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.

Gullfoss & Geysir

The first horse trip I took was a 6 day Golden Circle tour. Its almost 200km roundtrip, and starts and ends at the farm where the horses are from and passes both Gullfoss and Geysir, probably the two biggest attractions in Iceland after the Blue Lagoon. I certainly wasn’t in shape for 5 hrs of riding a day, so the first few days kicked my ass, but luckily this trip was actually considered a beginner level ride and the group took it pretty slow. There was even a 10 year old Swiss girl who made the whole journey, showing us all how unfit we probably were and even ran to the rescue when her mother fell off her horse.

riding towards geysir

I’ve been to the Golden Circle countless times at it is the main tourist day trip I take my friends on when visiting, and later in August took 7 friends there in 2 cars. There was something much more satisfying about riding up to Gullfoss though, since we rode along the gorge where the water flows and got such a better feel for the area where the waterfall is and enjoying the landscape around it, instead of just driving up 20 m from the falls and taking 10 photos, then leaving 10 mins later. Riding up to Geysir was also fun, since the 10km journey took an hour instead of minutes, and we got to watch Strokkur explode in the distance every few minutes as we neared the Geysir guesthouse where we were staying.

lunch time break

We spent two nights there, at a cosy hotel on a golf course just across the road from all the geothermal pools in Geysir, and I didn’t realize what a luxury it was that I had my own room until the next few horse trips where 25 people share one big room. The tour guide on this trip was Denni, a tour guide by summer but movie producer and director most of the other time. He was this really friendly, quirky guy with a great sense of humor, and once published a book on elves in Iceland but secretly admitted he made it to tease the fact that elves are actually believed in. My conclusion was that he was just a part-elf who tried to convince us of this since he couldn’t admit to being a visible elf… or he was just a really magical guy.

Denni & Thordur looking guilty

One night we decided to break into the pool next door since the punk teenager earlier that day made all of us pay 500kr per person to bathe when he thought Ishestar would cover the expense. The boy was still inside the pool house an hour after it closed, with some buddies just doing who knows what. We took the darkness as our cloak and stealthily snuck up behind a big tree and climbed the fence into the pool yard. There we changed into our suits and ran to the tub where we sat with water up to our ears to avoid being seen by the camera we realized was on us. We actually didn’t get caught, and climbed back over a different section of fence to safety – must have been the elf in Denni that kept us invisible to the pool boy.