To date, my blog posts have primarily focused on horse riding holiday preparations. In this blog, I introduce a new category: horse riding holiday favourite photo. The posts in this category will introduce you to the equines who star in my equestrian travel books.
The photo on the left is of a very happy me with Gjáska, the adorable dun Icelandic Horse I had the privilege to ride on my horse-riding holiday in Iceland. The snapshot was taken by a fellow guest at the end of our morning ride preparations just before we mounted our horses for what was to be a soggy, but sensational day out. Gjáska enjoyed the fuss of being brushed and tacked up and is looking relaxed from these pre-ride preparations.
At the beginning of October 2012, I joined a sociable-and-energetic international group in Iceland on a horse-riding holiday short break. I had never been on a horse-riding holiday before, and I had limited recent experience of riding out in open countryside. The big smile on my face as I pose with my holiday equine partner sums up the joy I experienced on this trip.
Gjáska is the equine star of Part 1 – The Land of the Tölt in my equestrian travel book: The Horse Riding Tourist – Near and Far. I spent two days riding this little horse, who gifted me with the experience of riding her amazing-gait, the tölt.
Gjáska’s calm manner not only ensured my pure happiness but raised my confidence as a rider. During our two days together, she had me cantering around 90-degree corners, and trying out a new gait. I definitely, had a tear in my eye when I said goodbye to her, at the end of the ride I'd prepared for in the photo. Below is an extract from The Horse Riding Tourist – Near and Far, which narrates the start of that trail ride.
At the junction with Biskupstungnabraut, Edda leads our troop straight across and bears eastwards away from the Geyser hot spring area. Initially, the terrain is akin to where we’d ridden at the beginning of yesterday’s ride. On the farm side, there’s the same track running parallel to Biskupstungnabraut. On this side, the track runs alongside the boundaries of fields. Though the width of the track allows for horses to walk side-by-side, we remain in single file. The track brings lots of opportunities to trot or tölt.
Gjáska is helping me out this morning. My body is a little tired from yesterday’s long ride, and there is a non-verbal agreement between us that when we’re not in a walk, the tölt is going to be the gait to use. I can feel how smooth the gait is to ride now Gjáska is giving me her wonderful tölt whenever the ride moves faster than a walk and can understand why this is the chosen gait for long journeys. The tölt requires the rider to take up a stance alike to standing with legs stretched but with ‘soft’ knees. The rider’s posture needs to have the essential straight back. The movement of the tölt feels as if the horse’s forelegs are being ‘flung’ out from side-to-side. The movement is silky smooth and incredibly comfortable. During yesterday’s demonstration, Edda explained it is more strenuous for a horse to tölt than to trot; though, Gjáska seems to welcome the change of gait from yesterday’s ride. Because I can experience canter on any horse, I will be riding in walk and tölt only today.
The low-lying terrain of the farmed valley is left behind when our course bends to the northeast and begins to climb. Still close to Biskupstungnabraut the expanse of green fields surrenders to high outcrops and even higher rock formations. As the route alters northwards, we transition into rocky mountainous terrain. The surface of the trail changes to volcanic soil strewn with sizeable stones forcing the horses to pick their path carefully. In this new landscape, the Biskupstungnabraut is out of sight. This topography is how I imagined Iceland. Footpaths ascend and descend, threading between crags of rock. There are no trees. Green moss and the purples, oranges, and yellows of heathland plants are scattered amongst the sparse wild yellow and green grasses yielding pockets of colour against the dark grey of the rock and lighter grey of the overcast sky. Here and there dry-stone walls mark this wilderness as managed land.
Elissa and I interchange places sharing stints at the rear of the ride. During the climb, Elissa’s grey gelding starts to trip on the rougher terrain. I suggest she rides him with a longer rein so he can pick his route. All she needs to do is look forward and keep in balance with his movement. Exactly what I'm doing on Gjáska. Terri comes back to join us. She reports the horses at the front are fizzy, they jostle and get in each other’s way. Terri holds a catalogue of past experiences with fizzy horses. Now she is getting older she prefers a quiet, well-behaved horse. This type of horse is what she asked for and why she is riding the chestnut mare. The ride is calm at the back as Gjáska and the grey gelding, who like the chestnut mare, are well-behaved.
Eventually, the Canyon Brúarhlöõ comes into sight on the right. It is a deep ravine with the River Hvítá flowing southwards at the bottom. The river is the colour of watered-down milk, and its paleness highlights the width of the canyon. This pigmentation is a trait of a river sourced by the Glazier Langjökull. There are various places of high ground presenting a view of the dark-grey hills on the far side of the canyon where the grey cloud hides the furthest-away crests. On our course, north-eastwards vistas of the Canyon Brúarhlöõ come and go as the trail winds through the rocky countryside. In the places where the canyon is at its narrowest, the River Hvítá is hard to spot. Where the canyon widens, mudflats span the flatland from the river to the cliffs. In this terrain, the ride stays in a walk. Though, there are bursts of tölt where the trail dips to level ground between high points. With the weather closing in pauses for photos are brief as soon as the shot is taken we ride on.
Having completed the steepest parts of the climb, we leave Canyon Brúarhlöõ behind and re-cross Biskupstungnabraut. The altitude is roughly 200 m (656 ft.). The surface of the track is less stony than back in the lower valley. Here the track is laid close to the road in an extensive plain of autumnal moorland and wire fences hemmed in by distant hills and ridges. In the foreground on the east side of the road is the Waterfall Gullfoss visitor complex. Parked up in a tarmac carpark are four coaches and in the region of 15 cars; though space permits the capacity for many more vehicles. The expected rain begins lightly, carried on the wind.
You can read about my full adventure with Gjáska in Iceland in my non-fiction travel book, The Horse Riding Tourist – Near and Far, which describes my first four horse-riding trips to Iceland, Egypt, Great Britain, and Mallorca. For more information click here.
You can find information on how to book this trip or a similar trip on the Iceland destination page on this website.