I am convinced that everything in Iceland is magical, and that absolutely includes the pure bred Icelandic horses that you’ll see all throughout the country. As a huge horse fan, and female in general, I was instantly enchanted when I saw the various colored horses with long, wild manes almost everywhere I looked as I drove along the single-lane roads of Iceland, and even more so when I realized how many of them had cute little babies!
Not only were the horses beautiful and magical-looking themselves, but the landscape that they’re typically standing in front of will seriously make you wonder if they’re purposely trying to make you feel like you’re in a fairy tale.
The herds of free-ranging Icelandic horses graze peacefully on the vibrant green grass plains at the base of majestic and jaw-dropping mountains that typically include a waterfall or a glacier behind them. Those horses are typically privately owned, but if you want a chance to actually ride one, there are a few horse rental stables that offer tours.
I took a horseback riding tour called “Horses and Hotsprings” with Eldhestar, which is located in the heart of Iceland’s western countryside, just outside of Reykjavik. It’s the perfect location for horseback riding tours because it’s situated between volcanic mountains, rivers, and the ocean, which offers a variety of options for riding.
When I got there, the trainers gave me a helmet and optional rain gear since it was sprinkling, and led me to the pasture area where nearly 300 Icelandic horses were gathered. After giving us a brief introduction about Eldhestar, the tour, and a quick riding lesson for any beginners (I was obviously in the ‘pro’ category) they selected horses for each guest depending on their experience level.
My horse was blond, like me, and a clear alpha female, also like me, who went faster than the rest of the horses, and started running at any chance she could get. Icelandic horses have a different “run” (or “gait” in horse terms) called a “tölk”, which is so smooth that you could probably hold a glass of water while riding.
Icelandic horses are also a lot smaller than the ones you might typically see elsewhere, and my guide, Fiola, even said that if she ever gets to come to the U.S., she’ll be excited to ride a “tall horse”.
Anyway, Fiola led us up the mountain side, explaining facts about Iceland like how the Vikings cut down all the trees and only 20% of the country has any left, which is why they are now working hard on re-forestation so the majority of trees you see are actually hand-planted. She also told us some spooky evil elves tale that involved little kids getting kidnapped by the river because of a black horse that attracts them, then brings them into the mountain and makes them slaves. There were three young kids on the tour BTW.
My horse didn’t like taking pictures…also the hot springs are in the top left corner
After riding along the peaceful, nature-smelling mountain side, we got to the hot springs where Fiola gave us hot tea, coffee, or chocolate, then let me go over the bridge to take a closer look at them. In my mind, I thought a hot spring was like a naturally made jacuzzi, but those are actually called “geothermal pools”. Hot springs are like holes in the Earth that blow out steam that’s trapped underneath from the molten lava. Kinda freaky.
This is a hot spring
When I went up to them, or rather, to the rope that indicated where to not go past so you don’t die, I could hear the water (or lava?) bubbling underneath the clouds of steam that were tumbling out of the holes. You can see these all over Iceland as well, and usually far off in the distance at the base of un-touched mountains.
In fact, when the first Viking to move to Iceland saw the hot springs, he didn’t know what steam was, so thought it was smoke, which is where the name Reykjavik comes from — “Land of Smoke”.
My horseback riding experience was pretty magical, and made me feel like I was riding through an enchanted forest, but the next day was another magical Icelandic horse experience that kind of happened on accident…
I had met up with two girls who were also traveling around Iceland from the U.S. and I had offered to show them the Golden Circle but then also drive down to the South coast to see the better waterfalls. Since I had already been in Iceland for 4 days, I thought I knew where I was going, but low and behold, my GPS took me on a back road in the wrong direction, and we ended up on a small road in the middle of no where.
Of course, I realized this after we decided to stop and take pictures of a herd of random horses we saw on the side of the road. That was where the magical part happened…while I was standing near the thin wire fence, scrolling through some photos I had just taken in the middle of the road, two horses just started strolling on over to me like I was an old friend!
I knew these horses weren’t meant for riding or renting out for tours, which was why I was even more perplexed when they just stuck their faces over the fence, and let me pet them! They seemed curious as to what I was or something, but didn’t flinch or spook when I proceeded to pet, kiss, and take a bunch of pictures with them!
They had beautiful, long manes, and twinkling eyes, just like the kind of horses you’d see in a magical fairy tale! The blond horse even stayed by the fence after we walked away…which kind of made me feel bad, and definitely made me even more confused about why they were so friendly! Luckily the stop led me to check the GPS, which is when I realized we were going the wrong way….
He was literally starring at me like he was trying to figure out who I was!
OH, and you might see horse meat on some of the menus in Reykjavik…I asked some locals about that, and although they didn’t go into detail, they told me that there are so many horses that it’s pretty much normal to eat the meat, but most Icelandic people don’t. They said it’s mostly the tourists who eat it because they see something different on the menu and think they’re eating an authentic Icelandic dish. Suckers.
Alyssa is a self-made, full time travel blogger who loves adventure and typically travels the world solo. She's been to 53 countries and 6 continents so far, and believes she has mastered the art of chasing waterfalls, traveling solo, wine drinking, and making budget-traveling look good. Curious to know how she started this career? Check out the About section above!