Winter Wonderland

Posted on March 8, 2023

In December 2022 Becky from In The Saddle visited Iceland for the first time. She was lucky enough to visit Hestasport in the North and join The Winter Riding and Northern Lights Tour in the South. In this blog ‘Winter Wonderland’, she tells us all about her week.

I decided to catch an early flight into Keflavík International Airport so that I could have a day exploring Reykjavík. On arrival at the airport it was easy to find the Flybus outside the airport terminal and the journey to the bus station in Reykjavík (known as the BSI terminal) was around 45 minutes. The BSI terminal in Reykjavík is the ride collection point for many of the Iceland itineraries – see Highland Trails.

BSI terminal


At the terminal I found a luggage storage facility for my suitcase and walked into the city (just 15 minutes).  To get my bearings I decided to take a lift up to the very top of Hallgrímskirkja. This is the largest church in all of Iceland and gives 360 degree views of the city. I’m not much of a city girl but I found Reykjavík lovely to walk around. There were lots of little shops and cafes to visit.

View from Hallgrímskirkja Church

Winter Riding and Northern Lights

I was joining The Winter Riding & Northern Lights which, as the name suggests, is an itinerary offered in the winter months. It is one of a number of itineraries offered by Íslandshestar throughout the year which we have summarised on two website pages Highland Trails and Round ups.

Kálfhóll Horse Farm

Our group of riders was collected from the BSI terminal at 18:00 and driven the 1.5 hours to Kálfhóll. Since there are only 5 hours of daylight in December, it was  already dark when we arrived.  but we were shown to our cabins before sitting down for some dinner and an introductory talk. Our hosts Gestur, Margrét, Hannes and Sophie were so friendly and welcoming.

Although we were all prepared not to actually see the Northern Lights – the first night we were treated to a show!

The Northern Lights over our cabin

There are five cabins in total and each one has three bedrooms and can sleep up to six people. They were so warm and cosy after being outside in -14°C and the living area was perfect to relax and bring back feeling in our toes!

The main farmhouse, where we took our meals, was just a 5 minute walk from the cabins and just a couple of minutes away from the stables. It was great to walk past all the horses on our way to breakfast each morning and watch the foals playing in the field. Margrét was a fabulous cook and there was always plenty of tasty food at each mealtime.

Breakfast spread at the farmhouse

The Horses

The Icelandic horse arrived in Iceland on the very first ships of the settlers and holds a very special place in people’s hearts.

The winter herd at Kálfhóll. These are the horses that are kept in work through the winter while the others rest. These horses then rest in the spring when the other herds are brought in

In 982 AD, the Icelandic parliament passed laws that prohibited any importation of other horse breeds into the country. This has meant that for over a thousand years, the breed has been kept in complete isolation within the island. Consequently, it is one of the purest horse breeds in the world and once a horse leaves Iceland, it may not return.

Our group of brave winter riders

The horses are sturdy, strong, bold and great fun to ride. It’s so impressive how sure footed they are over the frozen ground and don’t falter whether you are crossing an old river bed or tolting over the lava fields. Their thick coats keep them warm throughout the winter months and they aren’t fazed by the howling wind or minus temperatures.

The Riding

Our first ride was a short one hour along the River Þjórsá and back to the farm. It was perfect as it allowed us to test the warmth of our kit before heading too far away from the farm. I decided that I did indeed need both of my pairs of gloves and another pair of socks was required!

The key in the cold is to layer up! Here I have five layers on top, three layers on the bottom, two buffs, two pairs of gloves and two pairs of socks!

Once we were all comfortable on our horses and dressed appropriately for the weather, we started heading out on longer riders. Due to the icy conditions, we had two paces – walk and tölt. Even as we travelled at the faster pace of the tölt, the horses were sure footed and never faltered. It was very impressive and made it easy to just trust them to make their own way across the more tricky terrain.

Other Activities

On the Winter Riding itinerary there are a number of other activities included. This is because it’s too cold to be out riding for more than a few hours a day. Our first excursion was to the Secret Lagoon which is a geothermal pool heated completely by geysers.

The water at the Secret Lagoon stays between 38 – 40°C all year round and is perfect to relax in after a morning in the saddle.

On this itinerary you also visit the popular ‘Golden Circle’. The ‘Golden Circle’ consists of Thingvellir National Park, the Geysir geothermal area and Gullfoss waterfall.

Gullfoss Waterfall

Firstly we visited the Gullfoss waterfall. I had heard it’s impressive in the summer but in winter, its absolutely beautiful. The water is partly frozen making it look like something straight out of Narnia!

The Gullfoss waterfall


Next we travelled to the Geysir geothermal area in the Haukadalur valley. The area is most famous for being the home to the geyser from which all other geysers derive their name: Geysir. Though Geysir itself is currently in a phase of inactivity, its neighbour Strokkur more than makes up for it!

Every 5 – 10 minutes Strokkur bursts a column of boiling water to heights that can reach over 130 feet (40 meters)!

Thingvellir Natio

Thingvellir is located in a rift valley between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. I found it a fascinating place. In the year 930 AD, Iceland’s national assembly, which eventually evolved into a parliament, was founded and remained there until the year 1798 before moving to Reykjavik.

Taking in the beauty of Þingvellir National Park

At the end of our Golden Circle Tour we headed back to Reykjavík and dropped off close to our hotels around 18:00. Later I headed out into the city for dinner and a walk to the harbour. From there I could just make out the Northern Lights! The longer I stood watching, the clearer the lights became.

It was amazing to be able to see the lights so close to the city


The Journey North

The following morning I headed over to the domestic airport and took an Icelandair flight to Akureyri. The flight was really scenic and the further north we travelled, the more snow I could see! It was a good job I’d got myself some snow boots.

Flying over the Langjökull ice cap

Hestasport Cottages

There are six cottages at Hestasport and they are located just 1km from Varmahlíð village. The cottages are a similar style but are all of varying sizes. There is a large communal hot tub in the centre. Each cottage also has a kitchen area, living/seating area, bathroom and beds so they are perfect for a self-catering riding holiday such as the Hestasport Escapes.

The hot tub and one of the cabins at Hestasport

In the winter months, the cabins are very warm and cosy and perfect to return to after a day in the freezing cold. In the summer they are also a lovely base from where you can head out and explore the local area. There is a small shop in the village where you can pick up a few essentials. For bigger shop, there is a larger town just over 30 minutes away.

The inside of one of the smaller cabins

The Riding

Hestasport offer a number of different itineraries.

Breath of the Highlands

The Breath of the Highlands is a set six night itinerary and runs on five or six dates each year. On this ride you are with the same group for the whole time and you are riding for 4 – 5 hours a day. You also have the chance to ride with a herd of loose running horses. The Breath of the Highlands usually has between ten and twelve guests and is for intermediate plus riders who are confident at all paces. You do not need a hire car for this holiday and it is fully catered.

Riding with the herd on the Breath of the Highlands

Home at Hestasport

The Home at Hestasport is a self-catering option that runs from Spring to Autumn. This is a great option for groups of mixed abilities, families or anyone looking to add some riding onto a longer Icelandic itinerary. The stables are flexible and able to cater for all abilities with a number of different rides heading out each day.

Riding for all abilities can be catered for on the Home at Hestasport

Mountain Challenge

The Mountain Challenge is a three night short itinerary. This can be combined with a Home at Hestasport or as a stand alone three night trip. It’s for riders who are happy at all paces as it  ventures further up into the mountains. Usually on this itinerary you are leading your spare horse.

On the Mountain Challenge you are riding with a spare horse

Iceland was absolutely breath taking in winter and so I could only imagine how wonderful it is in summer. The horses that I rode were incredible and being able to see the Northern Lights was the icing on the cake.

If an adventure in Iceland sounds like the trip for you, please do get in touch. There are lots of different Icelandic itineraries to choose from and if you’d like further information on any or to discuss the best option for you then please call me on +44 1299 272244 or email


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