Returning for the Second Time
I have to start by saying, we did this trip a few years prior, but it was such an incredible experience, we came back to do it again. It is the first time we have ever done the same thing twice for vacation. There are so many things special about this trip, including the trail, the horses, the hosts, and the cooking. Both times we have joined this trip we have stayed in touch with some of the other travelers. It attracts great people!
The organization of the tour leader on this trip is fantastic. The first day, a bus picked us up and brought us to the farm. When we arrived at the farm, the farmer showed us each to our assigned rooms. We had the same room both times but I think all of the rooms are nice rooms with room to move around in and close access to the showers. We then got the chance to sit and relax for a few minutes and have a warm lunch before we head to the barn. At the barn, we can pick out a raincoat if we wish to borrow one. There is also a saddlebag pile, a table with saddles, and we each gathered up our gear for the trip. It is made so easy. We then went into the stable and each of us has an assigned horse waiting for us in individual stalls. I got my favorite horse Skvisa and it brought such joy to my heart to know the farmer remembered how much I loved riding her.
The first day was a little different this time in that there was a weather warning for high winds. We took an alternate route where we could be sheltered by the mountains along a road that led to the barn that the horses would spend the night at. It was still a nice ride to get used to the horses and practice using our GoPros - a woman from Switzerland and I both brought the cameras for our helmets and helped each other get them going. I knew right away we would get along great!
Although the clouds persisted, we had a great ride along the edge of the water. Part of this day is one of my favorite parts of the trip when we arrive at the water and the horses are excited about the sand and water and we get to see them play free along the coast. I got a new horse named Nacht (Night) who was very nice to ride and he did a lot of cantering along the shore but also did a nice tolt on most of the trial. The second part of the day I wrote Svartathog (Black Fog) and it was a slower ride where we walked down a 15% grade slowly and waited for everyone else to make it down before anyone picked up pace. We ended up at a farm that had a schoolhouse attached (and a bathroom). It is a good ride, but the best is yet to come!
After we rested up and had cake and warm drinks, we drove to a black sand beach that had a beautiful rock formation and seals. I remembered to take binoculars this time so we could take turns getting a peek at the babies.
The day started with a tour of an old fortress made from a volcanic crater. By the time we finished enjoying the site and returned to the farm, the horses that we would ride had already been separated from the herd which made getting ready very quick and easy. This is the luxury tour of all tours!
I had been waiting for this day for a long time. It is probably the most dramatic ride with the blue sky and the black sand and the strong beat of the horses' hooves as we cover a long distance at a beautiful pace. Some of the visitors say it is the fastest they have been on a horse before. It is not that terrifying panicked charge ahead when the horse beneath you spooks and runs off. The farmer tolts the entire way on a horse that is pretty spectacular, and the rest of us choose tolt or canter to keep the pace going. There is a lot of riding leading up to that leg, including beautiful black sand dunes that we weave in and out of while the herd climbs ahead, and the climb up to the top of a mountain where we have a relaxed picnic before we continue on.
The second part of the day, we head down the mountain and leave the herd behind. They will follow later on. We walk the horses over a steep section before we rest and give the horses a short break. We mount our horses and we go in a line into the water. It is only deep for a very short while. It then becomes shallow and when all of the horses are out of the deep water, the farmer leads us in a rapid tolt. If course he holds a beautiful tolt and we tolt or canter or do a little of both and just have a lot of fun and a nice speed. One woman said she had never been on a horse that fast before but found the ride to be exciting and fun. I always think of this as my favorite part of the trip, although when I recall other parts, they are also my favorite. I think this leg is what I remembered most from the prior trip and why I signed up to ride this again. I would sign up a third time to ride it again as well. I know I will be back. Both times I rode this section I rode it on my favorite mare, Skvisa. I just feel safe and comfortable on her and we are a great team. She does the hard work and I smile.
It was our last day. It was beautiful and sunny and everyone seemed very happy. We began our day with a tour of a little church near the farm that our horses spent the night. It is set in a beautiful location and the church is very pretty inside as well. A few of the people from our group sang some church songs and a guide then told us about the church and its history. The visitor's center had some artifacts and also a restroom which is important to know on these trips!
My favorite horse was too tired to ride but I did get to ride another new favorite, Moses, and also the red Nesti (no idea how to spell it) whom I had ridden on a prior visit. The first part of the ride was surrounded by purple lupine blooming for acres and acres. We had hit the right time of year. It seemed as though many things were blooming later than usual and we were in luck. Four years ago we rode this trip two weeks earlier, the second week in July, and the flowers had already bloomed and started to go to seed. Mother Nature gave us a gift for our final day.
This is the day of "The Water Crossing". To be honest, we had crossed a lot of water the past few days, but this one is wider and deeper than the rest of the crossings. It is something that you just sit back and relax while the horses slowly make their way through the water and you eventually make it to the other side. I really enjoy watching all of the horses in front of us making their way across to the other side.
Once past the water, the land opens up and one part of it makes me think of what a place like Wyoming or Montana must look like as we approach a large rocky mountain via a hill of grass. That part makes me feel like a cowboy. Once past that there is a small stream to cross and then the rest is mostly along the side of the road back to the farm. It is my least favorite part because I know it will end soon and I will have to say goodbye to my favorite horses. Even though I did not ride my favorite horse on the last day, she was i nthe back of the herd most of the time and I could see her and watch her sneak over to eat grass and roll in the sand to itch. It was nice having her near!
I know some day we will probably go back and ride this tour again. I found it to be even more enjoyable the second time but I am not sure why. I might have been a more confident rider the second time around or maybe I knew what to look forward to each day. The group of people we had on this trip were such a delight! A few of them liked to sing and when we stopped at the church and at the fortress they sang songs. It's the little things that make a trip special.
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. Dress for cool weather and bring clothes in case it is very cold. You will not regret it.
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 four times now with many wonderful memories and experiences. A multi day trip expects that you have ridden before and know how to ask for different gaits from the horse and know how to slow down, stop, and manage a horse in the outdoors. It is not a trip like mules in the Grand Canyon in a line at a slow pace. Ishestar has easier day rides too, but Trail of Hope was 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. The horses at this barn 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. We also recommend the day trip for newer riders as wel las experienced riders interested in getting out for the day and enjoying Iceland form horseback.