Horse Magic in Iceland

I’ve been home for almost 2 weeks and I still don’t have words. I think about what I want to say and my heart clenches with so much stuff I can’t think. Where do I start? What can I tell  you? Perhaps I’ll tell it as a story.

Once upon a time, a woman got a link from a friend to a site on the internet. She was curious and opened the page. “Golden Circle Horseback Riding Adventure“, it promised.

This is a picture of me with a smile that is so big it is dwarfed only by the horse nose in the foreground. Horse selfies FTW.

Bah! This isn’t working. I’m not good with Disney-esque things. But actually? This was the most perfect trip of my life so far and I’m going to tell you why.

First of all, Iceland. I know I know, it’s super trendy right now and super expensive unless you do it cleverly. Let me tell you, let me say, let me convey the absolute breath taking beauty. Let me assure of you the magnificence both in the grandeur of the landscape and the subtly of each flower and bit of moss. Let me tell you about the sky and the clouds, the ever changing mosaic of sun and wind and rain.

Let me tell you about the living earth that bubbles up and overtakes in cycle after cycle of volcanic activity. This place is literally on the cusp of the world, where two plates meet and slowly move away from each other. It has spilled to the surface and offered itself to us. It is harsh and glorious.

The people that live there are hardy and funny. They are serious and ridiculous. They are all related, descendants of  Danish and Norse men who sailed out to find something, grabbed some Briton women along the way and scratched out an existence for the last thousand years. All the time they have been there, the horses have been with them. Icelandic horses are a distinct breed. In 982AD the island was closed to new horses to preserve them. They are prized for their hardiness, their compact strength and their gates, which include the Tolt and the Flying Pace.

What struck me most about them was their universal good nature. They are so much like the place they live. They are elegant and subtle. They are expansive and magnificent. Each is unique but together, they create a consistent predictable herd, each knowing it’s place in the inevitable cycle of life.

My incredible daughter looking so cool in her sunglasses and riding the most stylin’ blondie named Gladur. He was also known as Billy Idol. That hair tho.

I could not have seen this place in a better way or in better company. From the moment I opened that link four years ago, I knew I was taking my daughter for her 16th birthday. That is, if, she was still talking to me at 16 and if, if could still ride. I was blessed with everything I wished for.

We rode for 7 days. Some were gentler than others but most were exhausting. Some were downright punishing as they were exhilarating. We changed horses 2-3 times per day. Each time we had to get used to a new mount. If we didn’t figure out how to engage the Tolt (a smooth fast pace) we were doomed to sit trotting at an uncomfortable speed for a lot of the trip. The canter is hard on the horse over long distances so it’s discouraged unless we have permission. We spent some time in the back country in simple huts with basic amenities.  We spent some time in luxurious hot springs in the open air.

We were 17 women and three guides taking in magic with every breath. My daughter was the youngest at 16. The oldest woman was 71. I had no idea until the last day. Most of us hovered between 40 and 60 and it was a connection to horses that brought us all there.

Our head guide was German and told us the story of how she came to be guiding in Iceland on a ranch. She had a professional career and a home in Germany and she came on a trip not too many years ago. Then she came back on another a year later. Then, when she went home, it didn’t feel like home any more. She fell in love with the country or the horses, or maybe it’s the same thing. She was no longer comfortable in her skin in her “homeland” so she ditched her life and moved to Iceland. She was the first person who told me a story like that but then she wasn’t the last. A colleague, a client’s son and even my own daughter feel the pull. The place seduces you somehow. I could feel it too but I’m too entrenched at home.

It was a physically hard trip but I didn’t care. I could have stayed for two weeks or three. I could have stayed in the back country travelling with the rhythm of the horse. I would have slept in a tent or under a rock on soft moss. Maybe it’s the Icelandic Elves that call to us.

They offer another trip with the same company that involves more back country and riding with the herd, just like in the days of the Althing. I’m seriously thinking about it and I know my daughter wants to go. I might lose her to the Elves or a beautiful descendant of Danes and Britons. But it’s calling me.

black sand
The black sand beach in the foreground. The ocean gleaming in sunlight in the back ground. 13 women on horseback begin a gallop into the wind, as it should be.


5 thoughts on “Horse Magic in Iceland

  1. Love your post Susan! Your words just pull it all together and I can feel it all again too:) ride on!

  2. Hi Susan, I just found this comment and it is awesome! somehow you managed to describe the magical attraction of Iceland so very well and there is no better way than to feel it on horse back… it sounds like we might meet in summer again 🙂

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