Horse riding holiday Iceland. Icelandic horses; experience 'tölt'.Venture Co Worldwide Horse riding holiday Iceland. Icelandic horses; experience 'tölt'.

Thorsmork Ride, Iceland

At a GlanceItineraryDetail

Introduction

Thorsmork is a nature reserve, surrounded on three sides by glaciers, in the interior of southern Iceland. To access this hidden valley the rider must ford several glacial rivers, ride around beautiful waterfalls, cross the lava fields from the 2010 eruption and hack through the wooded areas that protect the reserve. A fantastic, magical riding experience.

Thorsmork is named after the Norse god of thunder, Thor. The valley itself is bordered by three glaciers, one of which has the unpronounceable name of Eyjafjallajökull which is the volcano that erupted in 2010 causing disruption to Europe’s air-space and grounding all flights. The volcano is dormant once more, but the ash residue is still visible and part of the ride goes right across the field.

Thorsmork is a real surprise: fertile and green and because it’s so sheltered, much warmer than the surrounding area. There ae several dainty waterfalls along the way, though the main river, the River Krossa, comes directly from a glacier and is absolutely freezing!

This is a “loop” that begins at the stable and ends at a farmhouse. Total distance ridden is 105 Km in 4 riding days. This itinerary only operates in the summer months and shows a part of Iceland that is as beautiful as anything the island has.

 

Ride Iceland ponies

Setting out on the first morning

Horse riding holiday Iceland

Day 1: Arriving in Iceland

We will meet you in Reykjavik and drive you out to the ranch guesthouse. Dinner on the first evening is included and after the meal there will be a detailed briefing about the ride.

Day 2: Ride from Hveragerdi to Torfastaðir

This morning we drive the short distance to the stable and meet the horses. The ranch has about 300 horses which include riding horses, stallions, brood mares and young stock. Not only does the ranch organise riding holidays in Iceland, but buy and sell horses, thus keeping their riding horses up to the highest standard. A walk around the stable is a fascinating insight to Iceland horse-management.

Horse Riding holiday Iceland

Drink-stop at the Thorsmork lake

There is a chance to take your horse into the ring and get the feel of him before the ride begins. The morning’s trail leads across a broad plain, along the river bank with views of hills, mountains and glaciers on all sides. After reaching the striking rock called Dímon, which is well known from the Saga of Njáll, we cross the old bridge over the river Markarfljót and end at the farmhouse where we stay overnight.

Njall’s saga dates from the year 960 and deals with a decades-long blood feud; the consequences of vengeance and the defence of family honour. The saga is full of omens, prophetic dreams and life-and-death duels! All good stuff and ideally suited to fire-side conversation.

Distance ridden: 25 km; 4 hours riding.

Day 3: From Stóra-Mörk to Thórsmörk

Today we follow the river Markarfljót (which also features in the Saga of Njáll) across the slopes of the infamous glacier and volcano Eyjafjallajökull, riding over soft ground covered by the ash of the volcano’s eruption in 2010.

As we approach the valley the trail crosses several rivers including the torrential glacial river Krossá, before we reach the beautiful nature reserve known as Thórsmörk.

We stay overnight at the mountain hut in the valley and enjoy the spectacular landscape and surprisingly rich vegetation of birch woods, canyons and lava formations shaped by rivers and volcanos.

Distance ridden: 25 km; 6 hours riding.

Day 4: From Thórsmörk to Stóra-Mörk

The day begins with a visit of the “Elves Church”, a distinctive volcanic formation. Then ride on to the enormous canyon Stakkholtsgjá which is about 2 Km long with vertical sides rising up 100m. The canyon narrows and ends in a waterfall (not accessible on horseback). We follow the riding trail that leads out of the valley, over green heathlands and back to the path again on the floor of the valley.

Stóra-Mörk is a farm that is near-by where we stay overnight.

Distance ridden: 30 km; 6 hours riding.

Horse Riding holiday Iceland

Iceland horses

Day 5: From Stóra-Mörk toTorfastaðir. Return to Reykjavik

On our last day takes us over good trails that criss-cross the shallow rivers before joining the old road through the green hills of Fljótshlíð. On our way back to Torfastaðir farm we pass another farm where one of the most famous Vikings, Gunnar of Hlíðarendi, lived and died, once again, according to the Saga of Njáll. This is where we say goodbye to the horses.

We bus back to Reykjavik where the ride ends. Please contact us if you’d like to spend a night, or longer, in Iceland’s capital city Reykjavik.

Distance ridden: 25 Km; riding time 5 hours. Driving time 45 mins.

Consider staying on to go whale watching and puffin spotting.

Horse Riding holiday Iceland

The horses

Some time around the year 900 Norsemen brought horses to Iceland from Scandinavia, and thus began the distinctive breed that we know today. The Viking culture is rich in sagas that date from around this time and there are frequent references to horses in these heavyweight tombs. Natural selection due to the harsh climate, coupled with selective breeding, has manipulated and moulded to become a resilient, multi-purpose horse. The breed society was established in 1904.

Iceland is just about free from horse diseases because imports are banned and horses that are exported can never return. In Iceland the horses are first and foremost used as working horses, herding sheep. There is also a thriving leisure industry and the all-important racing. Racing is done at tölt and a great deal of prestige hangs on these meets.

Most horses have done several trails over the years and are adept at looking after their riders. Each is a unique character and every one of them makes for a kind, reliable mount deserving of the very best consideration and care. Sizes 14 hh to 14.2 hh (128 cm and 148 cm). It is thought an insult to call it a pony, and all over the world they are known as Icelandic horses.  Many riders return from their first ride on an Icelandic “pony” saying  “This is truly a Horse”, such is the feeling of power, and personality glows from the horse.

Horse Riding holiday Iceland

Deep in the Thorsmork valley

The tack

English saddles and snaffle bits are the order of the day which are comfortable for horse and rider. Each saddle is fitted with two specially made water saddle-bags that sit forward of the rider, rather than behind. If you like to ride with a sheepskin bumnah (or saddle-saver) you are welcome to bring one. Each rider is responsible for grooming, regularly checking over and tacking up their own horse (assistance is given when required).

The gaits

One of the greatest characteristics of the Icelandic horse is that it has five gaits: In addition to normal walk, trot, canter and gallop there is also tölt and skeið (flying pace).

• The tölt
The tölt is a four-beat gait, very soft and comfortable for the rider. A horse can tölt at different speeds, ranging from a walking tempo to gallop tempo.

When riding tölt, the rider needs to encourage the horse forward but keep the energy within himself with the seat; keep a positive tension in the body but not stiff. The rein contact is also crucial. If the rider gets too relaxed and the rein becomes loose, the horse will go to trot; too stiff with over-contact via the rein and the horse will go into “piggy pace” (a slow two-beat gait which is not desired). Tölt is fast, and only used for short bursts, on good ground, and usually only in a straight line.

Character

The Icelandic horse has a very individual character. It is patient, adaptable, uncomplicated and sometimes very spirited. It has a friendly personality and a special affinity for people. It is bred as a riding and working horse for Icelandic farmers which makes it an excellent family horse. With no natural predators in its home country, the horse has shed much of its natural “fight or flight” instinct.  At the same time, the diversity within the breed is enormous.  You can find the safest children’s horses, and the hottest pace race horses within this breed, so take care not to think all Icelandic horses are alike!

Luggage

Max 20 Kg per person. All baggage is transported on the supply truck and catches up with you in the evening. It’s best to use a soft-sided hold-all, as we recommend for all our rides, rather than a suitcase.

Clothing

It is best to wear several layers of clothing because temperatures vary so dramatically between nighttime and daytime. This ride takes places during the warmer months of the year; the range is from single figures up to mid-20°C. A good hat is essential and a buff helps to keep the sun off your face and doubles up to keep the dust at bay.  The glare from the sun is strong so sunglasses with a retaining string to keep them round your neck is a good idea.  Sunblock, lip-balm and plenty of water are essential. Jodhpur boots or long boots work well; and the multi-purpose “H20” boot from Ariat is also good because they are comfortable when walking / leading and they’re waterproof

Price includes

Saddle horse and tack for the duration.
Full board from supper on day 1 to breakfast day 6, but excluding supper on night 5.
2 nights hotel (first and last night)
2 nights farmhouse
1 night mountain hut

Price excludes

Supper on final night in Reykjavik
Sleeping bag
Travel insurance