Wilderness Expedition

Its an annual tradition to make it out to Hestasport, once a summer, for the most epic of all horse trips. Appropriately, they call it the Wilderness Expedition, and it is one of the longest and most difficult journeys you can make on horse back – 7 riding days, 25-40km per day.

Hestasport

Despite covid tests and limited flights, eleven people still made it to Iceland for the trip. Every single person was German or German speaking, and luckily two of our staff were too. Unlucky for me, I only had the two horse men and two super jeep drivers to speak Icelandic with, although everyone forgave me for english.

into the wild

We were meant to ride north over Hofsjökull but didn´t quite make it as close as we wanted. Ingólfskáli was our destination, but we made a bit of a shortcut from Vesturdalur to Laugafell.

our team of riders

We had the most incredible rain when riding 50km back out Austurdalur, soaked completely thru and thru to the bone (us and the horses), but we made it to the abandoned farm of Merkigil where a hot shower and elctricity finally awaited us again.

Merkigil

We rode down and up thru ´amazing canyon´, as the name suggests, before taking the last sprint back to civilisation. I had two friends with me who lost quite a bit of weight and put on some muscle instead, but how grateful and respectful I am to these amazing animals – the Icelandic horse truly is the Icelander´s best friend.

Gordon and Mjölnir, my transport

Landmanalaugar & Landmanahellir

riding into landmanahellir

riding into landmanahellir

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.

riding over old lava

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.

changing horses

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.

nap time, with a furry friend