Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Riding Icelandic Horses: Review

I rode an Icelandic horse across the lava fields.

Doesn't that sound so wild and exotic and romantic?

I think it does, so I put it on my top 3 things I wanted to do while we were in Iceland. We ended up booking an afternoon ride through Ishestar the night before when we had WI-FI at the apartment we were renting.

The day before the Reykjavik Marathon, we headed to Ishestar stable, which was a 10-minutes drive from Reykjavik.  We waited a little while for the morning group to come in, so we went and looked around at the horses.

Flo filling out paperwork before we go

Icelandic horses are shorter than usual horses and may even be considered pony-sized. Lee, Dr. Amy, and Flo are all 5'11" or taller; in contrast, I am 5'3" and have extremely short legs. I joked that I would be the only one that would truly enjoy this horse ride because my legs wouldn't be dragging. I guess it pays to be short sometimes!

(P.S. They're not really that short--the horses, that is! My legs, on the other hand, are pretty short.)

Perfect-sized horses for me!

Icelandic horses also usually look like rebellious teenagers with their shaggy hair in their eyes. Flo especially loved how it made them look like members of the Beatles.

Flo and her cute, shaggy-haired horse

When it was time for our group to go, we watched a training video, suited up in the these bright orange, water-proof outfits, donned a helmet, put on some galoshes, and were given a horse. It was Dr. Amy's first time on a horse!

Dr. Amy navigating a puddle--first time on a horse!

My horse's name was Orly (sp?). It turns out that within the first 20 meters, Orly decided he didn't want to go out and decided to head back. I couldn't get him to stop or turn around! Our awesome guide was so kind and didn't make me feel like an idiot. She just kept asking Orly why he was being so naughty and brought him to the front of the line.

Orly was naughty, but we got along in the end

Lee's horse was named Sykur (translation: Sugar). We happened to be watching him beforehand and let's just say he is one amorous horse! Sykur had the best Elvis lip curl I've ever seen!

Another random fact: Sykur was actually a 2nd choice to the main horse in the show Game of Thrones, which is filmed in Iceland.

Elvis lip curl by Sykur

We headed out far from the stable, and we sure did traverse through the lava fields I imagined--it was amazing! The lava covered in a carpet of moss is absolutely stunning.

Moss-covered lava fields

Icelandic horses are also known to have 5 different gaits than the usual 3 gaits of other horses. Flo has had a lot of experience with horses, so she wanted to gallop.

We didn't ever gallop on our outing--our horses just did the traditional Icelandic trot, or the tolt (there's an umlaut over the O), which was a little hard on the tailbone after a while. Apparently, this trot is still more comfortable than traditional trots.

Our awesome guide showing us the different gaits of Icelandic horses

I was having a difficult time getting my short legs to nudge the sides of my horse to start the trot, so our guide gave me a riding crop to encourage Orly along, and we eventually made our way back to the stable.

Atop my horse

Anyway, here are our pros and cons of our Icelandic horse ride with Ishestar:


  • You don't really get to ride around like you might picture in your head when you first hear that you'll be riding Icelandic horses across lava fields. You are riding on a set trail and riding single file most of the time.
  • This is not the most high adventure type of activity in Iceland. So for our friend, Flo, who has ridden many horses in her life, this wasn't anything new or exciting.
  • It's hard to take pictures while riding since you kind of need to hold on to the reins. Lee used our GoPro camera to get some footage though.
  • The orange jumpsuits aren't particularly flattering.
  • It was a little expensive, like many things in Iceland are.


  • The scenery is truly amazing.
  • We especially loved our guide (she was from Denmark), who told us all about the horses and Icelandic lore about fairies and elves. 
  • All the staff were pleasant, and the main building was well kept and cozy.
  • We got to try out the famous Icelandic horse trot, the tolt.
  • The orange jumpsuits are waterproof and kept us warm and dry the entire time.
  • It was easy to book an appointment online and they can accommodate a large group easily.
  • Ishestar is close to Reykjavik and they will come pick you up if you don't have a car.

My very colorful Icelandic horse riding outfit

Next time, I think we would not book ahead of time or at any of the stables near Reykjavik. Instead, while we were out driving around Iceland, we'd stop by a smaller place and see if we could be shown around and ride the horses there.

We saw plenty of signs on the road pointing to smaller outfits throughout Iceland, and it seemed like most places are used to little or no notice. I think this route might be a little more adventurous. I like the idea of getting a little more one-on-one attention with an Icelander and seeing how these smaller stables are run.

Overall, we had enjoyable time and would recommend Ishestar if you are going to be in Reykjavik mostly and want a easy and chill activity to do while in Iceland.


  1. Oh I absolutely love this. It looks like you all had a wonderful time. (The area looks beautiful.) I couldn't stop laughing at the Elvis lip. So funny! Thanks so much for visiting my blog. Also stopping by from the SITS site. Enjoy your weekend! :)

    1. And thanks for stopping by too, Stephanie! I'm glad you liked the Elvis lip action--we laugh every time we see that picture! Have a great weekend too!


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