The Wilderness Expedition, by Hestasport

Every year I make time for Hestasport to do at least one riding tour in the summer. The highland trip we like to do together is called the Wilderness Expedition, for good reason – it takes place in one of the most remote highland areas of Iceland, crossing north over Hofsjokull glacier, bridging the gap between Kjolur and Sprengisandur mountain passes. Our ride started and ended in the horse capital of Iceland, beautiful Skagafjordur.

leaving Skagafjordur, under Maelifell mountain*

The impression of an Icelandic wilderness is like nowhere else on earth. There aren´t any big wildlife (unless you´re in the east of Iceland with the reindeer), and the chances you´ll see an arctic fox are slim to none, so its just you and the wilderness. There aren´t trees, so on a clear day you´ll see to the horizon and 360° around you across an immense expanse of mountains, deserts, highland plateaus and glaciers.

the desert highlands north of Hofsjokull*

It takes so long for the snow to completely fade in the highlands that the mountain passes don´t even open until late June or early July, and it already starts snowing again in August, so the tiny gap of a few weeks you can ride it is brief. We took our trip at the end of August, with incredible weather, and some of the hottest days I´ve ever experienced in the highlands. We only got a few drops of rain, not even enough to get into our heavy duty rain gear, and the horses held their shoes and no horse or rider got injured. By the first week of September, the tops of the glaciers had already been freshly snowdusted again and the northern lights started coming out, so we made it home in the nick of time.

the loo with a view; Ingolfsskali cabin and our A-frame toilet under the glacier*

From our week long ride with perfect visibility, we saw all three of Iceland´s biggest glaciers, ran into a few goose hunters, and sold some of our herd to Germany. We crossed multiple glacier rivers, thankfully all low enough to get over without swimming, although the current on Jokulsa eystri (the east glacier river in Skagafjordur) pulled a few of our herd far enough downstream to force them to doggy paddle over.

running into herds of wild horses*

After our wonderful trip, the Icelandic and German guides, Australian, Dutch and Swiss guests all parted ways. Only a couple of weeks later, I visited some of our tour horses at Bockholts-hoff Icelandic breeding farm south of Hamburg, hosted by the owner and breeder Silke Kohler. We tolted through a German forest and I couldn´t stop smiling at the cornfields and big trees – they were more exotic to me than anything we saw on the wilderness expedition!

*(C) All photos by Dorien Kaandorp

Hestasport Ævintýraferdir

I was somewhere between French Guyana and Brazil when my roomate in Reykjavik forwarded me a job advertisement for my dream job – get paid to ride horses. I exchanged some emails and then had an interview over the phone from a smeltering phone booth in Asuncion. The connection was staticky, with a half second lag, and my Icelandic kept creeping into spanish, but somehow I convinced Magnus to hire me.

the hestasport horses at Vindheimar

I arrived back in Reykjavik for maybe 8 hours before packing my bags and moving to Varmahlid. I stopped in Borgarnes overnight and then hitchiked the next 250kms. My first pick up, a young Icelandic couple, asked where I was going and when I answered “Varmahlid,” invited me to join. We drove about 30kms before the driver asked me where abouts this ‘farm’ Varmahlid was… he had no idea it was actually a town 2 hours away. So, I got kicked out at Bifrost 5 mins later where their journey ended, and finally made it all the way with my next pickup.

I moved into a house of women, (well, German girls) and acquainted myself with all the pretty ponies Hesasport has. There were, like in any herd, the safe old horses, the crazy young ones, the lazy trained ones, and the question mark horses you had to figure out for yourself. We spent the end of May taking short riding tours around the Vindheimar farm, and two long tours in the begining of June riding past Maelifell and into Kjolur. Its a desolate highland, covered in desert, and sandwiched between 2 glaciers. The first tour we took had more staff than guests, since the 3 German riders wanted to take the whole herd into the mountains to shoot pictures for an Icelandic landscape calendar. We often stopped in the middle of nowhere to do a mini photo shoot, that required us to act as stuntmen and chase 20 loose horses down steep soggy slopes or gallop the whole herd through a river.

beside Langjokull glacier

Later we took a 5 day trip with a whole bunch of borrowed horses, many of them question mark horses we had to try out for the first time and hope it worked out as the herd was released. Then the third long trip went pretty smoothly, except for this poor Canadian girl who fell off her horse 3 times on the first day. Thankfully she made it through the rest of the trip, since she was part of the staff. Our cook also joined us on one trip riding, and fell off his own horse twice, which thankfully turned out okay too since we certainly wanted to keep on eating.

My last long trip was a 3 day tenting trip with 2 Danish girls. We took 6 horses and enough food, bathed in the frigid rivers, and survived a wind storm in a mountain hut that at one point we thought would blow away in the middle of the night. The first night we crashed a party at the Arctic Adventures river rafting base, and ended our trip at Fosslaug natural hot pot, very deservedly.

Then my season at Hesasport ended early, with my Ishestar friends from the east irresistably inviting me on a few long tours – a 6-day pack tour and a 9 day special tour from Hofn to Egilstadir. Just when I had finally figured out all the horses at Hesasport, I hitchhiked east to a herd of 103 horses I now had to learn and love just as much.