On 2 May 1998


An Icelandic Horse Ride

1: The Eldhestar Stables

I had never ridden on an Icelandic horse before, or any other horse for that matter. So when the discount flight for a few days in Iceland included a morning ride, I was all the more intrigued. Icelandic horses have several unique qualities, not only in being direct descendants of the original Viking horses that first came to Iceland about a thousand years ago but also in having five distinct gaits (whereas a typical horse has four gaits).

Once in Iceland, however, I discovered that the half-day ride was actually half ride and then half bus tour. So I remarked to Sue, "Why not go riding for an entire day?" In the hotel, the Loftleider, we researched the tourist literature and asked various questions to the friendly person at the Reykjavik Excursions desk until we arranged to be picked up for Eldhestar's one-day tour around Reykjadalur.

Eldhestar operates out of Hveragerdi, a city famed for its extensive greenhouses and a short hour from Reykjavik. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't particularly good with a lot of rain being predicted for that day. However, years of experience in England's Lake District has taught that one either becomes accustomed to rain or spend life indoors.

Sue and I were the last two people to be picked up by Eldhestar's minivan, and just as we reached the farm, the rain began. It never particularly stormed that day, but the rain was very consistent, which is unlike Iceland weather in general, for in the midst of any particular day, the weather can change from bright sun to snow showers to overcast to sun to rain, and so on. This day it rained.

The riding group

Linda Ahlgren, on the extreme right, was the Eldhestar leader for the day. Next to her is Hródmar Bjarnason (director at Eldhestar), with the enormous smile, who was not riding with us.
Once out of the minivan, we went into the stable at which there was an intense frenzy of activity. Gear was checked and rainproofs were hurled at anyone not sufficiently equipped. Hiking shoes were changed for wellingtons, and gloves and helmets made the rounds. I was happily surprised that any place should have a shoe for my large foot; and I was told that I was very lucky that I got matching-sized wellingtons.

Outside we were soon divided into those with experience and those without experience, I being on the bottom of the list. The instructions for riding were brief but to the point. Sit up straight; don't slouch forward or back. Heels in to get the horse to move; pull on the reins to make the horse stop. . . . What could be easier? . . .  though even I suspected there was something more to know.

The corral

A group of four friendly Norwegians, who knew what they were doing, were first to be dressed and first to be horsed in the corral.
For a brief while I was left alone and coped with the rain and my camera. It was a given that I was shooting through a wet lens; I only hoped that my older Pentax lens was sufficiently waterproof.

Then all of a sudden someone approached me and said that this was my horse: Bjartur (= "clear" or "light"). I said hello (I hope). The first thing to do was to lead Bjartur around in the corral. After being successful in that, there came a discussion of how long the stirrups should be to accommodate my legs. Then came the fateful moment: get on.

For those familiar with riding, it is probably straightforward. For those unfamiliar, it's kind of like getting on a bicycle only being a lot higher. It took me (and each time thereafter) two attempts to swing my leg high enough to clear Bjartur's hindquarters and find myself sitting in a saddle. After that I rode him around the corral, which seemed easy enough aside from a couple of close encounters with other horses in which my leg seemed to get in the way.
The patient and gentle Bjartur.
After two loops, the corral was opened, and it looked like I was supposed to follow everyone else. Or, more probably, Bjartur followed everyone else.

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