In all of my travel planning for this trip, one of the things regularly listed as a must-do experience was a horse riding trek on a pure bred Viking horse, exclusive to Iceland. I thought this sounded like a fun family thing to do, so set about finding out more.
Ishetar was a tour operator I read good reviews about, so we decided to book with them. They are based in Hafnarfjordur, it was only about 10 minutes drive from the centre of Reykjavik, so is convenient to get there. We drove in our rental car, but I think they can arrange to collect you as well if that is your preference.
We booked a half hour horse trekking family adventure, I thought for us, this would be enough as a taster session. They recommend you book in advance, but we were the only people on our trek, so I think turning up without booking would not have been a problem. Our half hour family adventure cost 38 Euros per person. We booked online through their website. On the website are full details of all their offerings, prices and times etc..
The horses are direct descendants of the Viking horses and they claim in the literature to be the perfect size for children - they still looked very big to me!! They have a gentle temperament, a smooth gait and a 5th gait called "tolt". This is supposed to make them easier to ride than usual for beginners, I am not sure I noticed this.
Ishetar offer a variety of different horse riding experiences - you can tour the countryside, ride along the beaches or go into the hills. They offer rides for all ability levels, absolute beginners to very experienced riders.
We found the riding centre very easily. It is in lovely surroundings, just outside the town of Hafnarfjordur. Our ride was supposed to start at 1:00 pm and last for half an hour. We got there in good time, filled in all the disclaimer forms and then waited. They had a little cafe area where you could help yourself to as much coffee as you wanted.
They showed us a video about how to be safe on the horse. I must admit, it made me feel really nervous, they highlighted all the things that could go wrong! For example, pressing your legs too hard into the horse could make it go much too fast; do not shout or yell as this could make the horse gallop off etc. etc.. It all seemed a lot to take in and beginning not to seem such a good idea. I had visions of being dragged on a galloping, out of control racehorse!
Outside the wind was howling, the trees were almost bent double and the rain was pounding. They told us we would be delayed a little because the weather conditions were not safe. Then, about 5 minutes later, they said it was fine to go. Our nerves increased!
We were told to leave all bags and cameras etc. in the safety boxes at the centre, then taken to get kitted out. They provided overalls, riding hats and gloves, then the staff chose a suitable horse for each person. Be sure to get gloves and waterproofs - you definitely need both of these, the weather changes so frequently in Iceland it is better to be safe than sorry. We were introduced to our horse and then told to lead it out to the paddock. This was a bit unnerving for us, but the horses were very docile and came willingly. Getting on was another effort, but we managed it.
It was at this point we started to actually enjoy the experience. Our 9 year old was also very nervous, but started to get used to it.
We were accompanied by 2 lovely members of staff who chatted to us as we rode out. The horses were amazing, very gentle and knew exactly what was expected of them. We rode on comfortable riding tracks in the vicinity of the centre.
It was quite relaxing, a lot of fun and a lovely experience. All too soon, the half hour was up and we headed back to the centre.
Our 9 year old enjoyed it, but said he would not mind if he did not have to go on a horse again! We did all suffer a bit from nerves, but the staff are excellent, the horses are extremely gentle and all the problems they showed on the safety video are in hindsight probably quite unlikely. This is a fun family thing to do, but just have a chat with your child in advance of the video and stress it is meant to be fun and not to be too nervous!