We spent the morning with the beautiful Icelandic horses that we have seen all over the island. These horses were originally brought to Iceland by Vikings between 860 and 935 CE. Early on, in 982 CE, the Althing passed laws to prevent the import of new horses into Iceland,so the breed has been reproductively isolated for more than 1000 years. Even now, importing horses to Iceland is illegal, even Icelandic horses that have just left the island to compete - in order to keep the purity of the breed and to protect them from diseases (especially thanks to the genetic bottleneck that occured in 1783, when 75% of the horses were killed by the fallout of volanic eruption). They are very tough little horses, able to cope with the freezing Icelandic winter and living up to 56 years. We noticed as well that the Icelandic horses seem to be very fond of sleeping lying down, on sunny days three quarters of the herd would be on the ground, very unusual for horses.
The horses are eaten, especially the foals, but typically they are used for pleasure riding, which was our experience this morning. We rode out through the fields, across rivers and along the beach, a perfect way to see this perfect land. Unlike other horses, Icelandic horses have five gaits - in addition to the walk, trot and canter they have the tölt and the skeið/flugskeið. The tölt is an ambling gait faster than a trot but still comfortable to ride, while the skeið/flugskeið is a fast/smooth pace. My horse became extremely painful to ride when it went faster than a trot, so I kept it at a walk. It was just a loan horse from another stud, so perhaps it was untrained - untrained Icelandic horses can slip into a "Pig's Pace" or a "Valhopp", which are versions of the tölt that have mixed paces and are uncomfortable to ride. Lydia experienced the true tölt, with her horse becoming smoother as it moved above the trot, and really enjoyed her first horse riding experience.
And now, the driving over and our holiday coming to an end, we are in Reykjavik.