While the mere thought of our trip to Iceland had me starry-eyed and dreamy as I was filled with images of breathtaking sub-arctic scenery, black sand beaches, and cascading waterfalls, there was one thing that I was looking forward to beyond all else, and that was riding an Icelandic horse. I love animals of all kinds and have been riding horses since I was a little girl, so finding the best horseback riding in Iceland was an absolute must for me as it is for many visitors to this Nordic nation.
Drive even a small way outside of Reykjavik and you’ll see these sturdy little horses grazing in pastures all over the countryside. And they’re some of the most distinctive (and adorable!) horses in the world!
There are many characteristics of the Icelandic horse that sets them apart from other breeds. Horseback riding in Iceland is an excellent way to see the parts of the country away from the Ring Road while also experiencing a bit of local culture and tradition.
If you are interested in where to find the best horseback riding in Iceland and want to learn more about the distinctive Icelandic horse, you’ve come to the right place!
About Horseback Riding in Iceland
It’s a Horse, Not a Pony
Before I get into where to go horseback riding in Iceland, let’s talk a little bit about the Icelandic horse itself. This hearty equine is a breed unique to all others and really an iconic part of the country of Iceland itself.
Though the Icelandic horse only stands at about 13 – 14 hands (132 – 142 cm) tall — a height that would generally classify a horse as a pony — don’t be fooled; the Icelandic horse is a horse through and through.
While short in stature, these little horses are sturdy, stalky, and tough as nails. Throughout thousands of years, natural selection has played its part to allow the horse to withstand and persevere through the harsh Icelandic climate.
Their sturdy builds, spirited temperaments, and ability to carry immense amounts of weight all are reason enough to classify these equines as horses. So pay the Icelandic horse a bit of respect and remember that it’s not a pony!
Icelandic Horse Gait
Another idiosyncrasy that makes the Icelandic horse unique among other breeds is their distinctive gaits.
All horses and ponies share four basic gaits: the walk, trot, canter, and gallop. All four of these are at various increasing speeds and beats and while Icelandic horses do share the walk, trot, and canter with most other horse breeds in the world, there are two other gaits that make the Icelandic horse distinctive from all other horse and pony breeds that you might be familiar with.
The first unique gait of the Icelandic horse is called a tölt. The tölt is similar to a trot and is the most natural gait for an Icelandic horse. At a speed that lands somewhere between a trot and a canter, it is also incredibly smooth so it eliminates the need to post while riding and there is no chance that you’ll be bounced out of the saddle.
The other gait that sets the Icelandic horse apart is called flugskeið, or flying pace. The flying pace is the fastest gait in the Icelandic horse’s repertoire at one step above a canter but just below a gallop. In this gait, the horses are able to reach speeds of nearly 48 km/hour and, because of the breed’s incredible heartiness and sure-footedness, they are able to sustain it for long periods of time.
The Best Horseback Riding in Iceland Tours
With approximately 80,000 Icelandic horses throughout the small island nation combined with the fact that they’re as ingrained and important in Icelandic culture as anything makes going horseback riding in Iceland an unmissable thing to do.
If you’re visiting this beautiful Nordic nation and are looking for the best places to ride horses in Iceland, check out these suggestions:
Red Lava Horse Riding
If it makes more sense to go horseback riding from a base in Reykjavik, then a good option for you is to book a tour with Red Lava Horse Riding.
This two-hour horseback riding tour will pick you up from Reykjavik an hour before your scheduled tour time and also provides essential gear such as gloves, wet-weather clothing, and helmets. The tour will take you all around some beautiful South Icelandic landscapes that are difficult to see on foot and it is suitable for absolute beginners and more experienced riders alike.
After the tour, they will bring you back to Reykjavik. You also have the option to drive to their stables yourself if you have your own transport in Iceland. Click here to check their tour availability.
Icelandic Horseback Riding Tour from Reykjavik
This Icelandic Horseback Riding Tour from Reykjavik is another great place to go horseback riding in Iceland if you’re looking for a tour from Reykjavik. The stables aren’t located too far outside of the city centre and the 1 to 1.5-hour trail ride will take you through some beautiful mountain and volcanic scenery all while not venturing too far from Reykjavik itself.
Riders can choose from a beginner, intermediate or advanced trail ride depending on their skill level and everyone has the opportunity to warm up with a steaming mug of coffee or hot chocolate after the ride.
Like the Red Lava tours listed above, the cost of transport to and from Reykjavik is also included, as is any riding gear that you may need (gloves, helmets, boots, rain gear, etc.). Click here to check their tour availability.
Afternoon Viking Horseback Tour
If you’re an intermediate to advanced rider looking to go ride Icelandic horses without having to venture too far from Reykjavik, then this afternoon Viking horseback tour is a great option. Located only 10 minutes outside of the capital, this 3-hour horseback riding tour will allow you to explore the Reykjanes preservation area on the back of a beautiful Icelandic horse.
You should be prepared to trot, tolt and canter for the majority of the time and the stable does recommend that riders have ridden horses at least 30 times before embarking on this tour. Basically, they want to ensure that you know how to handle and control a horse while in a number of different gaits so you don’t hold back a group of experienced riders.
Perfect for riders aged 12 or older, all gear is also provided so you don’t need to worry about bringing your helmet or boots along with everything else you’re likely packing for your Iceland trip.
There is also an option to include a transfer to and from the riding centre if you haven’t rented a car. All in, you can expect this tour to last about five hours, with three hours of active riding time. Click here to check their tour availability
Vik Horse Adventure
If you’re looking for a great place to go horseback riding in Iceland outside of the capital, then another fantastic option is to go on the black sand beach riding tour with Vik Horse Adventure.
This tour, leaving from the town of Vik in the south of Iceland, lasts about one hour and goes along the stunning black sand beach nearby. This is an excellent way to experience some of the most distinctive landscapes in the country, if not the entire world.
The ride, again, is suitable for all experience levels and they do provide some essentials such as helmets, gloves, and rain gear. Click here to check their tour availability.
Horseback Riding + Golden Circle Tours
If you’re short on time and want to get the most out of your stay in Iceland, there are a number of tours that combine a stint of Icelandic horseback riding with a full tour of the incredible Golden Circle.
For example, this tour that leaves from Reykjavik will take you on a trail ride in the countryside around the Icelandic capital before taking you to the beautiful Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall and the Geysir hot spring. All in, the tour lasts about nine hours so it’s a full, active day. Click here to see their availability.
Alternatively, this 11-hour tour will pick you up from your hotel before taking you to all of the highlights of the Golden Circle. To end the day, you will go on a 1-hour horseback ride through the lava fields and experience the beauty of Iceland on the back of a spirited Icelandic horse before being dropped off back at your hotel. Click here to see their availability.
Visit an Icelandic Stable
If you’re more interested in learning about and visiting Icelandic horses rather than actually riding them, then there are a few options that will suit you, as well.
For instance, this tour from Reykjavik will take you to a typical Icelandic stable where you can meet and interact with the horses, help to groom them and learn all about what makes them unique. You then have the option to go for a quick ride around the paddock if you wish. Click here to see their availability.
Another great option is this tour to a local farm. Here you will get to visit a stable, interact with some delightful horses and learn all about this unique breed, including seeing a demonstration of the five gaits. You will then get to visit and tour the greenhouses and find out how it is possible to grow things like tomatoes in a harsh environment like Iceland. Click here to see their availability.
Fun Facts about the Icelandic Horse
The Icelandic horse is descended from the Faroe pony and the Norwegian fjord horse and brought to Iceland by the Vikings. There are also genetic links between the Icelandic horse and the similar Mongolian horse.
According to Norse mythology, the god Odin is said to have ridden an eight-footed Icelandic horse called Sleipnir. In the early 20th century, Icelandic horses were exported to Britain and were used as pit ponies during the mining boom.
There are about 80,000 Icelandic horses in the country, meaning that there is one horse for approximately every four people. Icelandic horses have passports, but once one leaves Iceland, they are not permitted to return.
Horse riding in Iceland was one of the highlights of our adventures around this amazing and beautiful country. There is something magical about experiencing the awe-inspiring scenery atop one of these fascinating animals. If you’re planning a trip to Iceland, make sure to spend some time on horseback while you tölt through the pristine countryside.
Would you go horseback riding in Iceland? Have you been? Let us know in the comments!