We arrived at Eldhestar Ranch around 9:30AM. As I stepped out of the van, I could hear the soft swish of the wind as it glided over the barn. Nearly twenty Icelandic horses stood out front of the small building. A few turned their heads to see what the commotion was as I walked toward them, the rest could not be bothered and continued napping or grazing on the never-ending stacks of hay.
“Hey guys! Welcome to Eldhestar. I’m just going to take you inside first to get suited up and then we can head out and find your horses.”
I followed the young women through the stable doors and past a few more curious long faces. Stepping into the locker room, she looked each of us up and down and then handed over two bodysuits. As we began to put them on, I started to laugh. The baggy grey suit draped over my shoulders making me look about 2 feet shorter than I normally stand. Around my shoes, the excess fabric flared out, begging for longer legs to fill them in.
As our guide looked at our reactions she exclaimed, “You want them to be bigger than you need–that way, you can have some room for movement while riding.”
I wasn’t sure that was an exact science, but I trusted her enough to go along with it. I locked in my helmet over the top of my thin, black hat and grabbed the last pair of gloves that seemed to have quite a few rides in them already. It was a chilly morning in Iceland. Though the temperature was around 30 degrees Fahrenheit, if any Arctic winds decided to join the mix, we’d surely be shivering on our saddles.
Meeting Our Horses
I watched as the young women who suited us up said something to her coworker. The other woman then went and retrieved two horses from the stable and brought them over to us. I would be riding a butterscotch brown horse and my friend would be on a little chestnut-colored guy who had a white stripe splitting his snout in two. I wish I could tell you their names, but after my third attempt of pronouncing their Icelandic titles, I realized I was taking on mission impossible.
“Okay, so you’re just going to put your foot through this loop, and then swing your body around until you’re on top of the saddle. Like this, okay?” our guide said, as she hopped on top of her horse-for-the-day.
The thing about Icelandic Horses is that they’re all relatively small. If you weren’t familiar with the breed, you’d probably call it a pony, the way their shaggy hair hangs down to their hooves. For me, this was a plus, as someone with my height would have quite a difficult time pulling that maneuver to get on top of a regular sized horse. With one swift swing of my leg, I was now on top of my new partner and we were taking practice laps around the stable.
“Okay, perfect! Are you guys ready to go?” our two guides shouted, both on top of their horses now.
Riding Into The Moonlight
Tugging the ropes, we turned our sleepy friends around and followed the other two into the moonlit trail. I still wasn’t so sure about this four-hours-of-daylight thing, but at least we scored a private tour for ourselves at a public tour price in the off season.
The paved trail went on for about half a mile and then the real fun began. As I focused on maintaining my balance, my horse tip-toed down a riverside with its body essentially at a 180 degree angle. Splashing into the water as icy chunks floated past us heading downstream, we made it to the other side and casually continued down the trail.
We were now on a frozen dirt path and the sun was just beginning to wake up with us. The mountains around began to flit different hues of the rainbow. First came a midnight violet, then a cobalt blue. Soon enough, a cherry pie was being baked in the sky as crimson jam and squash yam floated above…or maybe I was just getting hungry for lunch.
“You guys have no idea how lucky you are with this weather right now, and this sunrise too? You picked a perfect day,” the leader exclaimed, nodding her head.
Trotting Into The Sunrise
As our guides became more confident in our riding skills, we went from a walk to a trot and my body was now soaring above the icy trail. We could now see that there were over a hundred other horses beside us grazing in the fields, all belonging to Eldhestar. I knew they must have been born and raised here because true Icelandic Horses are extremely rare. In fact, once a horse leaves Iceland, it is never allowed to return. This is mostly due to the fear of diseases that could wipe out the entire population, but even so, it granted them some exclusivity.
As we sped up, my hair began to whip behind me as the Arctic winds came to greet us. I now understood what our guide meant about being lucky with the weather for the majority of our tour. I closed my eyes as the frigid air met my face, forcing uninvited tears to stream down my cheeks. Though I grew up with wild winters, I never could get used to the winds that would send a shiver down my spine.
Let Freedom Ring
As we arrived back at the stables, our guide invited us to bring the horses back out to the fields. It seemed their workload had been done for the winter and they were now allowed to vacation until the summer swarms of tourists came back.
I carefully slid down the side of my horse and unlatched the saddle from my gentle friend. Each of us were handed a bristle brush that I used to smooth over his ruffled back where the saddle once sat. The wind shyly trickled over his chocolate-colored mane, as he looked back at me brushing his sides. I wasn’t sure what the look was truly saying, but I don’t think he was ready to leave us for his spa retreat just yet.
I grabbed the straps once more and slowly guided my horse out to the pasture. Lifting the gear off of him and granting freedom, we closed the gate behind us and started back to the barn. I imagined that they would turn and run free into the tangerine skies, but instead, the two horses turned and stood at the gate, watching us leave, as if to say, “Goodbye, and thanks for coming to visit us.”
I took one last glance back and waved to my newest old friend, as if to say, “Goodbye, and thanks for having me.”
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