Three of the horse trips I took were to the Landmanalaugar area in Iceland’s southern highland. This area is basically uninhabited, and impassable 8 months of the year with bad weather, freezing cold and snow cover. The other 3 or 4 months when you can pass, there aren’t any paved roads, only 4×4 tracks, hiking trails and horse paths. You ride over these huge, black mountains and gravel valleys to reach a small oasis of lush green near Landmanahellir and natural hot water baths 20km further at Landmanalaugar where we bathe to both clean and relax our tired bodies. We cross bridges and streams, moss-covered lava and some epic, moon-like landscapes in just the course of one day. This trip requires more experienced riders, and 2-3 horses per person, so for the group of 18 plus 5 staff we had almost 70 horses on one trip. That means that everytime all of us are mounted on our 23 horses, another 50 are running loose, magically staying in a herd following one leader on horse back. That is truly an amazing sight.
We stop numerous times in one day, since we ride up to 40km over 6 hrs and need to switch horses once or twice, or just rest all the horses if its too warm. We stop for lunch and take off the horses saddles to let them graze a bit, or drink, and if its nice weather I just lay in the grass holding the reins in one hand while I doze in and out of consciousness. It is the time of year when lupin seeds spring all over the place, and you can actually hear them popping, as well as feel them land on your face if you are laying down within a couple meters of a lupin plant. Once a horse was grazing too close to my head and with his big, slobbery lips took a mouthful of my hair and ripped it out like they were feeble blades of grass. That hurt, to say the least, but I learned my lesson and instead laid on my horse bareback to nap more.
There seems to be a trend with movie-related industry people being the Ishestar guides, and this quite successful actor Svandis was with us for two trips. She was funnest later at night, after a few drinks, when she started talking about the elf Dutti who lived in the cave near our cabin at Landmanahellir. Maybe it was the brennivin speaking, but I think she may have convinced some of us Dutti was real.
We have one party for the quests where we give them brennivin and dried fish, and quickly you get to learn more about someone and what kind of person they are. It’s an interesting way to see peoples personalities come out, as you’ve already spent a few days speculating what kind of rider they are and what kind of horse they need to ride, and then some true colours shine thru and I think the next day they’ll be paired much better. If that isn’t enough, then sleeping all 23 people in rows of bunkbeds in one giant room definitely gets us all close, with only 1 or 2 bathrooms for privacy, no hot water, and no electricity. If theres ever a time you want to see someones comfort limits, this type of situation is perfect for grinding out the princesses in the group. But, in the end, I think we all end up making better friends and letting down our guards alot easier, and the best part is always having a cuddle buddy.