I had only two days at Kjóastaðir, where approximately 20 riders overnighted a few yards from the horse barn and paddocks. Huddled in the bunk house, visions of ponies and Aurora Borealis danced before our jet-lagged eyes. (On the second night, we were rewarded with a small taste of green phantoms pirouetting across the starry night sky. And yes, I did crawl out of my nice warm bed, grabbed my camera & tripod, and dashed into eye-watering cold to record the green ephemera, but my results were embarrassing.)The dining room resides, appropriately enough, inside the main barn. The view from the picture window in the dining room opens onto a view of dining horses. On the first morning, our guide, Meike, encouraged us to eat hearty. She recommended large portions of porridge topped with Skyr. The porridge was surprisingly tasty and she was right, it held me through the day with only a small snack for lunch.
After breakfast we bundled up and selected gear while owner, Hjalti, brought in the herd of about 75 horses from the pasture. Under the watchful eyes of our wranglers, we tacked up then cautiously mounted. Riders from Britain, South Africa, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Germany, and the US felt right at home with flat saddles but were accustomed to mounting horses nearly a foot higher off the ground. Giggles traced each rider’s ascent to this lowly perch.
With everyone aboard and grinning expectantly, we left the farmyard and headed down an icy path beside one of the main roads. Busloads of tourists gawked from foggy bus windows as we chattered between a pasture fence and the road. After about 10 minutes, Meike glanced over her shoulder and asked if everyone was ok. Then she smoothly moved her horse into the famed tölt and behind her we moved like one body into a bouncy trot. Now there was even more chortling as horses jostled for first position and riders adjusted to the short, choppy gait. The better riders were the first to rein their steeds into the preferred tölt. Between irrepressible giggles, we exchanged glances of wary wonder as our mounts clattered with carefree abandon over uneven and slippery footing that would have upended horses from home.
We rode past steaming geysers, through tourist facilities, and past herds of horses and flocks of sheep. We rode through a fledgling “forest,” and through a seasonally shallow river. We stopped at an old village church and at a waterfall that spit crystallizing ice onto the hands and faces of admirers.
Again, I have blathered on for too long. I will present my final thoughts in Part II, to follow. Meanwhile, I leave you with a too-long video clip of the horses coming in from the pasture. It was bitterly cold, so please forgive the herky-jerky camera action. I hope you didn’t lose your lunch watching that. I assure you, the view from the top of my horse was a lot smoother!