Horseback Riding in Iceland
Review of Polar Hestar in Akureyri
There is a lot to say about Icelandic Horses, the first thing is that even though they are smaller than other horses, they are NOT ponies and be warned people will be offended if you call them 'Icelandic ponies".
Choosing WHERE to ride will depend mostly on your location. We drove the Ring Road which meant I had the entire country to choose from. Here is an extensive list of the ride providers in the country.
Most of the tour operators who offer guided tours to the main nature attractions, also offer horse riding tours too. You can book through them if that gives you more comfort. I simply looked at what city I would be near when we wanted to ride then researched the local providers, read their reviews and booked directly.
We rode with Polar Hestar outside of Akureyri in North Iceland. All four ohf my family were overjoyed with our choice. Our guide, Kata was genuinely enthusiastic about the horses and has worked at Polar Hestar (which means Arctic Horses) for 12 years. She knew ALL the horses by sight and was extremely skilled at managing them. We felt in such safe hands. She was also SO smiley and happy. An overall great riding guide. Maybe you can request her. The horses were all sure-footed and quite loving as far as horses go. You could feel their soft personalities.They were not the normal used-and-abused, worked-to-death tourist horses.
The Polar Hestar farm is easy to find and a smooth 15 minute drive outside of Akureryi. They began in 1985 with just 4 horses thirty years ago and now have 150 of them. The oldest horse in their stable is 35 years old. We learned so much about the Icelandic horse. At this farm, they don't 'ride' their horses until they are about 7 years old and the last of their bone structure has been hardened. The horses work until they can't no more, then the Polar Hestar farm lets them live a year free in the pasture during whatever they want. There is a sense of their having true love for the horses who they live and work with. They honor and respect the hard work they give. Horses are left in pasture all year long. We learned that horses eat 18 hours per day!
We noticed that the girth of the Icelandic horse is much greater than the horses we have ridden in the past. Before arriving at the farm, when we had seen photos of tourists on Icelandic horses, it appeared their human legs were awfully close to the ground, so driving to the farm we joked that maybe we would be 'peddling' the horses. This felt far from the truth. On the back of my horse, the perfectly wonderful Thirniros (pronounced Theerkneerose and meaning Sleeping Beauty), I felt of normal height and all was well. I maybe felt safer being a little closer to the ground like that. hahah.
I didn't realize when I booked it, but when you have a group of 4 or more people, that is your private group--no strangers on your ride. it was essentially a private ride with a guide that didn't cost any more than a normal ride.
Our rides were already geared up when we arrived, so there was no waiting. No lengthy safety instruction was also a plus. Polar Hestar provide gloves, helmets, helmet liners (buffs to keep hair from being tangled in the helmet and also for sanitary reasons) as well as rain jackets to protect against the cold wind and rain. We didn't have either. In June, we had the most beautiful, sunny, perfect day.
Our ride was out into the green fields and up the hills. We were given multiple opportunities to experience the horse gait called the 'tilt' which is a gait unique to Icelandic horses. I am an experienced horse rider, and I loved the Tolt gait. It is akin to a trot but oh, so much more comfortable. It's a 4 beat gait where the horse always has 3 feet on the ground so it is smoooooooth. On our ride, we also stopped and got off to let the horses eat a bit of grass, and for us to take photos.
I did find it interesting that Polar Hestar would not allow me to pay in advance for the ride, so we settled up with a credit card after our 2-hour ride, while they set us at a picnic table in the warm sun, serving us tea and hot chocolate with a variety of Icelandic pastry treats. It was so homey.
Our experience with Polar Hestar was A++ and I highly recommend them for anyone traveling to Akureyri, Iceland.
Our 2-hour river and mountain ride cost approximately $88 per person which is significantly less than any other horse ride I've taken in the United States or elsewhere in the world. Well worth it.
Polar Hestar offers other short tours as well as longer 4-hour tours and multi-day tours.
616 Grenivík, Iceland
Road no 83 direction Grenivík
Tel. +354 896 1879
ABOUT ICELANDIC HORSES
Icelandic horses are one of the purest breeds in the world and the Icelandic people take great measures to protect them. There has been no cross-breeding for 1000 years--essentially since the time that the Vikings brought them to Iceland!
No one is allowed to ride or be around the Icelandic horse with any horse gear (helmets, riding pants, boots, etc) that have been in contact with any horse ever outside of Iceland. The isolation of Iceland has allowed their horses to remain free from diseases and infections that affect other horses around the world.
Horses grow a thick coat that allows them to winter outdoors even in the icy cold snow of Iceland.
The Icelandic horse comes in over 40 different colors and 100 different patterns. Some Icelandic horses have blue eyes.
There is an Icelandic horse naming committee that only allows horses to be given certain names.