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When looking for activities we could do in Iceland, one immediately stood out: horseback riding.
Now I’m not exactly a cowgirl. Growing up my experience with horses was limited to a family reunion at a Dude Ranch in Wyoming and the occasional trail ride with my cousins.
In fact, I generally try to avoid being in close proximity to animals that are bigger than I am and capable of causing me extreme bodily harm (though I did ride a camel in Israel once).
But one look at the beautiful Icelandic horses and I was dying to give it a try. I mean, they are just so darn cute.
Icelandic horses are unique—they are smaller with a heavier coat than horses in North America—and it turns out that’s not by accident. All horses in Iceland are descendants of horses brought over by the Vikings, and have been bred pure for 1,000 years.
Icelandic authorities are so strict about maintaining their horses’ purity that no horses are allowed to be imported to the country, and if one leaves, it isn’t allowed reentry.
If you are the equestrian type and intend to ride while in Iceland, be aware that using equipment or garments that have been in contact with non-Icelandic horses is forbidden.
After examining various companies, we chose to book our ride with Ishestar, because their prices are reasonable and their stables are located only a 15-minute drive from Reykjavik.
Because neither of us are experienced riders, we originally chose the Nature Comfort ride (a 1-hour ride for beginners), which we figured would give us a chance to enjoy the scenery without having to cling onto our horses for dear life (I mean, with the words “nature” and “comfort” in the title, how could we go wrong?).
But, as I’ve mentioned before, Sam and I tend to have terrible luck with weather when we travel. The morning of our scheduled ride, Sam got an email from Ishestar informing us that all tours were cancelled for the day due to compacted snow that posed a danger to the horses.
I was devastated since horseback riding was something I’d really been excited about, and we were scheduled to fly home the following afternoon.
Thankfully, the people at Ishestar were accommodating, and they invited us to join the more expensive 2-hour Lava Tour the following morning at no extra charge.
When we arrived, Sam and I filled out some paperwork, then we and the 15 other riders in our group watched a brief instructional video featuring a perky Icelandic woman cantering on her horse with ease and grace I could hardly manage in a recliner.
After the video, we were taken to a mudroom where we were given helmets and the option of wearing Ishestar-issued coveralls.
Most people in our group decided against the coveralls, but Sam and I decided to wear them to protect our clothes.
Further Reading: 7 Tips for Visiting the Blue Lagoon Iceland
The Ishestar staff then led us outside to meet the horses, and paired each rider with a horse that corresponded with our level of experience (I was a bit nervous at this point and hoping for an old mare who wouldn’t be spooked by a zombie apocalypse).
Much to Sam’s disappointment, I decided to ride with the “slower” group since I wanted to relax and take in the scenery (something I didn’t think I’d be able to do as well if my teeth were being rattled out of my mouth at a gallop). Even in the “slow” group we had the opportunity to try some trotting so I didn’t feel too much like a 90-year-old.
Further Reading: 5 Reasons to Visit Iceland in Winter
Once we set out on our ride, we found ourselves in a beautiful winter wonderland of snow-covered lava fields.
The entire experience felt surreal. I have heard Iceland’s landscape described as other-worldly, and that was the feeling I had as we rode.
The only downside was that it was FREEZING! We were hit with icy gusts of wind and snow, and I was SO glad we opted for the coveralls! We may not have been starting any new fashion trends, but at least I could still feel my legs at the end.
About halfway through our ride, our leader stopped us all for a photo op before returning to the stables.
Back at the stables we said goodbye to our new furry friends and headed inside to warm up with some hot chocolate.
Overall, we had a great experience riding with Ishestar. The staff was friendly and accommodating. And most importantly, the horses appeared well cared for and happy.
Note: Ishestar offers a hotel pick-up service. We drove out to the stables ourselves since we had a rental car.
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