Viking horses: Freedom to ride

31. May, 2020

The modest two-story house of Halldór Laxness, Iceland’s Nobel Laureate in literature (1955), stands on the road called Thingvallavegur. It is close to Mosfellsbær, a town northeast of Reykjavik. His award-winning novel Independent People tells the story of a common Icelandic laborer, Bjartur of Summerhouses, who is working against the odds to save up enough money to buy his own farm, and, so to buy his independence. Laxness himself was born in 1902 at the farm across the road from where his house stands. The farmland today is dotted with Icelandic horses that could be hired for a ride.

“The love of freedom and independence has always been a characteristic of the Icelandic people,” wrote Halldór Laxness. Wouldn’t you agree that one way to experience true freedom is on horseback?!

Riding an Icelandic horse is special. There is no doubt about that. These sure-footed, sturdy but oh so beautiful animals are still very similar to what they looked like back in the day when the Vikings first settled with their livestock in the 9th century, making them some of the most pure bred horses in the world. It takes a moment to sink in. Because of the isolation, they preserved some traits no longer found in European horses. For example, the Icelandic horse has five natural and unique gaits: the walk, the trot, the canter, the tölt, and the flying pace. While riding at a flying pace is considered the pinnacle of horsemanship, the tölt, during which at least one foot always touches the ground, offers a smooth, almost bounce-free ride.

Anyone who’s travelled around Iceland and pulled over to the side of the road after spotting quiet farm horses grazing in a field, will know they are incredibly friendly, curious and extremely photogenic.

Booking a special trip to ride an Icelandic horse is a chance to ditch the rushing highway, and spend a few hours on the back roads in the countryside, among lava fields. It is a special experience, and the one you are unlikely to ever forget.

Your friendly Arctic Face guide will pick you up at your hotel or guesthouse in Reykjavik and drive you to the farm located only 15 minutes from Reykjavik. There you will be kitted out with a helmet, boots and rain clothes (snowsuits in wintertime) and a horse, suitable to your level of riding skills, will be matched to you. Needless to say, your driver will drop you off at your hotel at the end of the day.


By  Svetlana Graudt

Svetlana was born in Moscow, where as many as nine million people use the metro every day. After 12 years in London she moved to Reykjavik for love. Svetlana loves cities and reading long articles in The New Yorker.