Pearls of the East: Egilstadir riding tours

Eastern Iceland is an epic place to have horse trips. There is so much open space and unchartered territory to roam with a herd of nearly a hundred horses, and you only ever see a road or fence when we’re down in the valleys between highland passes. We’ve run into reindeer on all of our 3 tours so far, and the last week has been over 20 degrees and sunny every day. Our herd is nearly 100 strong and we´ve got all sorts of new and young horses to try out. Some are crazy, some are wonderful, and some we still haven´t dared to try.

letting the herd pass

The first tour we had was a 6 day tour from Fljotsdalur down to Stafafell near Lón. On the way back, we added a few extra days and had a 9 day tour to return the herd home. It was a very special tour, not only because it was longer, but also because we had our first guest from Greenland, our first guest from Singapore, and 6 male guests. We spent 2 days riding in and out of Getihellnadalur, sleeping in tents at the end of the valley. We had one day of rain, which we cut short and took a boat trip to Papey island. We got a little lost on our way over the highland because it was white-out fog, and after circling on ourselves once because of the snow and lakes in our way, we ended up changing the way down through another valley.

swimming with horses

The regular Egilstadir tour has also changed a little, for the better as well, and after trying out the new way and a couple new accommodation places, we ended with a swimming with horses day in Sudurdalur. The next tour leaves tomorrow, and the last one ends mid August, so I’m just keeping my fingers crossed for the weather like we’ve had to stay, and for our long days to go by quicker as the threatening sunset time keeps creeping earlier and earlier each day.

The Golden Circle on Horseback

The most popular tour Ishestar offers is the Golden Circle, running 13 times this summer. I guided two in June and finally got my ass into riding form. After riding very little since last summer, the aches and pains of muscles forgotten creep back into use and my hands turn into dirty, wrinkled working hands once again. Your level of hygiene and cleanliness lowers, as you and everything you own starts smelling like horse too, and eating anything but porridge for breakfast and a sandwich for lunch turns into luxury food.

a multi-coloured horse herd

Gestur and his sons run the tour from Kálfhóll farm, and there was where I began my summers with Ishestar four years ago. They have over 60 horses, and the herd we took was 30 or 40 strong. We rode from Kálfhóll along Þjórsá river, past the green farmlands and up to Gullfoss. We stay at Geysir two nights, and cross the highlands on our last days back.

We managed to lose one staff member in the highlands on the first tour, somewhere between the herd and the guests she or we followed a different track and missed eachother. She was still looking for us when we arrived to the farm but she eventually returned. A few guests fell off, as per usual, but noone got injured. There´s always one guest who comes and knows little or nothing about horses, or simply doesn´t really like riding, but gets dragged here by a significant other. There´s the token party guest(s) who always stays up later drinking with the staff. There´s usually a guy or two, if that, and a vegetarian or pescatarian. Every group has some or mostly German riders, and we randomly had two guests that lived in Afghanistan on the same tour, so being able to speak French and Spanish rarely comes in handy, unfortunately.

the view from Denni´s farm

It has been a perfect start to my summer, and I got just the right amount of practice and transition time before moving to Fljótsdalur in the east for the rest of the summer. Now begin the Egilstaðir highland tours, with our herd of 85+ horses, sleeping in tents and mountain huts, and exploring the southeast coast on a 9 day special tour. The summer weather is supposed to be the best in Iceland in the east, and living on Denni´s farm, the last farm in the valley, is a vacation in itself – there´s barely any cell phone reception, and all you hear is the glacier river running by, a few sheeps calling and a couple dogs chasing them every once in a while.