For over a thousand years these small horses (1m15 to 1m35 at the withers) have been the faithful steeds of Icelanders, a breed that can handle the difficult climate of northern countries. Whatever the season, the Icelandic horse is a common sight when visiting Iceland.
There are around 80,000 horses in Iceland compared to 100,000 in Europe. They are invaluable companions here for a variety of activities like sheep herding, known for their gentle and loyal temperament and impressive physical endurance. Icelanders are particularly proud of their unique horses.
There are very strict breeding laws in force to prevent any mixing of races, in order to keep as close as possible to the original breed introduced to the island by the Vikings. For example, once a horse has left the island, it's almost impossible for it to get back in!
One of its main characteristics is its unique gait, of which it has 4 rather than the usual 3: the walk, the trot, the canter/gallop, and the “tölt”. Tölt (pronounced Teult) is a very smooth 4-beat lateral gait that is comfortable at all speeds. The particularity of this pace is that the horse always has at least one foot on the ground. Some breeds even have a 5th gait, the flying pace, which is a sight to behold.
Inevitably, with Iceland's exceptional vistas and rich history of horseback-riding, there is a great offer for visiting riders. Many guesthouses and other farms offer this type of activity, and you'll generally see it indicated in the rental details.
Prices are variable and depend on the duration (often around €50-€60 for 1 to 2 hours of horseback riding). The riding tours start at 1 hour and can go up to a half day excursions. These are absolutely breathtaking landscapes, and some tours stay out late in the day to catch the midnight sun...
Some tour companies offer riding treks lasting 3 to 10 days which is a great way to explore a region at an easy pace but still cover a lot of ground. In winter, you can even book tours to hunt for the Northern Lights on horseback!
The 10-day Sprengisendur crossing on horseback is one of the most popular attractions for horse riding enthusiasts. Crossing this great desert by car is already truly unforgettable, but on horseback these wildly contrasting landscapes truly come alive. It's said to be the best way to appreciate this wildland, an authentic connection with nature, and we can only agree.
The hike starts in the green valleys up north before descending into the rocky Sprengisandur desert with uninterrupted views of the surrounding glaciers, and fords to cross as your mount kicks up a spray of water! Truly unforgettable.
Another favorite riding excursion is the 10-day trek on horseback under the midnight sun. These are held in the Far North East, very close to the Melrakkaslétta peninsula, or in the heart of the Landmannalaugar region, known around the world for its extraordinary panoramas…
Most horseback riding tours are just hiking trails you do a bit faster than usual, so you can find these tours all around the island. Here are a few suggestions: