The Best Horseback Riding in Iceland: Tours & What to Expect

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by Maggie Turansky


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Besides the incredible scenery and stunning natural sites, one of the top things to do when visiting this Nordic nation is to go horseback riding in Iceland. Icelandic horses are unique and beautiful and going on for a ride is one of the best ways to see the country from a different perspective.

Drive even a small way outside of Reykjavik and you’ll see these gentle, sturdy and stalky little horses grazing in pastures and meadows all over the Icelandic 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 and riding them 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.

Looking for the best horse riding tour? Check out this 2-hour riding tour or this 1.5-hour tour!

About Icelandic Horses

It’s a Horse, Not a Pony

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 an equine 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 in allowing 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!

Sturdy Icelandic horse
Though short in stature, this lovely lady is most definitely NOT a pony!

Icelandic Horse Gait

Another idiosyncrasy that makes the Icelandic horse unique among other breeds is their distinctive gaits.

In general, horses and ponies share four basic gaits: the walk, trot, canter, and gallop. All four of these are at various increasing speeds and beats. 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 little chance that you’ll be bounced out of the saddle – perfect for beginner riders!

unique and beautiful Icelandic horses
The unique and beautiful Icelandic horses

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.

Fun Facts about the Icelandic Horse

The Icelandic horse is descended from the Faroe pony and the Norwegian fjord horse and was 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 steed 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.

Sturdy Icelandic Horses
These sturdy horses can withstand the harsh Icelandic climate

The Best Horseback Riding Tours in Iceland

With approximately 80,000 Icelandic horses throughout the small island nation, Iceland horseback riding is 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 and the best horse riding tours in Iceland, check out these suggestions:

Red Lava Horse Riding

If you’re looking to ride horses from a base in Reykjavik rather than having to travel too far outside the capital, then a good option for you is to book a day 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, waterproof clothing, and helmets. The tour guide will take you all around some beautiful, scenic South Iceland 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.

Getting ready to go horse riding in Iceland
Horseback riding in Iceland

Icelandic Horseback Riding Tour from Reykjavik

This 2-hour tour from Reykjavik is another great option 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, meaning this is one of the best horse riding tours for those who don’t have much (or any!) riding experience. Also, 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.).

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 3-hour afternoon 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 several 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.

Vik Horse Adventure

If you’re looking for a great place to ride horses outside of the capital, then another fantastic option is to go on the black sand beach 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.

Black sand beaches near Vik
Black sand beaches near Vik

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 (fed from the meltwater from the Langjökull glacier) and the Geysir hot spring. All in, the tour lasts about nine hours so it’s a full, active day.

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.

a man smiling with Icelandic horses
There is one horse to every four people who live in Iceland!

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.

Do you want to ride horses in Iceland? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!

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Maggie is a co-founder and writer for The World Was Here First. Originally from the US, she has lived in five different countries and has travelled to dozens more, both solo and with her partner, Michael. She particularly loves exploring Spain and spending time in the Caucasus and the Baltics. Read more about Maggie

Comments

  1. Hi Maggie,

    What an amazing and fascinating place to visit. I really didn’t know much about this but after reading this post I will surely visit one day and will do the horse riding. Thanks for sharing such an amazing post.

    Reply
    • Hi Rob, thanks for your comment! It is definitely a wonderful experience to see Iceland on horseback. I hope you’re able to visit someday soon!

      Reply

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