Our First Multi-day Trail Ride
The first time we visited Iceland we rode with Ishestar (Ishestar means "Ice Horse"). The "Number 1 Viking" at the Viking Village helped arrange the trip for us. Since that moment, Bill decided we needed to come back and do an extended trip to see what is in the middle of Iceland (the Interior). I wrote to Ishestar and after emailing back and forth, we decided that the Trail of Hope was probably the best option for our skill level and it was a shorter trip so if we did not do well, it was not a complete loss. The trip had a bus ride though the interior on the last day so Bill would get both horses and Interior, just on separate days. This was the best decision we could have ever made. Other than the Galapagos, this is probably the most spectacular trip we have ever been on. Of course we plan to return next year to ride with Ishestar, not the Galapagos, so maybe this is the top of the list!
On this trip we met fabulous people, both staff and visitors. We stayed in the same farmhouse for four nights. It had clean and comfortable bedrooms, but most importantly we had Giggi who made us breakfast and dinner every day. The food was fantastic. Each night we had a special Icelandic desert as well so I got to try new things. I should have gained weight but the riding must have provided the right amount of exercise. We had a buffet of sandwich items to build our own lunch each day, and what I called 'the support van' was always waiting for us with lunch and water. I hope we will stay in touch with many of these people for a lifetime and since arriving home we have already mentioned back and forth with another couple how it would be nice to go on a trip together again someday.
We started out early in the morning - 7:20 am to be exact. A small bus/van came to pick us up and we then made our way around Reykjavik hotels picking up people in riding gear (they said be ready to ride right away). We met one by one. People from Germany, Denmark, Finland, Australia, and the United States made up the small group. Despite the early hours, everyone looked alive and excited. The ride was a bit over three hours if I recall correctly, and we were dropped off at a farm where we were met by a woman with a clip board letting us know what room we each had. Bill and I got our own room with Ernie and Bert beds as we call them, with plenty of room to spread out our stuff.
We quickly dropped our bags in the room and headed over to the barn to answer the question of what our riding level was so we could be assigned a horse. Embarrassed, I had to tell Haukur, our host and trip leader for the week, that we were probably the lowest in skills in the whole group. I was a little unsure at this point how it would go as per the conversation on the bus lead to the realization that we were the only ones who had never owned a horse. We all grabbed a saddle and tacked up, at which point I had a noseband I had never seen before and had no idea what to do with it. It was not like anything I had used on a horse before. I asked another person on the trip and they did not recognize it either, so there was some relief there! Someone gave us all a hand and we mounted and started on our way.
My first horse was Garpur. He was a beautiful bay with a lot of spirit but was very bouncy in the trot or I just could not ride him well. I am not sure. My legs were a mess and all over the place. Was in in over my head? Bill seemed fine. We rode a short ride that I barely remember other than Garpur throws his head a lot and trots no matter what I ask for. I am not a good equestrian. We arrived at a farm and dismounted, allowing our horses to go into the paddock. There was a restroom we all lined up for and then we waited for the herd to show up. Watching their approach was beautiful, and a nice opportunity to get a few photos of horses headed straight at me before they turned left into the paddock.
The second ride this day was one of the best days of my life. We all got new horses and I got Hekla who may remain the love of my life. She was the perfect fit for me. I can ride! She was a pro at this and kept telling me "Cori. leave me alone, I got this". She was right. We rode behind the herd and made sure stragglers stopped grazing or wandering from the herd and continued forward. I grew up in farm country and this was familiar and comfortable and a lot of fun. Bill just rode in the back with a smile on his face the whole time. Work was optional. Towards the end we picked up pace and as we cantered along the road I realized that at the point where Hekla's hooves were all in the air and she and I were no longer connected to the earth, it was complete silence. I looked back and realized I was quite a bit ahead of the rest of the group and we circled back to join them. I never really got a good handle on communicating slow down or stop to that horse, or maybe I did and she knew the route, new the routine, and was all set without my input.
The sun came out for our second day. Not that it ever set to begin with, but the clouds cleared and the sky was beautiful. I was assigned Garpur for a second time, and thought that after riding Hekla well the day before I thought maybe it was my confidence and I gave him another shot. It did not go well. I really thought I was going to fall off. I told the guide I and we were able to switch to another horse. I got Wallee (or Valley - when I asked how to spell it I was told the first letter was "We" so I am still not sure) and he was a lovely horse. I was back in the saddle. I felt better when another woman told me she had gone through three horses finding the right fit on one of the legs and she skilled enough to compete in dressage. The staff was really nice and supportive which was a good feeling.
This ride brought us along a beach which was the interior of a fjord, or what was probably Lake Hop. The horses stopped to drink from the body of water on the other side of a sand bar as we crossed between the two bodies of water. I took about 20 photos and three came out. We continued along grassy fields with a snow capped mountain in the background until we made it to the farm where the horses would stay that evening. We then snacked on apples and headed out to visit an old Viking fortress that had been the cauldron of the volcano.
This might have been my favorite day. In the morning I got to ride Hekla who loves full speed ahead, and I was blessed with my little lady Skvisa who had such grace and elegance - and a need to be in front. Today I would learn why. But first, we tacked up and headed our along a road where the herd trotted ahead of us and tried to stop for grass and water frequently, maybe just in case Iceland ran out of either. The terrain changed quickly into black sand in dunes and paths around each of the small piles of sand. It was a very bumpy fast trot, but if there was anywhere too fall of your horse, this would be the softest landing. We all stayed mounted. I still do not know if we are supposed to post during a trot on Icelandics, but Hekla did not seem to care either way, and I got a full core workout while looking at the unique and beautiful scenery.
After the dunes, we turned and headed up a steep slope with chunks of basalt scattered in the sand and small basalt walls on the left - remnants of the volcanic activity that formed this land. At one point we dismounted and walked the horses for a bit, then mounted and continued on across the black earth until we reached a grassy pasture that overlooked the lake we would soon cross. We unpacked our cheese sandwiches which had become our personal staple on the trip, and relaxed in the grass.
After lunch, we walked our horses down a steep slope towards the water. The horses' superiority in footing over my own was soon evident. The horses had no worries and I had a few, but we all made it to a flat area quickly and mounted and made sure our pants were all tucked into our waterproof boots. Finally my $70 investment into Dublin rubber riding boots was about to pay off. We had left the herd behind for the staff to move to the next farm as we went single file into Lake Hop. I love the swish swish sound of horses in the water. I know I did this when I was young as the sound is familiar, and I also remembered not to look down or I would get dizzy, but I still can't remember why I know this.
We had been warned that when the horses reached the opposite shore they would be ready to run. They were right and I am sure I know why - because this is the part of the trip where they get to fly across the black sand and they know this because they have been on this trip many times before. On the first leg, my wet boot had a hard time staying firm in the stirrup. When we paused to see how everyone was doing, I dismounted to bring my stirrups up one. It made a huge difference. The next leg was a blast, but I thought I would try not being in the very front to see how that felt, thinking if I fall off, the front would be a bad place to do it. I think a lot more about falling than I actually will fall off in my life. Not being in front results in a lot of mud in the face. Poor Skvisa! Now I knew why she always wanted to be in front. I apologized to her and let her go and this was one of the most memorable moments of my life. I would come back to this trip over and over again just to experience those few minutes again and again. Afterwards, other people mentioned that they did not think that we were going all that fast, but I thought we were. What do I know? It was exciting and incredible either way. I was fully alive at that moment.
I was very sad that this was our last day. I was originally concerned that four days of riding might be too much or too redundant or too hard or I would get too sore. None of those thoughts became true. I had a few more days in me for sure, but there is always next year.
We started out like most days, people go ahead, the herd heads out, and then the 'back' people go. I liked the back. I got to see horses all day long and there was no pressure. Next time I go on a trip, I might consider the front, but I was very happy in my usual spot on the trip. We briefly went through a path lined with lupine that was almost past and found ourselves once again ready to cross the water. This time, one of the horses in the herd did not want to be with the herd and stuck by Bill who was at the very back. If a horse has a friend in the herd they want to be in the herd, and I guess if they have a horse that one of us is riding, then they want to be with us.
The last part of the ride was a simple stroll along the road back to the farm; quite similar to what I rode as a kid. It was perfect weather and the colors of the grasses and the water were spectacular to look at. For the final part, I pushed Skvisa for one more canter, something she might not have been as interested in, but we had a nice bright trot the rest of the way back to the farm. It was hard to say goodbye to my little Skvisa.
This map is slightly vague and I would not use it other than for curiosity. We started out on the right where I have a star. That is Hvammur Farm where we stayed. It was very comfortable and clean. A unique and lovely feature of this trip is that we stayed here the entire time rather than going form farm to farm or hut to hut. We rode the horses from one farm to another and left the horses at the end of each day. We would then ride a bus back to the farm. There was no packing and unpacking and packing and unpacking, and we had beds instead of floors and sleeping bags.
We headed south from the farm, crossing the river to the west. I think we left the horses at a farm here, but I am not sure. We then headed north to Hop which is how the trip is named The Trail of Hope. Get it?
The westward trip along the south side of the lake towards the mountains ahead was especially beautiful. That day we had beaches and grasslands. This was some of the flattest riding on the trip if I remember correctly. Very easy to get out a camera and take photos, at least according to the number of photos I came home with.
The trip to the northern side of Hop might have been my favorite landscape. We had black dunes, grassland, steep climbing on basalt rocks and more sand, a beautiful water crossing, and cantering across black sand on the other side.
The final leg was a bit north and then coming back down south to Hvammur Farm. The most memorable part of that leg was the green green green of the land. Because we went alongside standing water on the side of the road, a bug net for my head would have been nice for that one day. As far as any other special equipment goes, the knee high rubber boots kept us dry for the water crossing and any hot weather clothes we packed were wasted. It was so hot when we left home that I decided to only bring my summer breeches and I left my fleece lined ones behind. Mistake, but I wore a fleece jacket and was fine. July is not hot in the summer compared to home unless you live in Greenland or something.
How Can You Do This?
We highly recommend this trip to those who are competent in the saddle and would love to enjoy the Icelandic land and heritage on horseback. Ishestar is a company that offers this trip and many others in Iceland. They are highly recommended in Trip Advisor and we have used them twice now with excellent experiences. A multi day trip expects from the rider that we know how to get our own saddle from a barn and tack up without assistance.
This is also not a line of horses type ride like for the Grand Canyon and other 'trail rides' in the United States. Ishestar has those rides too, but this was a little more wild and free. I have had a hard time explaining it to people from the US, but on this particular trip there is no designated order of my horse behind your horse and then this horse..., and often times at fast paces we are inches apart from each other's side and I am glancing down to make sure my foot does not end up in someone else's stirrup. These horses are very comfortable with each other and with the rough terrain. They handle things you might not bring your own horse up or down. I found this experience to be completely unique in this manner compared to dozens of other trail rides I have been on and certainly compared to barn rules and rules in the ring. If you wish for a trail ride for a few hours where you get to line up and have someone else put the saddle on and manage all the tack for that matter, then Ishestar has those too. We did one a few years back and it was a very pretty ride and very calm horses. They are situated near Reykjavik and did a hotel pick up for us.
When we got to the airport, we met a woman with a telltale Ishestar shirt that everyone gets at the end of the trip. It is the one clean piece of clothing we had after the trip and of course wore it home. She had been on the Volcano Vistas trip and had only great things to say about it. It was her fourth ride with Ishestar. We spent our time talking about the trip and she recommended a few that would be good for us the next time. We plan to return next year to gallop the black sands once again with Ishestar.