Iceland Roadtrip Day 5: Riding Icelandic horses & exploring Black Sand Beach
Today, we are smarter and not only eat our free breakfast at the hotel, but also sneakily make spare sandwiches to take for lunch. Given the price of food in Iceland, this has more than paid for our hotel room, and the sad thing is that I’m not even exaggerating.
We have a bit less than 2 hours of driving today from our hotel in Kálfafell to the farm in Ásólfsskáli where we have booked a horse riding tour to the glacier.
On the way, we stop at Reynisfjara beach, which is a black sand beach in Vík with more unusual geology! Rugged sea stacks in the ocean, called Gardar, protrude upward and a huge mountain has formed on the shore out of hexagonal basalt columns similar (but much larger) than the ones we saw framing the waterfall Svartifoss in the east.
Horse riding at Skálakot
Even after our long stop at the beach, we still arrive nice and early for our ride at Skálakot farm. We are delighted to find that we are the only ones on the tour, and we are even more delighted when we meet the cute little horses we will be riding.
Icelandic horses are somewhere between normal horse and miniature pony size, with super thick fur and gorgeous manes that look alarmingly like human hair. I actually think my horse is having a better hair day than I am (not difficult, but still).
I just want to snuggle them and take them home, and I’m usually a little freaked out by horses if I’m being honest. These ponies are so loving and sweet, though, I’m totally smitten.
The guide gives us some tips on how to control the horses, but they are so much more docile than any horse I’ve ever seen. Just content and majestic. My horse is Nemo, 18, and Callum has Xavier, 16. Our guide tells us that Skálakot has over 170 horses and 150 sheep, which is apparently standard for a farm in Iceland. Thankfully, this farm doesn’t raise any horses for meat, but the neighbouring farm (aka our hotel for tonight) does, and we don’t care for this news one bit.
You can’t eat something in a burger after you’ve just given it pats on the nose, that’s just not fair. (After we eat dinner, which I know for a fact was beef, I ask Cal how upset he would be if he found out he’d just eaten horse and now he’s convinced that I know something he doesn’t and is incredibly distressed. I just couldn’t resist.)
Our tour lasts 3 hours, the majority of which is spent riding uphill towards Eyjafjallajökull. We are incredibly fortunate to have clear skies, so we not only enjoy a rain-free day, but also get beautiful views of the Vestmannaeyjar, little islands off the coast that are rarely visible due to clouds, fog, rain, etc.
Eyjafjallajökull is actually a volcano capped with ice and has erupted as recently as 2010. Our guide tells us about the huge amount of ash that forced the evacuation of all people and animals in the area. For farms with hundreds of animals, like Skálakot, you can imagine the time and money spent to move everyone to safety. But the eruption also affected people as far away as Northern Europe and forced a massive closure of European airspace for days.
I actually grew up in close proximity to Mount St. Helens, which erupted when my parents were in their 20s and was the most devastating eruption in US history. Just for comparison, I googled the eruptions, and Eyjafjallajökull was one-tenth the size of St. Helens (4 and 5, respectively, on the 0-8 scale of volcanic explosivity). Not that it’s a contest (but we’d win).
I don’t have great (any) experience with horses, but I can honestly say that these are fabulous animals. Save for some silly standing around during walking time on the part of Cal’s horse, they are so well-trained and clever, not to mention very mellow. It’s easily been 10 years or more since I even rode a horse, so I was feeling a bit nervous, but that disappeared almost instantly. Plus, they are so small, it’s difficult to be afraid when you are that close to the ground and their legs are too short to gallop anyway.
I can’t recommend the riding tour enough; we got to enjoy some gorgeous natural scenery and the company of Iceland’s cutest inhabitants. Like everything else here, it was pricey, but entirely worthwhile. We drive to dinner and miss our horses already.