Adventures on a Sheep Round Up in Iceland

Posted on September 27, 2023

ITS guest Kim has been on many In The Saddle trips, across many continents, including an expedition across Namibia, a horse safari in Botswana, trips to Costa Rica and Ecuador to name a few.

In this blog post, Kim tells us about her most recent trip joining a Sheep Round Up, near Mount Hekla in southern Iceland. We hope you enjoy reading about her time on the Sheep Round Up in Iceland.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Herding the sheep on horseback off the mountains before winter sets in is an annual Icelandic tradition.

“This trip was everything I hoped for and more. It was in a remote and spectacular part of the Icelandic Highlands. According to Kristin (our hostess) this particular round up is the most challenging in terms of the terrain and gathering, so I am pleased that I chose to do it.

Kristin was an exceptional hostess. She was extremely welcoming and friendly, made sure everyone was happy, fed and well cared for, and sorted any issues that came up. She was great at explaining what was happening and translating where appropriate so we all knew what we were supposed to be doing. Clearly very passionate about her Icelandic horses, her horses were of an excellent standard, and clearly loved. She was knowledgeable about the shepherding, as well as all the Icelandic customs, which meant we were able to get the most from our stay.

King of the Mountain

Impressive horsemanship from the local herders, controlling many horses at the same time.

Ingimar was The King of the Mountain, he was 75 years old, rode a 24 year old horse, and had done 61 roundups.  He still had the best eyes for spotting little white dots of high mountain sheep. He had the unnerving ability to flit from mountain to mountain with an invisibility cloak.  He rode while controlling 3 horses at once and was a true inspiration all round. He may not have spoken any English, but he had a great smile, and being offered a swig of cognac from his personal bottle was a true privilege…

Rounding up the sheep

Sheep herding

One of my highlights of the week was staggering up and down a steep mountain on foot, chasing three sheep until we were all exhausted. I finally rugby tackled the last one with a roar of approval from everyone and a high five from the shepherd. Teamwork is everything.

Prior sheep experience is not needed but being a team player is essential.  This includes taking instructions and adapting quickly to changes in conditions. Sheep have two ambitions in life, one is to escape and one is to die. And if they do both together, they died happy. They will test your patience to the limits.  But gathering almost a thousand sheep to a round-pen and watching the community come together to deliver them back to their farms of origin for a safe winter, will stay with me forever.

River crossings

Guiding the sheep across one of the many river crossings.

The horses cover huge distances, so where possible there are long periods of tölt. Some of the terrain is very rocky and uneven, plus there are numerous river crossings. There are also long periods standing around waiting for other groups of shepherds to collect subgroups of sheep, so warm clothing and patience is required. Flexibility is the buzz word on this trip.

When driving sheep, a lot of the pace is at walk but with the need for quick reactions and short bursts of speed to recapture any breakaway fractions of the flock, of which there were many. You will be expected to saddle your own horses – although there is minimal fuss – merely flick off any mud, and one saddle fits all horses.

On the whole, be prepared for some long hours in the saddle.  Our longest was almost 11 hours from getting on to untacking.  I am not especially riding fit and found the saddles very comfortable.

The horses

The tough Icelandic horses who have evolved to thrive in often harsh conditions

A lot of the shepherds’ horses are much more forward going and challenging than trail horses, so be honest about your ability. The horses are keen, willing and have tremendous stamina, plus are very quick to change direction and pace. They were very well behaved riding in a group, despite coming from several farms. You need to be happy to ride amongst loose horses at times, as the herd sometimes travels with the group. You must also be happy at all paces in open country and capable of riding together and independently at all times.

The horses live and work as a herd and are corralled and herded into a small pen to catch in the mornings. They are well fed and watered but they work extremely hard so you do need to be prepared to get off and walk in some places to let them rest and also to climb up and down some pretty steep canyons and gorges. This can be a bit daunting if you don’t like heights or challenging terrain. You will also be expected to change horses up to 2-3 times a day.

Experiencing the tölt

Another river crossing

I was matched with Kristin’s horses as I had stated I was an intermediate rather than advanced rider. I felt completely comfortable with all three horses that I rode. They were sensible and calm, easy to control, even if you had to work harder to go faster. They actually taught me to ride properly as trot is an easier gait for them. I had to insist on tölt, rather than it happen naturally with Empla (my horse). It made me a better rider by the end of the week as I had to learn which buttons to press to keep her going in tölt. It was also a surprise to experience how  completely different each horse was to ride.  The tölt was much easier to achieve and maintain in the other two horses.  Empla’s sister was possibly the most comfortable horse I have ever ridden with incredibly smooth paces.

I absolutely love the Icelandic method of riding. It is very different from the English style and initially takes a bit of getting used to to get the best from your horse. You put your weight much further back in the saddle and use very little leg contact, with much of the impulsion from your seat and hands. Important to grasp as some horses were extremely sensitive to leg pressure.

Aurora borealis

The Northern Lights

I spent a lot of time outside at night as we were blessed with three nights of incredible clear skies and wonderful aurora borealis. There is no light pollution as it’s so remote but the upside of that is that the aurora was fantastic for much of the night.  Amazing how fleecy riding chaps over pyjamas can keep you warm standing for hours staring skyward… It’s hard to drag yourself away, even at 2am.

Lifelong memories

Incredible vistas await you in Iceland

Participating in the sheep round up is an experience that has left me with lifelong memories to treasure! It was humbling to meet such incredible people and be able to work as part of their team.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

We’d like to say a huge thank you to Kim for sharing her detailed feedback from her trip and her brilliant images.

The remaining 2023 roundups are fully booked but we do have 2024 dates and prices for the round ups on our website at

If you wish a short riding trip to Iceland, the 3 night “Winter Riding and Northern Lights” runs from October to end March. We cannot guarantee you will see the Northern Lights as Kim did, but winter riding in Iceland is great fun.

We also have all the 2024 ride dates and prices for all the Iceland itineraries.

To plan your very own adventure in Iceland please contact us on +44 (0) 1299 272 997 or email

Comments are closed.