By request (from patients, friends, and fellow equestrians), I will now depart from medical postings to have some travel blog action here!
Warning: Horse Talk Ahead
I was very excited to ride horses in Iceland. It was one of the main reasons for this trip! The morning of the excursion I couldn't sleep well, I was up hours before the hotel breakfast and ready at the bus stop 30 minutes early, wearing my hand-knitted Icelandic sweater (with horses on it, naturally)! It was already feeling like "the best birthday ever!"
When I arrived at Ishestar's riding facilities they asked about experience and what kind of horse I wanted. I said quick enough, but smart, and not too green (since I have plenty of that at home). My horse was Brasi if I remember correctly - I had to ask his name a number of times as the Icelander's pronunciation was difficult for me (sounded more like bddda-asa, but I may also remember this incorrectly, too). He was an older, chestnut gelding with a scalloped blaze. He liked to be in the front of the pack. He was friendly, interested in me from the start, a little crabby, but overall tolerant of the other horses. He appreciated a good scratch on the neck and seemed to bore easily, curling his head around, trying to eat my snowsuit while people were having their pictures taken.
The tack was fine, simple snaffle with drop nose band, clip-on cheap-but-acceptable reins (I was wearing gloves made for snowmobiling so "feel" wasn't even on the radar), the saddle was a dressage saddle with large thigh blocks for stability and the stirrup irons were really great with a 45 degree turn, a knee-saving feature for me. As mentioned, I did use one of their snowsuits, a lot of riders didn't (vanity perhaps?) but the suits were fine for riding, and only my toes were cold by the end of the ride.
After a short ride out to a viewpoint where we had photos taken (and snowsuits nibbled), we broke off into two groups: experienced and not. There were four of us in the experienced riders group, all American women (two from VT, one from NJ, and me from WA). We tölted, galloped, and had a blast! (For information on the tölt go here). I did have to work a little to get a comfortable tölt but could feel it lock in when I had it. The guide gave minimal instruction on tölting, just advised us to play around with the contact and keep their heads lifted. Honestly, I found the gallop most fun. Brasi had a scrabbling gallop, almost too fast and chaotic to feel safe (but totally safe, Dad!), and was exhilarating in the snow and ice! The views were spectacular as the sun tried to rise for its meager 4-hour stint, spilling colors over the mountain ranges and lava fields.
Fun facts about Icelandic Horses: They were brought to Iceland by the vikings. They are the only horse allowed in the country and, if exported, cannot ever come back. There are 90,000 horses on Iceland (there are about 350,000 humans). You cannot have contact with native Icelandic horses with any materials that have been around other non-Icelandic Horses as they are unvaccinated and thus vulnerable to communicable diseases. The riding stables provide all the essentials (helmet, boots if you need it) so bringing your own riding gear isn't necessary. I appreciated my thick winter gloves, neck gaiter, and ear warmer from home in addition to my winter hiking boots.
After the ride we untacked the horses in a large paddock. The hairy creatures pretty much all immediately rolled, some grunting adorably. After rolling, they engaged in a lot of mutual grooming. The staff seemed to trust the crazy American horsewomen, and New Jersey, a friend of hers, and I stayed in the paddock alone, cuddling and scratching the horses until the bus came to take us back to the city. I wanted to take every single one of them home with me!
Next time I ride in Iceland I hope to go on a long horse camping/trek adventure through the countryside in the summer.
This was the perfect birthday present for myself and wouldn't it be great to make it an annual thing? Riding horses in their native counties. My birthday means winter but also means Christmas cheer. Next year maybe Haflingers in Austria? I hear Vienna is spectacular this time of year!