My 2023 birthday trip
I’d decided some four years ago that this birthday would be spent in Iceland and I’d be riding horses here again. Made it! But there’s been a marvelous twist. My sister-in-law liked the idea when I mentioned my plans, and she and my brother set their vacation to join me. Not only join me, but treat me, royally! What a birthday it has turned out to be, beyond my imagination.
I was in Denmark before coming to Iceland, but plans there didn’t work out. I shortened my stay and came up to Reykjavik three nights before Jo and Ron were meeting me. No question what I wanted to do: I got in touch with Eldhestar and managed to book a ride for Saturday morning. Their rides book up, often long in advance, so I was lucky they could work me in. Also, Eldhestar picks up and drops off at Reykjavik accommodations – without any additional charge! – so transport is no issue. Couldn’t be more convenient.
Icelandic horses: my first time
My love of Icelandic horses goes back to my first acquaintance with them, in Denmark in 1973. I was participating in the summer session of the photography workshops at Praestegaard, just south of Fjerritslev in north Jutland, between the Limfjord and the North Sea. An American, married to a Dane, had started this school at the old parsonage and farm. His Danish wife got together with a friend and imported Icelandic horses to the friend’s farm in Han Herreds, and about 18 were trained to accept riders by the time I was there. They were free-spirited and fast, nothing like any trail horse you might have known. I had a glorious time, riding many days, taking photos on others, spending nights in the darkrooms. Our rides were through forests that smelled of pure pine, and on North Sea beaches where old German bunkers were sinking into the sand. I wrote to friends back at University of Chicago who responded with U-of-C-appropriate mockery and derision, a world away from my temporary state of bliss. That period in Denmark remains one of the high points of my life, and it created a lasting affection for and attachment to Denmark as well as to Icelandic horses.
When I get access to my old photo albums – maybe late September – I’ll scan and add a few photos.
The couple who owned Praestegaard split a couple of years later and there was no continuation of the business. I have found just one archival photo of the place: arkiv.dk | Kettrup gl. Præstegård, Fjerritslev, ca. 1930
As for the surroundings, there are some photos on Trip Advisor – rather amusing to me, as I wouldn’t see any reason to recommend a visit, without that photography center or the horse farm. Fjerritslev, Denmark 2023: Best Places to Visit – Tripadvisor
Back in Chicago in January 1974, I found my classmates from first-year Swedish had learned our professor from Uppsala was a scholar of Old Norse, and they’d arranged a one-term class for the four of us who wanted it. With this strengthened attachment to the country, my desire to ride Icelandic horses in Iceland was born. But it wasn’t to be satisfied till November 2012 when I went to Iceland with a high school friend who shared the desire. We spent our first three nights at Eldhestar’s hotel, in a simple room with the highest-quality Icelandic bedding. We rode the first day in full sun, and the third day in a world of snow and ice. After moving to a hotel in Reykjavik, we got Eldhestar to pick us up for another day of riding, because it was so fabulous even in a frozen and freezing environment. That last day was the best tour, up the mountain, with a guide named Joanna and on a horse named Fálki: my new love. Dreamed of getting back for a repeat.
In those earlier days at Eldhestar, the founders were very present, and Hróðmar Bjarnason himself drove us back to Reykjavik after our last tour. We so enjoyed our time at the farm, getting to know the friendly and passionate staff. I was amused to find that the chef at that time had gone to school in Skaane, Sweden, with a good friend’s daughter. One of those small-world moments.
Don’t know what became of Joanna, but still have some contact with the guide we had the most laughs with, Mikkis, who is back in her homeland of Sweden. Would like to ride with her again! Perhaps some day in Sweden?
Fálki was twelve years old when I rode him before, if my memory is correct, so must be 23 now. But these horses are not retired young, so I requested him for my ride. The staff was noncommittal, but I played the birthday card as forcefully as I could, and it paid off. At Eldhestar last Saturday, when horses were being handed over to riders and a lovely brown fellow was offered to me, I hesitated, saying, “I was still hoping for Fálki …” And my guide was suddenly all sunshine and enthusiasm and responded, “Oh, yes, the birthday! I have him saddled for you!” I was so happy!
We had a very enjoyable nearly-two-hour ride up the mountain just north of the farm, crossing a stream and riding through woods. It was a big group, fifteen riders, so we never went beyond a trot or a tolt. I didn’t get to experience Fálki’s love of a good flying run again, but that had been a special outing when Rebecca and I were alone with Joanna and much freer. It was still a lovely and most agreeable day. When there was a photo stop, another rider with his phone-camera offered to take pictures of me and email them, which is how I got the header photo here. Thank you, David of Mount Kisco!
Have you ridden Icelandic horses?
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I’m off later today to Pólar Hestar near Grenivík, along the eastern coast of the fjord above Akureyri. Meanwhile, I’m happy to heartily recommend Eldhestar to anyone looking to ride near Reykjavik. It’s a splendid operation, very professional, in a beautiful facility, with a great variety of rides from under to hours to several days. When I thought my birthday trip was to be alone, I was counting on a multi-day riding tour with them. Perhaps I’ll manage that in the next year or two, but this year I’m having fantastic days with a good variety of activities and rides at three horse farms. Life is good!