Horse riding in Iceland is a once in a lifetime experience.
The Icelandic horses are a special breed first brought to Iceland by the settling Norsemen and Vikings. The horses were of mixed descent when they arrived, though they were chosen for their short backs and physical strength so they would be easy to transport on ships and capable of carrying heavy loads.
As the years progressed, these early horses mixed, and ‘The Icelandic horse breed’ emerged. To keep the race pure, no other horses have been allowed to enter Iceland for over 1000 years!
Icelandic Horses are small, very strong, and hardy. Technically they are the size of a pony, but don’t call them ponies in front of your Icelandic hosts! Icelandic people are very proud of their horses and insist that they are ‘small horses’ rather than ponies.
These remarkable horses thrive in extreme weather and keep a good weight when eating very low-quality forage. They are known for their friendly, patient nature, but they also have a lot of character!
Riding an Icelandic horse in Iceland is a special experience for expert horse people and complete beginners alike.
This guide will help you to choose the perfect riding tour for your ability level. It will also tell you everything you need to know about disinfecting your riding equipment to protect the Icelandic horses from deadly foreign viruses.
If you fall head over heels in love with an Icelandic horse, we even have advice on bringing them back home with you. Read on to find out everything you need to know about horse riding in Iceland!
Where to Ride In Iceland?
There are countless places where you can go horse riding in Iceland. Some of them are better for beginner riders looking for a one-hour introduction. Others offer 6-day challenging rides through the isolated fjords.
To help you choose the perfect horseback riding tour for your ability level and time available, we have selected some of the best horse riding tours per region. You will find these below.
This list is not exhaustive, and there are many more wonderful horse riding centers throughout the country.
Horse Riding In the North Of Iceland
There are plenty of places to go Horse Riding in the North of Iceland.
Whilst you’re in the area, you might also like to go whale watching near Husavik. This area is famous for sightings of Blue Whales, as well as rarer species like Belugas and Narwhals.
You can also go to see Godafoss (the waterfall of the Gods), relax in the Myvatn Nature Baths, or take a ferry out to Grimsey Island and cross the arctic circle!
Location: Hraunkot Farm. 15 minutes drive from Husavik
The Lava Horses horse riding center is based on a working farm. The same family has taken care of this land for over 200 years, and they love to share it with visitors.
There are currently 20 different Icelandic horses available for riding, with options for a short family tour of one hour to a full-day tour exploring the Icelandic wilderness with local delicacies to try along the way.
For the experienced day rides, you can expect to cross through rivers and go for long gallops, covering up to 35 kilometers per tour! It is down to the discretion of the guide whether or not you are experienced enough to be safe on the faster rides.
Riding Icelandic Horses is not the same as riding Western. The weather can also play a role in how much you are allowed to canter or gallop because horses are generally more spirited in windy weather.
Visit the website to find out more.
Location: Near Akureyri
Polarhestar has a huge herd of 150 horses, and have been offering riding tours since 1985.
The farm is also shared with many sheep, dogs, cats, and chickens. As well as short tours, Polarhestar offers some incredible multi-day riding tours.
For example, they offer an autumnal colors and Northern Lights multi-day riding trek. For 7 days you will ride through gorgeous valleys and mountains, stopping to watch migrating geese rest in the Icelandic wilderness. In the evening you will sleep at a range of different cottages and farmhouses.
This tour would not be suitable for absolute beginners, as you will need to be fit enough to spend long hours in the saddle. If you haven’t ridden much before, you could end up with painful saddle sores.
If you really want to go for a multiday riding trek in Iceland but haven’t ridden before, we recommend that you take some horseback riding lessons in your home country before booking.
To find out more about these wonderful adventures, you can visit their website.
Location: Near Akureyri
Skjaldarvik is a family-run farm, guesthouse, and riding center. A pickup and drop off in Akureyri city can be arranged for non-driving visitors.
As well as daily short riding tours, it is possible to arrange to come and feed the horses and take pictures with them. This is perfect for people that want to learn more about Icelandic horses but are unable to ride for any health or mobility reason.
Skjadarvik also has comfortable accommodation for up to 28 people, with an onsite hot tub available for guests to use.
For more details, check out their website.
Horse Riding In The South Of Iceland
Horse riding centers in the South of Iceland are generally much easier to access from the capital city of Reykjavik.
The South of Iceland is particularly popular with tourists. You can also go to see the Puffins at Dyrholaey rock arch, take a self-drive tour of the Golden Circle or stroll along the black volcanic beaches to an intact US military plane wreck!
Location: Near Reykjavik
Viking Horses is a luxury horse riding center about 15 minutes drive from Reykjavik.
They specialize in a really small group or private tours and have high-quality tack available for their very well cared for horses.
All levels of experience can be catered for, and the guides take pride in choosing a horse especially suited to each visitor’s level of riding. A hot drink and bite to eat will be included with your ride.
For more information, you can check out their website.
Vik Horse Adventure
If you want to explore a bit further from the capital city, Vik Horse Adventure is another great option in the South of Iceland.
You can take a gentle one-hour horse ride along the black volcanic beaches, crossing a little stream and soaking in the dramatic coastline. Another option is the 30-minute family ride, which is designed especially to keep the smallest children safe and happy,
If you are a very experienced rider looking to get in some gallops, this might not be the best riding place for you. The tours are mixed ability and go at the pace of the least experienced riders.
It is sometimes possible to arrange a private tour if you want to put the Icelandic Horses through their paces. You can find out more on the Vik Horse Adventure website.
Horse Riding In the Wild West Of Iceland
If you are looking for wilderness, you want to head to the West of Iceland.
The Westfjords are a region of Iceland found in the North West. It is the most sparsely populated area in the country, but there is life here! Seabirds and arctic foxes thrive in the isolated conditions, and eagles fly high above the craggy mountains.
If you want to discover the Wild West of Iceland, there’s no better way to do it than by horseback.
The tours at Fosshestar were designed with beginners and novices in mind, but more experienced riders are also very welcome.
They are located in the Engidalur Valley, surrounded by high mountains and many crashing waterfalls. They are happy to do pick-ups and drop-offs from the town of Isafjordur.
What’s extra nice about this tour, is the guide wears a GoPro camera on their helmet and will send you the footage after you get home. You can just focus on fully enjoying the experience, without thinking about taking any pictures or videos.
The tours are all private, for just you or your group alone. They last about 2.5 hours, without between 1 and 1.5 hours of actual riding time. The rest of the tour is made up of collecting, brushing, and preparing the horses as well as getting your safety equipment fitted for you.
For more information, you can check out the Fosshestar website.
Horseback Riding Iceland
Location: Snæfellsnes Península
If you are an experienced rider looking for a multiday trip, Horseback Riding Iceland is a great option.
They offer 4 or 6 day rides through sparkling rivers and over pristine beaches. The rides are big round routes, and the horses sleep at a different paddock every night. The riders are transferred back to the farm to sleep in comfortable accommodation.
Non-riding partners are welcome to stay at the farm too, and they can find plenty of hiking or fishing to do in the area. Snæfellsnes Peninsula is fondly known as little Iceland due to its huge diversity of landscapes.
It is a wonderful place to go sea kayaking and the winter feeding ground of Killer Whales. If you are looking for wildlife and long tolts through the stunning landscapes, this is perfect! Riders do need to be experienced to participate.
You can find out more information on the Horseback Riding Iceland website.
Horse Riding In the East of Iceland
Location: between Eskifjörður and Neskaupstadur
Skorrahestar offers horse riding tours, hiking tours, meditation seminars, and guest house accommodation.
The riding tours last for between one and two hours, with many different trails to discover in the isolated Eastern fjords of Iceland. After your ride, you will head back to the farm for traditional Icelandic pastries and tea with the family.
Your guides are all locally born and raised. They will be able to tell you all about the history, geology, and wildlife of the area. The horse riding tours set off at the same time as an equally long hiking tour. This is perfect for a couple or family with a mixture of riders and non-riders to cater for!
You can find out more information on the Skorrahestar website.
Location: Quite near Egilsstaðir, on road 925
The riding tours at Stóri Bakki vary between 50 minutes long and 8 hours long.
Alternatively, groups of 4-6 people can get in touch to organize a riding holiday on the farm. This includes a mixture of horse riding and excursions. For example, trips to the Myvatn nature baths, puffin watching, and black sand beaches can all be included in the itinerary.
Riding lessons for competition riders on high-quality horses can be arranged, as well as more relaxed rides and lessons on the lovely trail horses.
The itinerary will be designed depending on the needs and interests of your group, so you should get in touch to chat through all the different options.
For more information, you can head to the Stóri-Bakki website.
Finnsstaðir Horse Ranch
Location: Next to Egilsstaðir
You will find horseback riding, accommodation, and a petting zoo at Finnsstaðir Horse Ranch.
Horse riding tours are either one or two hours long and are suitable for beginners or experienced riders alike. The petting zoo is open between 10 am and 5 pm every day.
Piglets, shaggy coated sheep, horses, calves, and ducklings are all available to give some love to. The guest house has a hot tub and is close to lots of hiking trails and nature. You can have a free ride if you book to stay at the guesthouse for 5 nights or more!
For more information, you can check out the Finnsstaðir Horse Ranch website.
What is a tolt?
A tölt is a type of gait, just like walk, trot, canter, and gallop.
Whilst all horses have the 5 natural gaits (walk/trot/canter/gallop/back), some breeds have extra gaits that make them unique, such as the tölt of the Icelandic Horse.
The tölt is a four-beat gait, which is extremely comfortable to sit. It is fast like a trot but feels much more smooth. The rider hardly moves at all, whilst the horse’s legs are moving very quickly.
It feels a bit like riding on a cloud!
Whilst other horses can sometimes be trained to do different gaits, the tölt comes naturally to Icelandic horses. It is easier for them to tölt when the rider sits far back in the saddle.
You normally ask an Icelandic horse to tölt by sitting deep back in the saddle, shortening the reins, and asking them to move faster with your voice or lower leg. You sit back in the saddle to give them their withers.
They need to bring their head higher up to tölt comfortably, so don’t be surprised if they put their nose higher in the air. They need your hands to be elastic rather than restricting, as their necks move quite a lot during this gait.
The softer the ground, the harder it is for horses to tölt. So on the beach, for example, it would be tiring for the horse.
Don’t ask a horse to change gait without permission from your guide. They know their horses better than anybody, and some tours will be at a completely walking pace whereas others will include lots of tölts and galloping.
If you want to try out the other gaits, make this clear when you book.
What happens if I arrive late for my ride?
You should normally arrive at your horseback riding tour at least 15 minutes before your ride is booked to set off.
You should already be dressed ready to ride, but you can borrow boots, helmets, and gloves from the riding establishment. You will probably need to sign a safety form for insurance purposes.
If you arrive later than 15 minutes before your ride is booked to set off, there is no guarantee the ride will wait for you. It isn’t fair to expect the other participants to wait for you, and you may not be able to participate. The guides will have other rides to prepare for, and the horses need to have adequate rest in between the different tours.
For all these reasons, you must arrive on time. It’s a good idea to check the location on the website before you set off and make sure you know where you are going. Give yourself plenty of time, especially in the colder months when there could be ice or snow on the road.
If you are too late to be able to participate in your ride, it is very unlikely that you would be given a refund.
What happens if the weather is too bad?
Your guides will keep a very close eye on weather conditions.
If it is too stormy and windy, the horses may become nervous and be less safe to ride. Fog could also reduce visibility, which can be dangerous in mountainous regions. If the guides decide that the weather is unsafe, then they will cancel the tour and you will receive a full refund.
If you booked through a third party rather than directly through the horse riding center, you will need to request your refund from the company you booked with.
If you are booking a shorter riding experience early, try to arrange it early on in your visit to Iceland. If it is canceled due to bad weather, you may be able to rearrange for a better day.
If you are planning on a multi-day riding holiday, you can ask about bad weather policy when booking.
Do you need previous experience to ride Icelandic Horses?
You don’t have to be experienced to go horseback riding.
Many complete beginners have a wonderful first adventure on a horse during their visit to Iceland. You do need to be honest about your previous experience.
Horses are sensitive animals, so the calmer you are, the calmer they will be. Try to avoid screaming (in delight or fear) whenever you are near to horses. A suitable horse will be chosen depending on your experience level, but all horses appreciate a kind, calm human being.
For the safety of the horse and yourself, please be completely transparent about your level of experience and any previous injuries that the guides should be aware of.
Is there a weight limit for riding horses?
There is often a weight limit of around 110 kilograms (220 pounds) per person to go horse riding.
Horses should not carry more than a third of their weight, as this can cause them pain and skeletal problems.
For heavier people, it is more comfortable for your horse if you have a physically fit and muscular build rather than a softer physique. In this way, you support more of your weight and less pressure is put on the horse’s back.
Please be honest about your weight. It is not a matter of excluding heavier people, but a matter of protecting the horses from long term physical harm.
What to wear for a ride in Iceland
The weather can be very unpredictable in Iceland.
You should bring a waterproof coat with you, and some warm mid-layers. Less experienced riders will mostly be riding at walking pace. You will therefore need more layers to keep warm.
If you are going on a long fast ride, you may get hot and sweaty if you wear too many layers. It is best to come over-prepared with warm clothing, as you can always leave some of your things at the stable whilst you ride.
You can not bring used riding equipment (chaps/helmets/body protectors/boots) into the country. This is to protect the Icelandic horses from diseases.
The race has not mixed with other horses for over a thousand years, so viruses that other horses can handle well could be fatal for the Icelandic horses. You can bring riding clothes like jodhpurs and shirts, but they will need to be disinfected before entering the country.
How to disinfect riding clothes
Anything horse related that is made from leather will not be allowed to enter the country. Leather is too difficult to disinfect, so tack and switches will not be allowed through customs.
Your riding clothes (jodhpurs, riding socks, etc) will be allowed in if they are disinfected.
You will need to have a certificate to say they have been disinfected, which can often be obtained from a veterinary surgery. If you are unable to do this before arriving in Iceland, it must be done at the airport at your own expense. It will almost certainly be more expensive to disinfect your clothing in Iceland than at home.
On The Top
You will need warm and waterproof clothes. Fleeces or wool mid-layers would both be suitable. You should also bring a waterproof coat, you can always leave it at the stables if it isn’t needed.
On The Bottom
On the bottom half, you should wear long trousers, never shorts. Jodhpurs are ideal but comfortable, thick leggings or tracksuit bottoms should be fine if you don’t have jodhpurs.
On Your Feet
Your shoes are best to have a slight heel in them. Sneakers are not good for riding because your whole foot can slip through the stirrup and get stuck, but walking boots are usually OK for a short ride.
You can usually borrow boots from riding establishments. Sneakers may be acceptable for a short ride. If you want to ride with chaps, you will have to bring your own that are not leather and have been disinfected.
Otherwise, you can buy new chaps in Iceland, or borrow them from the riding center.
On Your Head
For insurance reasons, you will have to wear a helmet. These will be provided by the horse-riding centers, as it is not possible to bring used riding equipment into the country.
It doesn’t matter if you normally ride without a helmet.
It is considered an essential piece of kit here, and it is extremely unlikely that you would ever be allowed to ride without one.
Insurance for Horse Riding In Iceland
Medical care in Iceland is expensive, so you must protect yourself with a travel insurance policy that covers horse riding. Doctors in Iceland will speak English, so you don’t need to worry about communicating.
Everything will be done to minimize the risk to the rider, such as wearing helmets and providing well-trained horses to ride. Of course, accidents still happen sometimes and horseback riding is considered a dangerous sport.
Buying An Icelandic Horse
So what happens if you have fallen in love with the Icelandic horses and decide you want to take one home with you?
It is possible to buy an Icelandic horse and get it exported. This is often done via an international flight, with horses being flown on cargo carriers.
Horses need to have well-trimmed feet and be good to lead to make the journey. They are walked into crates the size of horse trailers, which are then placed on an elevator to reach the hold smoothly.
Here are a few recommended export specialists that can handle the process for you.
Alternatively, you could find an Icelandic horse that is already in your country. These horses will already be well adapted to the climate, and you would save a lot of money on shipping and legal costs.
If you do decide to take on an Icelandic horse, you should do plenty of research about their quirks. Just like the other native breeds, Icelandic horses are prone to laminitis. Their diet needs to be carefully managed to prevent them from getting overweight and building up insulin resistance.
See you soon!
We hope you enjoyed this ultimate guide to horse riding in Iceland.
We have lots more useful resources on our website, including some wonderful self-drive tours available for you to book.
Take care, and we look forward to welcoming you to Iceland soon!