The north-eastern most part of Iceland is an isolated peninsula called Melrakkasletta. It doesn’t have mountains or fjords, but it has a lonely Heath full of moss and sheep and not much else. It seems as if more farms there are abandoned than inhabited, and riding there felt like we had risen into the clouds.
If you’d like to ride here next year, check out Halldór’s tours with Ishestar.
Kjolur is old and often traveled route across Iceland. Its a highland pass between two glaciers that makes it possibly to go from the south to the north in a couple hundred kilometres. It´s always fun to take the first Kjolur ride of the season, because sometimes the road hasn´t opened yet since its a dirt road only open during the summer. In the winter it gets buried under metres of snow, and the only way across is by snowmobile. We had our first tour start June 21 this year, and there was still metres of snow.
There were just a few sections that were impassable, but it wasn´t such a problem to take 20 riders and our herd of 100 horses accross or around the snow. The real problem was our chef who had to follow in the jeep with our trailer full of luggage and food. By the second day into the trip, the tractors working 24/7 had managed to clear some snow. But by the fourth day when we really had to keep going, we passed the tractors, still shoveling away, and somehow so did the keep.
It was a 6 day ride across Kjolur with 19 happy Europeans and not a drop of rain, and we all came home with sun-kissed noses and suitcases full of warm clothes we didnt have to use since it hit 20°c almost every day. Hopefully that luck carries on in the next weeks, and some of that snow might finally be gone in time for trip number two.
Well, they say Iceland only has two seasons: winter and summer. The first day of summer was officially way back in April, but its the second week of June and we´re still shivering from the rain and cold. Good thing we all love horses so much 🙂
Summer arrived late in Iceland this year, but we went into Þórsmörk nature reserve anyway, snow and all. But the late snow melt meant some riverbeds were empty and the mighty Krossá river was low enough to only wet a few toes.
There’s an area of Iceland between the glaciers called ‘Fjallabak,’ or ‘the mountainside,’ which may or may not be the most beautiful trail I’ve ever ridden in Iceland. It rides past the infamous Eyjafjallajokull and the Laki craters, a volcanic lava field created in an eruption 250 years ago. I may be a bit biased, since we had perfect, sunny weather the entire 6 days, but any or all visibility you could have were stunning, breath-taking views. There are glaciers and mountains in all directions, sand deserts, lava rock fields, yellow mountains, green moss and water galore. We saw beautiful waterfalls on our first day, rode over grassy fields at sunset on our second day, and through volcanic canyons on our third day.
The fourth day we went exploring some vegetated valleys, and found an old sheep-round up hut built of turf and stone. Then we went to the top of a mountain, for a 360 degree view of countless mountain peaks and 3 big glaciers. We could see all the way from Eyjafjallajokull to Landmanalaugar, sitting just above the Thorsmork nature park. Our last 2 days rode us past a unicorn mountain and back into the farm lands, to Birna and Kiddi’s horse breeding farm at Eyvindarmuli. We went up to the mountains behind his house to look for some foals, but instead got stuck with the only rain and fog we had seen all week. It passed in just a few minutes though, so we clambered back down the slippery steep slope and saw some more beautiful waterfalls.
This was my first time riding this trail, which we took from Lakagigar west back to Eyvindarmuli. There were only 7 guests in the group and it eventually felt like we were just a group of friends riding the same wonderful horses we came to know and love. We rode one of the longest days I’ve ever ridden, 53km, but it went by nice and easy with our small herd and young staff. I can’t wait to ride this trail again next year, perhaps from west to east, and see what kind of weather and riders we’ll get then. Take a peek at the tour description here, and maybe get tempted to come too 😉
If I had to name my favourite tour, the one I could do over and over without getting tired of it, it would be the Egilsstadir ride in the east. It’s basically 6 days of roaming the highlands, the same highlands wild reindeer and foxes live, which is the largest uninhabited area in all of Europe. There are almost no fences to open, or roads to cross, only a handful of interactions with civilization as we dip in and out of the valleys between the heaths to feed the horses and charge the riders batteries – literally, and figuratively. Some of the huts area really primitive, no running water or electricity, just a big shelter to squeeze 20 riders and all their luggage into for a cozy night of eating, drinking, singing and sleeping.
There were only 2 tours this summer, but I was happy to take both, one with Ishestar and one with my old friends Denni and Arna. I’ve taken this tour more than 10 times now, and its the one area of Iceland I’ve started to know like the back of my hand. Every fall I go to the same area, Fljotsdalsheidi, and ride with 10 or 12 other farmers to look for sheep. There are a couple thousand sheep that roam this area freely each summer, and they come home each fall with their lambs all fat and fluffy. There are hundred-year-old horse and sheep trails all over the place, but its still tricky to find your way when thick fog rolls in and your visibility gets reduced to about 2 or 3 meters. It happened to us on the first tour of the season, when we climbed up a few hundred meters into the clouds and had to keep avoiding snowbanks that still hadn’t melted in July.
Even though the highlands can be like one big marsh, waterlogged from the late snow-melt, the rivers run cold and clean enough to fill our waterbottles on the way. There’s no need for running water either if you’re gutsy enough to dip into the icy rivers for an all-natural bath – me and a crazy Norwegian managed to do it on night 3, sitting beside Saudarkofi mountain hut under Icelands largest mountain Snaefell. We could have waited til night 4, when we reach Laugafell and the natural hot-water baths there, but then we wouldn’t have appreciated the hottubs as much after trying the other extreme.
Egilsstadir usually has repeat guests, the same riders who come back twice, sometimes thrice or more, and ride the same trail. Its different every year, depending on the weather and the difference between the highlands in July or August, and even the way can change a bit to avoid the really wet lands or washed out trails. Two of the mountain huts have also changed over the past few years, upgraded to include electricity and water. Ill be back next year to ride it again and see what else is new, and those who want to do the same can make a booking with Ishestar or Denni and Arna.
One of oldest trails in Iceland is the one that goes from the north of Iceland to the southwest, where the national Assembly was held every year just outside of Reykjavik. It was the trip hundreds of powerful rulers, sheepherders, tradesmen and post men traveled across over the last 1000 years, with the help of their faithful horses, and it took them atleast 3 days to cross, sometimes a whole week. There were many unbridged rivers, icy glaciers, and stormy weather to deal with, but the journey was always made. Nowadays there’s a gravel road, passable even by little 2-wheel-drive hatchbacks, a lot of bridges, and heated huts along the way, and Ishester does the trip north and south in 6 days on horse back.
We follow the road sometimes, since there’s alot of wet lands, lava fields and rivers we also need to use bridges to cross. But then we also follow the thousand-year old trails that have been worn down and multiplied all along the way. We stay at the mountain huts, sometimes alone without electricity or showers, and sometimes we share the popular huts with dozens of other hikers and jeep-riders. We try to not run into another horse group, even though there are others that do the same trail, since sorting out two herds of 100+ horses each is hard to do if we cross paths on the way.
Ironically enough, it was my first time riding Kjolur too, even though I was the guide for the 2 biggest groups Ive ever ridden with. The group north was 21 guests and 10 staff, so we crammed 32 and a half people (there was also a 1 year old baby with the cook) into each and every hut for dinner, sleeping and breakfast every day. The group south was even bigger, but between all those people, we were lucky enough to have great riders and one heck of a party both ways.
The trip starts at Kjoastadir farm, with some 100 horses, and makes its way up between two glaciers. The third day is the longest, and we ride through a famous green-valley oasis that used to house many-a outlaws, and is still home to some sheep, elves and trolls. One of the biggest highlights of the tour is the third night, when we stay at Hveravellir, a natural geothermal area with a pool-sized hottub surrounded by steaming pools and more green valleys. We managed to fit more than 30 people inside at once, and it does wonders to your body after 3 days of riding. The trip continues north towards Maelifell mountain, and we finally wind our way down into Skagafjordur valley, also known as the horse capital of Iceland.
If you want to join us next year, check out the tour on Ishestar’s website.
There is a lake in Iceland affectionately called Mývatn, which literally translates to ´lake of the midges,´or a.k.a annoying-fly-lake. But, if its rainy and windy, the midges have a hard time flying, and we actually looked forward to cold and wet weather. It was storming like crazy all around the rest of Iceland, especially the south coast where the national horse competition Landsmót had been cancelled for 2 and a half days out of 6… But somehow, we managed to get the best weather in Iceland, with mostly sun and clear skies, and of course a few midges.
We were riding with Halldór and his horses from Bjarnastaðir, and most of the staff were related to him except me. It was his first time operating the tour and my first time guiding the tour, so we had a blast going back and forth trying to decide who had to decide what and when and where and how. We couldn´t have asked for a better group of guests, they were all great riders and super patient, so even though they were riding a herd of horses still kicking with spring fever, and we weren´t getting home until late every evening but waking up early every morning, they never stopped smiling and laughing.
The trip wasn´t just a riding trip, but also a sight-seeing trip of the area around Mývatn. We soaked in the luxurious Mývatn Nature baths, the blue lagoon of the north, and also some local swimming pools. We checked out the funny lava formations at Dimmuborgir and the caves at Grjotagja, the waterfalls Dettifoss and Hafragilsfoss, the red cliffs at Hljodaklettar and the horse-shoe shaped Asbyrgi canyon.
We learned lots about birdlife and wanted to go whale watching, but our luck with good weather finally ran out on the last day as our whale-watching tour from Husavik got cancelled due to stormy seas. We opted to go to the Whale Museum instead, so atleast we got to see some pictures and bones of whales, but then our flight also got cancelled and we have to take an impromptu roadtrip to Akureyri to catch another flight out that afternoon.
In the end we all made it back to Reykjavik in one piece, except for one poor guest who had her collar bone in two pieces. We tried to expand our group by picking up the two captains, but they didnt fall for it so me and a couple girls capped the night off with a drink together before saying goodbye.
Ishestar offers a riding tour on Snaefellsnes peninsula, where over 100km of the 4 or 6 day ride is on the beach at low tide. Its usually around 20 riders with over 100 horses, and the sight of a free-running herd over the never-ending sand is one you’d never forget.
The ride starts at Stóri-Kálfalækur farm, with the Icelandic cowboy Siggi and his staff. There are dogs running around and children playing everywhere you look, and it´s hard to keep track of who is who is Siggi´s family or friend circle. But noone ever forgets his wife Ólöf, who manages to cook up the most delicious food and stuff us to the brim with every home-cooked meal.
We ride into the mountains and valleys on the first couple of days, where its normal to be eaten alive by midgle flies, but a fly-net can solve most of your problems, except when you want to eat and youre not sure if you should lift the net over your mouth to take a bite (which may include a midge or two) or just shove the sandwich inside the net too.
It rained alot on our week-long ride, but we didn´t mind since we got wet anyway with the splash of seawater from the horse hooves running around us. There were a few deep rivers we had to cross, and we didn´t bother to lift our feet since our boots were filled with water already.
The rain was also a relief from the flies, and dry weather would have caused alot of dust, so the grey skies and calm winds really made the trip perfect for me. I made alot of new friends, both horses and people, and sometimes had to pinch myself to remember this wasn´t a dream… just my dream job.