For travelers hoping to gain an authentic look at Iceland’s natural beauty, no experience can compare to seeing the country from Icelandic horseback.
Icelandic horses have a strong tie to the country’s culture and history. When Viking settlers first came to Iceland over 1,000 years ago, their cramped ships only gave them enough room to transport their finest horses—horses chosen for their strength, smooth gait, and sure-footed nature. At this early stage in the region’s development, further importing of livestock became forbidden, and generations of strong genes resulted in the distinct breed that is today’s Icelandic horse.
The horse’s appearance can be deceiving to first-time riders. Rarely much taller than traditional ponies, Icelandic horses have a hardy nature and a sturdy compactness that makes them surprisingly well-suited to travelling long distances while carrying people or materials. As a result, they are at home throughout the rugged Nordic environment and have been a practical means of transportation among Icelanders for hundreds of years.
Iceland’s dramatic natural beauty can almost make it sound like a mythical place, between its gorges, volcanoes, hot springs, and 20-hour stretches of sunlight in the summer. These features give any visitor much to see, but from horseback, a rider has far more opportunity to stray from the road and admire Iceland’s stunning, untouched wilderness.
National Geographic Traveler magazine recently reviewed such a journey in its Best Tours In Europe 2013 list, referring to the nine-day trip through western Iceland’s Snæfellsnes peninsula as the “tour of a lifetime”. Organized by women’s travel group AdventureWomen,the tour arranges for riders to travel between 15 and 18 miles per day, staying at traditional farmhouses and guesthouses throughout the countryside by night.
In riding horseback and taking the paths less traveled, travelers get the chance to explore the country’s unique features in a more up-close way than traditional tours. The trails offer a sampling of the area’s diverse landscape, leading riders along seaside cliffs, beaches, and around the base of Snæfellsjökull, a famous glacier-covered volcano. The tour is recommended for intermediate horseback riders (and those who won’t mind when their ride kicks up a bit of volcanic soil) but for those who are up for the adventure, it isn’t to be missed.