bring along is your enthusiasm, passion for animals, and a readiness to learn.

In Summary

icelandic horse blood farm
Photo: Dagmar Trodler. Icelandic horses come in many colours.

Wherever you choose to take a horse-riding tour in Iceland, you are certain to find adventure, companionship, and beautiful landscapes in which to immerse yourself.

Before you gallop away, make sure to check out the great variety of available horse riding tours in the country.    

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