An Adventure on Horseback in Iceland

Emma Hiller's account of her confidence boosting ride in Iceland


With Pash well on the road to recovery after his suspensory injury, I decided I needed a bit of a lift after all the months of slow walking and rehab work. What better way to put a spring into your step ahead of the endurance season than an adventure on horseback, I thought?

After weeks trawling the internet and several exciting conversations with Sarah King, the wonderfully helpful consultant from Unicorn Trails, I was off to Iceland on the Northern Lights Short Break! It’s very fair to say that I am not the most confident rider in the world, and the thought of riding unfamiliar horses on a rock island thousands of miles away from home was more than a little daunting.

Horse riding in Iceland
Emma bracing the elements in Iceland

The weather was quite something. I had spent quite a lot of time and money making sure I would be warm and dry, as late March in Iceland is known to be changeable and cold. However, no gear in the world makes tacking up a strange, small fluffy horse in 45 mph winds with small volcanic rocks pelting your face more bearable. Fortunately, the winds dropped on day two and I was able to experience the famous tolt of the Icelandic.

I am quite glad I was at the back of the ride, as I felt like a total novice again; I can only compare it to learning to do a rising trot thirty years ago. You feel like you’re never going to ‘get it’! The saddles used at this particular farm were endurance saddles from Argentina and truly comfortable, but a visit to the hot springs that afternoon definitely helped ease some of the aches from getting used to an entirely new pace.

Scenery on the horse ride Iceland
The magnificent scenery of the area made the cold worthwhile

The Icelandic is a seriously tough little horse. Snuggling down in my cosy cabin at night time and checking the outdoor temperature on my phone app, I was unsurprised to see that it was minus fifteen. The ridden herd was outside, rug-less, without shelter, and seemed truly content with their lot.

On the following day we rode on the black beaches next to the glacier river; my strong little mare Altur (who couldn’t have been more than 13.3) thought nothing of scrambling up and down the steep banks with me on her back.

Icelandic horses climbing a steep bank
The incredibly surefooted Icelandic horses made easy work of steep banks with me on her back!

Riding through the herds of mares and foals was something quite special and it is testament to their level temperaments, that I didn’t worry at all about this, as it’s something I would be totally terrified of doing in the UK. All in all, I can see why these charming little horses are becoming more popular worldwide; I know there are quite a few out there in the endurance world, and can very much understand why.

Riding among the horse herds Iceland
Riding among the herds was a special experience

I made some wonderful friends from all around the world on the trip. I needn’t have been worried about traveling solo, as four other women on the ride were all doing so as well. I came back feeling more confident and ready to up my own horse Pash’s training, ready for our very modest target of a season of pleasure rides, which ‘might’ end in another adventure on horseback – maybe even the heady heights of a low-level graded novice endurance ride!


Written by Emma Hillier for the Endurance GB blog and reproduced in part for Unicorn Horse Trails

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