Hi everyone! In this post, I want to tell you a little about my experience horseback riding on one of Iceland’s black sand beaches! As an equestrian, it was a really exciting experience for me and one of the highlights of my trip around Iceland. It was also one of the first adventures I had while in Iceland, as we rode on the black sand beach just outside Vik, our first stop after leaving Reykjavik. Let’s get into it!
A Special Opportunity
When I began planning my travel to Iceland, one of the first things I had noticed was the black sand beaches. I have never experienced black sand so this easily made my list of things I wanted to see. I had already planned our first campervan night to be around the Vik area, so I was happy to find it was home to an easily accessible black sand beach!
The next thing I noticed while trip planning was that Iceland was home to a very special horse – the Icelandic horse. While this breed exists outside of Iceland, I had never encountered an Icelandic horse before. The Icelandic horse is perhaps best known for its additional gait, the tölt. I was excited to think I might have the opportunity to meet a few of these horses and maybe even get to ride them.
I did a little research and found Vik Horse Adventure. They had great reviews and beautiful pictures! I took down their number but did not book ahead of our trip as we were following a more spontaneous travel plan and I wasn’t sure exactly what day or time we would arrive in Vik.
Arriving in Vik and Booking Our Ride
Once our trip was underway, it wasn’t long before we arrived in Vik. We arrived pretty late in the day and went straight to the campsite. It was too late for riding that day, but I planned to get up early and call Vik Horse Adventure. I was nervous – we only had one full day scheduled for Vik so if they didn’t have any open rides, I might have to try another place in another area as we moved on. If you can, I would suggest booking ahead of time.
I was lucky, however! When I called in the morning they did indeed have space for exactly two more riders that afternoon! I readily accepted. We passed the time exploring until our ride exploring the Sólheimasandur plane wreckage (I hope to get a post about that here soon!).
Preparing to Ride on the Black Sand Beach
When it was close to time, we found our way to the stables. As Vik is really small, with one main road, it wasn’t hard to find. We were greeted immediately as we walked in and got checked in quickly. There were two group leaders, friendly ladies who helped us find helmets, asked about our riding experience, and introduced us to our horses. We had fun trying to pronounce the horses’ names.
The horses were super friendly and cute! Smaller then the horses I was us to in the US, they had a hardy but adorable quality. In no time, the group leaders were bringing them out, already tacked, into the arena. Our group was probably around eight people plus the two leaders. Beyond myself and one other, most of the riders had very little to no previous experience. The leaders did a great job making everyone feel comfortable with the horses and getting them mounted.
Riding on the Black Sand Beach
Once everyone was mounted, we left the stable in a single file line. One of the group leaders led the line, while the other brought up the rear. The leaders were super friendly and chatted with everyone throughout. They told us a lot about the area, the horses, and their own stories of what brought them to Vik.
We first spent some time snaking along the upper part of the beach where the sand was a mix of dirt and wild flowers. I think this time was to help the novice riders adjust to their horses and gain a little confidence. We simply walked, chatted and took in the beautiful views. The horses were super well behaved beyond trying to grab a handful of wild flowers to snack on every once in a while.
Once everyone was settled we began to make our way onto the black sand beach proper. It was really a sight! The dark sand against the beautiful blue waves and sky. The weather was great for our ride, not to cold or cloudy. We walked down the beach a ways then paused for pictures. The guides happily snapped pictures for everyone.
To close the ride, one of the group leaders offered to take anyone who wanted to try down the beach one more time for a tölt. From talking with the leaders I knew this opportunity was special and the availability depended on multiple factors like the weather and the group’s ability. Our group divided into two – one group would go for a short tölt with the first guide, while anyone who didn’t feel comfortable would stay behind and watch with the second guide.
As an experienced equestrian, I was excited! I asked the guide if there were any special cues needed – she laughed easily and said the horses did it enough, they knew what to do without much prompting. Off we went!
It was a super fun experience, and not scary or difficult in any way. Even those who were new to riding handled it well and wore excited smiles when we reached the end of our little tölt. And to be fair, it was indeed a short experience. We only moved forward for a minute or two before it was time to slow back down and turn home. I understand the need for this – it is about the safety of the group. It is important to let the group experience something fun and unique but not to expose them to more advanced riding than they are ready for. (If you’re looking for an intense equestrian experience I suggest Castle Leslie in Ireland for a great horsey break).
Leaving the Black Sand Beaches
Once we had the chance to move a little faster down the beach, our hour ride was about at an end. We reformed our line of horses and riders and retraced our steps back up the beach to the stables. The horses knew they were heading home and didn’t hesitate or try to steal mouthfuls of wild grass this time. Soon we arrived at the stables and filed in to dismount.
Once we had dismounted, our guides led our horses back to their stalls one by one. Untacking and cleaning would be handled by them and as guests, our experience was completed. Many of us did stay around a little longer to finish up conversations with our guides, pet the horses a little more, and play with the barn cats.
Overall, it was a great and welcoming experience. I appreciate the safety and care taken by Vik Horse Adventure. To me, it’s super important to support stables that take great care of their horses and put the safety of the horses and riders first. We were able to have a great experience, while also having a safe one. I would recommend this to riders and non-riders alike if you want an easy way to experience both the Icelandic horse and the black sand beaches of Iceland!