NEW YORK -- Horseback-riding tours are a popular vacation activity
in Europe in general, and a most unique one in Iceland.
Besides the Viking-bred horse, which has remained pure for over
1,000 years, horseback-riding tour operators to Iceland noted a
number of distinctions.
"One of the interesting things about riding in Iceland is that
the tours tend not to be dominated by Americans, as a lot of the
rides are that are booked through U.S. agencies," said Monie
Finley, ride consultant with Equitour, a Dubois, Wyo., agency that
offers riding tours in 30 countries.
Typically, "maybe a third of the group would be Americans," Finley
European riding tours account for some 65% of Equitour's
business, Finley said, with Iceland being a "very small percentage
People who select Iceland for a horseback tour tend to be
"adventurous, and not looking for luxury," Finley said. "The
clientele needs to be easily satisfied."
Finley said that mountain huts along the horse trail offer
little privacy or accoutrements; the layout generally is one
central room with bunk beds and mattresses and a central kitchen
with running water.
Though simple and not all equipped with showers, "the huts are
very clean and comfortable inside," Finley said.
Equitour's primary tours of Iceland, offered late June through
August, are a five-night ride, priced at $1,060, and a seven-night
ride, priced at $1,450.
A six-night ride that explores a new route is also being tested
this year, priced at $1,270.
Equitour's comparable five-night riding tours of Italy and
Ireland would cost about $2,000 and $1,600, respectively.
Equitour obtains most clients through its own advertising in
horsemen's magazines such as Equus, Practical Horseman and Horse
& Rider, but typically offers agents who bring in new clients
not on their mailing list a 10% commission.
"It's a family business that operates the rides we offer,"
Finley said. "That's one of the nice things about the ride, that it
is a close and intimate look at an Icelandic family. On the first
and last days of the ride, you'll be sharing meals with them in
In contrast to the globetrotting Equitour, Millerton, N.Y-based
Horses North, now in its third year, provides horseback-riding
tours exclusively to Iceland.
"We're pretty enchanted with Iceland as a travel destination,"
said Holly Nelson, who owns the company with her husband, Brad
Vogel, "and the native horse is a really nice way to see the
"The horse's smooth gait and disposition make it easy for a very
broad range of individuals to enjoy riding them," Nelson said.
Horses North works with Icelandair to package inclusive tours
from New York (Kennedy), Boston and Baltimore airports, and offers
scaling commissions from eight to 15%.
Two of the most popular tours for Horses North include the
seven-night Golden Circle, $2,165, and the four-night
Geysir/Gullfoss Special, $1,900. Accommodations are at a farm house
and guest house, as opposed to mountain huts.
"I think that for Americans who aren't used to a real rugged
dose of adventure travel, something like the Gullfoss Special is
really ideal," Nelson said.
Among the horseback-riding outfitters that Horses North works
with, Nelson said, the largest and oldest is Ishestar Riding Tours,
founded in 1982 and located in Hafnarfjordur, Iceland.
Ishestar offers six shorter tours lasting two to nine hours, and
three longer tours lasting three to seven nights. For highly
experienced riders, Ishestar also offers 11 Highland Rides lasting
four to 16 nights.
In the last two years, Ishestar has seen a 178% jump in the
popularity of its shorter tours, bringing 9,672 people on shorter
tours in 1999, compared with 5,977 in '98 and 3,480 in '97.
"Ishestar's shorter rides are really good for people going to
Iceland on a stopover or some other travel adventure," Nelson
Ishestar offers a 10% commission to agents and a 20% commission
to "agents and operators who market us and sell us on a regular
basis, in their brochure or on their Web site," said Bryndis
Einarsdottir, marketing manager.
"We are working with Icelandair Holidays, Horses North and
Icelandamerica.com, a new Internet service," Einarsdottir said.
"A lot of travel agents contact us and have their own clients
come on tours, so we don't exclude any agent. And through the
Internet, a lot of clients find us on their own," she said.
"It's a different group of people that will choose Iceland, as
opposed to Ireland, Italy or France," Finley said.
"Because Iceland is so isolated and the terrain is so different,
it just attracts a different kind of clientele," she said, a
clientele attracted to the draw of a more remote and less populated
"A lot of the clients that I've had experience with, they might
choose to go to Iceland and do a ride, but they won't go back right
away," she said.
"They're more likely to choose a mountainous destination like
the Canadian Rockies, as opposed to something in Europe, where
you're getting a higher level of service, usually."
Though Equitour's repeat business to Iceland isn't especially
high, "I think it's an excellent ride and destination for somebody
with an adventurous personality looking for a remote vacation,"