Horseback riding in Iceland is a MUST if you love horses!
I sure do. I grew up riding occasionally, and try to go whenever I get the chance…which isn’t nearly as often as I’d like. So, when I saw horseback riding in my “Things to do in Iceland” research, I knew it had to happen. Read on about our relaxed, but exiting and beautiful day exploring the area around Selfoss!
In this article:
- Icelandic horses
- Exploring Selfoss
- Horseback Riding in Iceland
- Driving South to Welcome Hotel Lambafell
What Makes an Icelandic Horse Special?
Thinking of going horseback riding in Iceland? If not, you should! Icelandic horses are one of the purest horse breeds you can find. They were brought over by Vikings in the late 9th century and I read that as early as the 10th century, Iceland decided to stop importing horses, leaving their horse population very isolated, but in a positive way. The horses that have survived generation after generation are the strongest and most well-acclimated for the Icelandic temperatures.
Icelanders are strict about their horse policies – if an Icelandic horse leaves for a competition, it can never return. Crazy!
Most notably, the Icelandic horse differs because of its 5 gaits: walk, trot, canter/gallop, tölt, and the flying pace. The tölt is a specialty of the Icelandic horse. Some of these gaits became a thing of the past as other cultures bred their horses for different uses, but the Iceland horse remains proficient.
Where Can I Find an Icelandic Horse?
Pretty much everywhere! No, seriously. They are everywhere. It’s estimated that there are some 80,000+ horses in Iceland – which is a lot when you consider it against their 330,000 human population. The countryside in Iceland is very vast and largely undeveloped which allows for plenty of room for the horses to roam.
Some may prefer not to ride the horses – and for you guys, there are tons of horses all around that you can stop to say hi to. Just remember – they are horses, so approach them with caution and please be respectful of these beautiful creatures. However, for those who prefer to go horseback riding in Iceland, there are a ton of horseback tours to choose from depending on where you will be.
For our itinerary, we decided it would be easiest to go riding on day 3 of our adventure while near Selfoss. Today, the only other thing on our itinerary was to drive to Lambafell, about an hour south, so we had the freedom to just drive around and explore.
Caving and Lunch in Selfoss
We were in no rush to get moving on day 3 of our icelandic vacation in Selfoss. The two days before had been full of driving (over 400 miles in 2 days) and site-seeing and we were excited to have a day with nothing to rush for. I had researched horseback riding in Iceland prior to our trip and found a place nearby – Sólhestar – so I knew that they had a morning ride (that we would for sure miss) and an afternoon ride around 1:00.
We woke up, made breakfast in our hostel – Gueshouse Garun – and took our time packing up. Most of the people at our hostel were up early on the road, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves by now which was nice. I had a few items on my list that we could check out to pass time until horseback riding, so we finally left around 11am and headed off for more exploration.
There isn’t a ton to do around this area that we hadn’t already done the day before on the Golden Circle, but we figured we’d head towards the coast and check things out.
Caving at Raufarholshellir
Our first stop were these somewhat hidden caves I had read about – Raufarholshellir. They were real close to Selfoss, so we decided to start there After driving down a desolate road, we came upon a large parking lot in the middle of nowhere with only one other car. We parked, bundled up for the ridiculous winds, and got out of the car. We spent a few minutes looking around for where we could find the caves and then we noticed a trail to the north side of the parking lot (if you’re facing the road, it’s at your 2:00).
I wasn’t in a super-adventuring mood today, so I left my hiking boots in the car and wore my winter boots with not-as-much-tread, but did bring my headlamp and waterproof jacket. You can walk a fairly good distance without your headlamp since there are some skylights that let light into the caves, but then you come around a turn and the light disappears quickly.
I urge caution for anyone venturing out – caves can be dangerous without a headlamp, helmet, proper shoes/clothing, food, etc – so please make smart decisions. My boyfriend wanted to head further down than I did, so we compromised and went on until the light was completely gone and it was pitch black before turning around. It’s a really cool and spooky experience to be in a cave with no light!
Lunch at Fjorubordid Restaurant
Next up, we decided to drive down the coast a bit and find a place to get lunch and some coffee. We drove by Hafið Bláa which looked nice, but they hadn’t opened yet so we drove on to Fjorubordid Restaurant and waited the 5 minutes until they opened. This restaurant is well known for their lobster, but we weren’t looking to spend a ton of money on lunch since we had only eaten lunch a short time before.
We sat at a cute table by the window where you could watch the gigantic waves crashing against the shore. We ordered some delicious lattes (mine may or may not have been Irish…) and enjoyed the view. Looking for a snack, we ended up ordering a plate of chicken nuggets…I know, so American…but everything else was either too big or too small.
But, let me tell you…these were the most delicious chicken nuggets I’ve ever had in my life. And, they graciously brought us some bread and dip, and their dips are amazing. Definitely worth the stop!
Now it was time for the main event – horseback riding in Iceland.
Horseback Riding in Iceland at Sólhestar
By the time we finished lunch and headed back towards Selfoss, it was close enough to 1:00 and we were ready for some Icelandic horseback riding! We were the first ones there, paid for our ride, and checked out the clothing they provide at no additional cost. Luckily, we were well prepared with our own layers but we were required to wear a helmet – safety first! As more people showed up, they took us outside to get us fitted on our horses.
The girls running the game would ask your experience, and then pair you with a horse accordingly. The first horse they put me on was a bit more feisty than I wanted to deal with on a ride in a foreign country – I like feisty bitches, but more so when I have the time to spend getting to know and understand them.
They switched me out for another horse – Seta, named after the letter Z in the Icelandic alphabet. Seta was perfect. Ransom was paired up Mercedes – a princess horse who did not like to walk in the mud, and then we had a mother and her two pre-teen children along with us for the ride. At first I was concerned about children coming along because I was worried it would mean that we would have to take it extra slow, but these girls knew what they were doing!
We started our Icelandic horseback ride off north along Hvammsvegur road on the horse trail and rode towards the mountains. Our guide for horseback riding in Iceland was wonderful – a sweet girl from Denmark who had spent the summer working in Iceland and was getting ready to head home soon. She was great at reading our comfort zones – we’d walk a bit, and then take off for a bit and get some speed, and then back to walking.
At the end of Hvammsvegur where the road curves left, we went right through a fence to ride along closer to the beautiful mountains. The ride had been windy, but not terrible, and luckily no rain so far! But, we were given a beautiful show of delightful clouds with the sun peeking through. It was easily one of the most beautiful rides I’ve ever taken!
The ride back was way bumpier walking over the lava fields, which was pretty awesome. Every so often, I’d get Seta to reach up to Mercedes and the guide, and Mercedes was never happy with that. The princess always wanted to be in front. We rode all the way back towards the 1 (main road), across to Hvammsvegur again, and then back north to the stables.
Our horseback riding in Iceland experience lasted about 3 hours, which was just about enough. Any longer and my back would have been super pissed at me. I have to say that we must have some good karma out there because we always seem to get very lucky with weather. That’s not to say we don’t get bad weather, but it just happens to come before or after our planned adventures – and today was one of those days. The forecast had shown it would be raining all day – and a lot of rain at that – but we ended up with a delightful, although windy, day.
Driving to Welcome Hotel Lambafell
We tipped our guide (not required, but not looked down on as it is at restaurants) – our horseback riding in Iceland adventure was everything we had hoped for, and more! We changed in their bathroom, and then headed south to Lambafell where we would be staying the next 3 nights. Lambafell is right before the Skogafoss waterfall on the south side of Iceland, so it was a great mid-point location as we would continue further south to the glaciers.
Our drive was, as had become expected, beautiful. Again, the storm clouds coming and going left us with some of the most spectacular landscapes I’ve ever seen.
After about an hour drive, we pulled up to Welcome Hotel Lambafell. I had chosen this hotel because of its remote location and beautiful views, and at that, it did not disappoint. Sadly, there would be other disappointments, but at least that was not one of them. Read my review here.
We pulled up the road, parked our car, and walked in to find our room. It was a bit confusing at first – the Welcome Hotel Lambafell has self check-in, so you’re provided with a room code beforehand and there usually is no staff on site (although there is a phone to call them, and I think they live down the road).
Through the main doors, we couldn’t find our room but as we walked down the hall, we found another hall with additional rooms – there was ours at the end. We entered our code, put our bags down, and admired our view. Iceland, you just don’t stop, do you?
We settled in for the night after an awesome day horesback riding in Iceland knowing we had an early morning tomorrow. We would be heading two hours south to go Ice Climbing in Skaftafell National Park. It would end up my favorite day of the whole trip, a simply amazing day spent on an Icelandic glacier. Read on!
Want to read more? Follow along on the rest of our week-long adventure in Iceland!