Twice in my life I have been involved with horses. Not being my cup of tea, I would just go along “for the ride,” without becoming heavily involved. I’ve been to English and Western horse shows, a few rodeos, and once to the National Championship for Tennessee walking horses. So at least I spoke a little “horse” when our friend Lynn and I headed out for our trail ride.
Disa Óskarsdóttir picked us up and brought us to Skjaldarvík, their guest house and stables. Going inside, we learned that the guest house has once been a retirement home. Inside it was bright, clean, and well organized. The location was spectacular, looking across Eyjafjörður, the fjord that Akureyri sits along, and up into the hills.
We walked to the stables and joined a group of visitors from Taiwan. Lynn and I were the only two of the group with any experience with horses. We were fitted with riding helmets and introduced to our horses.
Poor “Koko” was to be my steed. I was easily the largest member of our group. And even though I was not allowed to even mumble the word “pony,” Koko would be the smallest horse that I have ever ridden.
Icelandic horses may not be as tall as other breeds, but they are sturdy, hardworking and have greater endurance than many of their foreign cousins. Bred from stock brought here by Viking settlers as early as the 9th Century, they are only found in Iceland. In the year 982, importing horses into the country was prohibited. Even an Icelandic horse leaving the country can never return.
What makes them even more interesting is their ability of a fifth gait, called a tölt. They are famous for their smooth movement. More than once on our Iceland trip I would hear that when you can ride an Icelandic horse at a tölt, they are so smooth that you never spill your beer.
After ten days in Iceland, I’m sad to report that I never saw a rider with a glass of beer in his hand. But many times I would see people in the distance on horseback, out gathering the sheep.
As we were heading off on the trail, our ride leader told me that Koko could be a handful. He had a tendency to move slower as we went along. Hey, I do the same thing! Thankfully no one kicks me in the side to speed me up.
We left the barn and headed parallel to the fjord along the gently rolling countryside. Our leader was right. Koko was not in any big hurry. A little heel to the side now and then and we could almost keep up.
The group took a low path along side the fjord, the horses splashing in the clear cool water. Not Koko and I. He had another idea. We were taking the high road and he was not getting his feet wet.
Our leader called for me to use the reins to make him do what I wanted. I knew that my riding skills were a little rusty. But I could still remember how to use them to steer. I pulled the reins to the side. I slid my hands down the reins and pulled again. By this time we were on a narrow path with a drop off that I was not comfortable going back down. So Koko and I crested the hill and slowly joined the other horses. All with wet feet!
Not long after Koko’s round of obstinance, one of the other horses decided to take control of its own destiny. The young girl on it had never been on a horse before, and could not keep it under control. Lynn, who has ridden before, volunteered to swap horses. She had received a riding lesson before her trip to Iceland. A good friend of theirs raises Icelandic horses, and gave her a few pointers.
I can’t speak of Koko’s smooth gait, since the scenery captured my attention: rolling hills, farms, lava fields, and snow-capped mountains. I have never ridden a horse in such a place. It was breathtaking. Until this ride, I never knew what I was missing!
Lynn and her new horse quickly became friends. That lasted until the high point of the trip, when we began our descent back toward the barn. The horse knew where we were going and wanted to be the first one home. Lynn held on. By the time our guide stopped them, Lynn was completely out of the stirrups. The guide walked along with Lynn, holding the bridle, until we were all safely back at the farm.
We thanked our guides, horses, and hosts after enjoying a truly unique Icelandic adventure.
Located in Akureyri, Iceland, Skjaldarvík Guest House provides accommodations with hot tub and a restaurant in addition to their guided horseback rides.