Horseback Riding in Iceland

icelandic horse and riderI should have known as soon as they handed the reigns to me that I was in for a ride.

“This is Hobie.” The girl was dressed in tight riding pants and a jacket sporting the logo for Ishestar, and she smiled as she patted Hobie on his side.

Hobie. Which rhymes with Toby. Toby, my mischievous cat that boofs me in the nose at 5:30 in the morning and sneaks up on his sister while she’s eating. Toby. Hobie.

Alright, me and Hobie were going riding. I’m not good at horseback riding and I don’t particularly like it, but, I’ve been told, when in Iceland, ride an Icelandic horse.

Icelandic horses are a bit different than your average horse. They’re shorter and more compact with wild locks. They look innocent at this size, like being bucked off and pushed around is something they just can’t do.


I hopped on Hobie, a little nervous but comfortably holding the reigns as I’d been taught—not too tight, not too loose, with my pinkies facing outward. I leaned backward ever so slightly and made sure my stirrups were held a safe distance from Hobie’s body.

And then we started off—first one, then two, then dozens of horses all lined up in a row, walking down the side of a dirt road. I started toward the beginning of the pack, three horses from the front. We steadily rode along, following close behind the horse in front of us. Something about Icelandic horses encourages them to steadfastly keep their noses stuck in the tails of the horse in front of them.

Suddenly, Hobie dipped to the side and headed into the ditch. I grabbed the reigns tightly, pulling them to the left, encouraging him to climb back onto the path. A few horses passed us. They continued to look straight ahead into the tails in front of them, but the riders snickered.

I pulled on the reigns while trying to coax Hobie out of the ditch with words of encouragement and endearment, a moment of panic rising in the throat. This horse didn’t have to listen to me. It didn’t matter what I did. He wanted to eat grass and that’s what he’d do. If he wanted to take off running over the lava field, he’d do that too. Instead, he grabbed a few more bites of grass as others passed by, then he strolled back up the bank of the ditch and got back into line, walking as though he’d never missed a collective step.

One of the four guides rode up alongside me. “He can be a bit of a troublemaker,” she said. “He likes to test his boundaries.”

You don’t say.

She trotted on, riding up toward the beginning of the line, then slowing down as the large crowd passed by.

icelandic horses in lineNow halfway back in the line, Hobie walked along with the others. I looked around at my surroundings. Now two weeks into my vacation in Iceland, the treeless landscape was familiar. The earth rolled and scrub plants pushed up between patches of lava. A smattering of yellow and purple flowers colored the land. A heavy raincloud hovered above us then opened up into a sprinkle.

Every once in awhile Hobie turned his head as if to dip down into the ditch but he stayed the course. And then … down he went, his mouth open, ready to chomp down on a mid-morning snack. I pulled. I begged. I pleaded.

Hobie ate.

By the time we reached our halfway snack time stopping point, Hobie and I had drifted from third to about fortieth in the line.

I dropped off of Hobie’s back. My feet back on the ground, I bent down to look Hobie in the eyes as he munched away. “Really, buddy? Really? You’re going to act like this?”

One of my travel partners had a horse that fell asleep standing up during the break. The one walked his horse around. Hobie walked me around, nosing through the eaten grass for the good stuff.

Fifteen minutes later, I pulled myself back onto Hobie’s back. He got back into line like an obedient horse and we took off for our walk back to the stables, closing the round-trip loop we’d started a little over an hour earlier.

Positioned about halfway back in the line, Hobie’s chin practically rested on the horse’s rump in front of us. I glanced at the small houses we passed. Suddenly Hobie dipped into the ditch, mouth open, and lunged for a mouthful of grass. “Hobie!” I pulled at the reigns halfheartedly, giving an obligatory sigh and then letting him chew for a moment before actually making an attempt to pull him back into line. The other riders giggled as they passed by, and then Hobie pulled himself out of the ditch and kept on walking.

The stable called. Or maybe the hay waiting for him in the stable. I’ll never know.

Notes on riding with Ishestar:

The horseback riding experience is strictly about riding Icelandic horses. There is no context given on the surrounding landscape so enjoy it simply for the ride. All skill levels are welcome. Those with more experience are welcome to split off with a guide later in the ride to gallop instead of walk. I participated in the Lava Tour, but Ishestar offers many different tours ranging from a few hours to several days. Tour size depends on tour type.

Ishestar website | Arctic Adventures website

I received a discounted horse riding experience with Ishestar through the tour operator Arctic Adventures but all opinions are my own.

12 Responses to “Horseback Riding in Iceland”

  1. Sandy Allain

    Thank you for posting your story and experienced with Hobie, It’s great! I really love horse riding.

    • JoAnna

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, Sandy. Thanks for reading!

  2. Gray

    LOL! I’m sorry for laughing, but I had this exact same experience with my horse when I went horseback riding at Disney World. All he wanted to do was snack on the vegetation on either side of the trail. I was constantly trying to rein him back onto the trail.

    • JoAnna

      No worries about the laughter. I’m a disaster on horses. I don’t seem to bond well with them, so this was sort of what I was expecting.

  3. Marsha

    “…shorter and more compact with wild locks…” These Icelandic horses sound a lot like me….we’d probably get along great, except the last time I rode a horse I was 13. All told, sounds like you had fun. : )

    • JoAnna

      I had … an experience. It doesn’t matter how often I ride, it’s still quite humorous!

  4. Nancy D. Brown

    JoAnna, your experience of riding an Icelandic horse is unique. The fact that your horse took off into the salad bar of Iceland (a grass-filled ditch) is NOT unique. Any horse, like students with substitute teachers, will test out the rider to see what they can get away with.

    I’m glad you went horseback riding. This was a fun post to read.

    • JoAnna

      Well, my horse was one of the few to push the boundaries, and there were dozens of horses on that trip. I just generally have these kinds of experiences when it comes to horseback riding.

  5. Gina

    Haha, definitely sounds like Hobie had a mind of his own. I didn’t know about Icelandic horses before this post. They sound pretty cute – and stubborn. 🙂

    • JoAnna

      I get the feeling all horses are a little bit stubborn. I’m just not a horse whisperer, nor do I know how to connect with them. I think my luck might be isolated.

  6. Kent Runolfson

    As a horse breeder and also half Icelandic (All great grand parents on my fathers side immigrated from Iceland) I have curious about the Icelandic pony’s. Sounds like you got a real exciting introduction. I have heard that they have a gait similar to the Tennessee Walking horses— did you experience that?

    • JoAnna

      Thanks for your comment, Kent. I actually don’t know much about horses, so I don’t know the answer to your question. Sorry!


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