. : Tourism and the Icelandic Horse
The History of the Icelandic Horse
The history of the Icelandic horse can be traced all the way back to the settlement of the country in the late 9th century. Vikings who settled in Iceland brought with them their horses of various origins. Some sources claim that at the time of Iceland's settlement there was a breed in Scandinavia and Northern Europe called Equus Scandinavicus. Due to the isolation of Iceland, this stock remained pure while it was crossbred elsewhere. The Icelandic horse is pure-bred and unique today, over a thousand years after first coming to the land of fire and ice.
The Icelandic horse has played a very important role in its home country from the beginning. In heathen times the horse was highly regarded and renowned in Norse mythology. The horse played a big part in Norse mythological stories. Several Norse gods and their enemies, the giants, owned them. The most famous of all these mythological horses was Sleipnir, the eight-footed pacer.
The horse is often mentioned in the Icelandic Sagas as well, still playing a vital role, this time in the warfare of the Viking period. Great horses were treated with much respect and sometimes slain warriors would be buried alongside their mount.
For centuries, the horse was the only means of transportation in Iceland, as well as, being the most important working animal in the days before machinery. The horse was called "the most useful servant" and literally followed man from birth to death, fetching the doctor and midwife to pulling the coffin to the cemetery. The first automobile arrived in Iceland in the year 1904 and almost immediately the horse became redundant. Enthusiastic individuals, however, kept breeding good horses and Iceland's first horse breeding association was formed the same year the automobile arrived.
Today, there are around 80,000 horses in Iceland, no small number for a country with 270,000 inhabitants! Thousands of people ride in cities and towns as well as in the countryside but the only practical role of the horse today is during the annual roundups when farmers use horses to round up sheep in the highlands. Most horses in Iceland today are used for leisure and competition. The first breeding shows were held in 1906 and since then horse owners in Iceland have concentrated on breeding an excellent stock of a unique horse, suitable for children and adults alike.
Riding in Iceland - Some Peculiarities
The most striking difference between an Icelandic horse and a "common" German horse is certainly the fact, that the Icelandic one has got two more gaits - pass and tolt. If you consider the three gaits of our horses as rather uncomfortable you will be pleased by the experience of these two gaits.
It is no problem to ride for a long time and to cover quickly far distances even on a difficult cross-country route. You sit comfortable on your horse's back while it climbs up and down steep slopes and crosses wild rivers. This leads to another reason why riding in Iceland is different than riding in Germany - the great nature you can discover. There are lots of riding paths to be found on this island and in many cases it is also possible to ride through the vast open landscape on no trail at all.
It is this feeling of freedom that makes people from Germany love this country. Nearly no trails that are forbidden for horses and the discovery of the unique landscape attracts people who are used to the more restricted offer of riding facilities in Germany.
Regarding all these advantages you should not forget that the quality of your riding holiday also depends from place to place as in Germany. Several negative affects that could harm your holidays like too expensive prizes, run-down accommodations and bad tour guides are also to be found in Iceland. So you should inform yourself well and compare different offers to be sure that your trip will fit your expectations. In many cases it is better to spend time in organizing it and even to pay a bit more money in order to have a really great tour than being disappointed of it.
The Importance of the Icelandic Horse today
Being one of the best known attractions in Iceland, the Icelandic horse plays a very important role not only in tourism, but also in the daily life of many Icelandic. According to this fact it is not surprising that a lot of farms and hotels offer a wide range of different riding tours. Rides range from day rides for a few hours to wilderness tours through the Highlands lasting at least one week during which you sit on the horse's back for many hours a day.
While cross country and day rides are mainly offered by hotels and farms located to Highway 1 and tourist places, wilderness rides can take you far away from any human settlement over vast open landscapes. A special kind of experience is called "Riding with the Herd", meaning that you accompany farmers who train their horses for the work of the roundups in fall and therefore drive a good sized herd of remounts along. On a long day of riding that might cover about 30 miles you take along two or three horses to be able to change them as soon as they get tired. Although this kind of tour is not offered by all of the modern day tours, several farms organize these events for their guests. A tour like this will certainly stick in your memory as an unforgettable experience.
Apart from these scheduled tours it is quite easy to organize your individual tour together with friends lead by Icelandic guides or farmers. So, as you can see it is no problem at all to find a tour that fits perfectly according to your personal possibilities and expectations.
. : Links