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.

Country Life at Kalfholl

For the month of August while working with the Ishestar horse trips, I was basically living on a farm 20km out of selfoss called Kalfholl. That is the farm where the horses used for the Landmanalaugar and Golden Circle are from, and also most of the staff minus the Ishestar tour guide. It’s a family of 3 boys and their mom and dad that are behind the operation, and just getting a glimpse into the country life of having only brothers and everything in Icelandic was different to my every day life in Reykjavik. The eldest brother Thordur Freyr is the real genius behind the horse trips, and also the reason I got into this work since we were together in a class at university when I met him and found out he had horses. A year and a half of pestering him to let me ride his horses, actually riding with him once and then running into eachother late one night at a bar were the 3 incidents that probably secured my chances.

Þórður Freyr, the horse god

A friend jokingly called him the god of horses which he basically is, having incredible horse sense and knowing the names and temperament of every one of 60 horses taken on each 6 day trip. He can catch and ride anything, but once made the mistake of putting me on a horse I couldn’t really ride so I unfortunately can’t say the same for me… but I did once catch a horse he couldn’t, that I have to share.

Riding at Kálfhóll

He took me on what he called a ‘special mission’ for two days; we left the group of 15 from Landmanalaugar and came back to Kalfholl to lead a private 2 day tour for only 2 guests, a Swedish chef and his 20 yr old daughter. It was a blast to only be 4 riding together, with no extra loose horses, but endless entertainment to watch Gert, the chef, fear for his life the entire time he was on horseback. I have to admit he relaxed more by the end, but still was only doing this because of his daughters love for horses. She had all her Icelandic horse dreams come true, with the most excellent riding weather imaginable, rode one of the largest and most prized mares of the farm, crossed a huge river, and galloped a couple stretches while her father waited up ahead staring seriously at the horses ears in front of him. Although we weren’t herding extra riding horses, we got to ride in fields with lose horses all around, and when we rode through the paddock of yearlings, me and my horse became completely surrounded by curious faces and flaring nostrils of some very excited foals.

We returned to the other group for their last day of riding; it was a really hot, dry day and I had an excellent last day on horseback riding one of the tour guides competition horses behind the herd in a cloud of dramatic dust kicked up by the very eager loose horses who knew they were on their way home.