Ride Report: Learning to Tölt in Iceland

A riding holiday around Iceland's Golden Circle region


At the end of July, in the spirit of great adventure, I went to Iceland to visit our partners there with Unicorn Trails travel advisor, Sarah King. A proper, five-day trip where we could see the sights and experience lots of the riding that so many Unicorn clients have raved about. At first, I wasn’t convinced, Iceland had never struck me as my ideal destination, mainly owing to the weather (highs of 15 degrees in July!) but by Day 2 I was converted.

Icelandic horses catching some rays
Icelandic horses catching some rays
My first trusty steed
Bruffin, my first trusty steed

On arrival, I headed straight to the blue lagoon to shake off the stresses of the flight. I highly recommend doing this as the lagoon is close to the airport making it easy to stop off at the way. They are well set up for this with plenty of transfer buses to/from both Reykavik and the airport as well as a bag drop to store suitcases. Feeling, extremely pleased with myself as I caught my first glimpse of the turquoise water, I positively skipped into the lagoon, through the spa-like, wood-panelled changing rooms, excitedly removing all my clothes before realising I had left my swimwear back at the luggage drop. Sigh. A frantic run back to the entrance in a towel ensued. However, it was worth it for the couple of hours spent floating around in the strange, milky water.

The following day, Sarah and I were collected from our hotel by our friendly guide and were whisked away to see some of the spectacular sights in the South of the island. The trail ride we were joining takes in majestic waterfalls, exploding geysers and you can even peek at some teutonic plates. After being suitably awed by these natural wonders, it was time to meet our first Icelandic horses; Bambi and Bruffin and get to grips with the tölt. A unique gait of the Icelandic horse, the only way I can describe it is like moving at speed while sitting in an armchair; extremely comfortable once you get the hang of it. The horses were speedy but responsive and as a reasonably tall woman it was great fun to be dashing round the expansive countryside on a smaller horse than I would usually be paired with. By the end of our two hour introductory ride I was ready to pack my mount in my suitcase. Unfortunately, she was not for sale.

Modelling the complimentary wet weather gear
Modelling the complimentary wet weather gear

The next day we joined a larger group for our first experience of riding with the herd, a quintessential Icelandic experience. We had a less than ideal start to the day with rain, rain and more, torrential rain. I was pleasantly surprised to find that our hosts are obviously used to guests not being adequately prepared for the changeable Icelandic weather and decked me out in some fetching bright orange waterproofs. Luckily the rain eased as we set off but I felt confident knowing I had my  deep sea diving outfit tucked into my saddlebag should the heavens open again. The riding today was the longest day of the entire trail (7 hours!) and by the end I was begging for mercy.

On this trail all riders switch horses every couple of hours meaning that your horse is always forward-going and full of energy. The scenery was spectacular and the riding completely different from anywhere else. We crossed rivers, rode through high rocky mountains and down through endless fields filled with bushes and bushes of wild lupin. Occasionally we’d meet some wild horses along the way which had to be expertly chased away by our guides. We tölted along for most of the day and I was surprised by just how long these horses can go at this gait without wavering.

Riding in Iceland
The tolt in action

I can’t recommend Iceland enough, really, especially the fantastic horses. The riding is superb if the weather is good, and almost as superb even if the weather is shocking. Other things I loved about the trip were staying with our friendly hosts in a pretty wooden cabin on their farm and seeing the great lifestyle their horses enjoy. Kept in a herd of around 200 horses they have a huge amount of space to roam meaning they remain calm even in large groups. The trip has made me want to visit other destinations that offer riding on Icelandic horses (like our new Lofoten Islands ride in Norway). My one tip if you’re heading to Iceland is to pack waterproofs unless you really suit fluorescent orange.

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