Icelandic wildlife photos – #4 Seals

It was really fun to see this wild seal colony bathing on sandbanks at Hvítserkur. There were several groups, but this was the one you could get closest to from the beach.

Sunbathing seals

One came over to investigate – I was hoping it would come on to the land on our side of the water, but this was as close as it got. It was amazing to have an encounter with a wild seal.

Curious

Icelandic wildlife photos – #7 Icelandic horse

Can there be any horses nicer than these? They are so calm and friendly. It’s fun to see them everywhere in multi-coloured groups.

It’s hard to pick out a favourite, but I always like the grey or spotted ones.

Icelandic wildlife photos – #10 Icelandic cattle

This is the start of a countdown of the 10 favourite animals and birds that we recently saw in Iceland.

Cows may seem a strange choice, but we first noticed these pretty cows because someone else had already stopped to take a picture of them. Icelandic cattle are a unique breed that come in many interesting colours and patterns. Some of this group were wearing bags on their udders and their harnesses were also quite eye-catching. They live near Skógarfoss and as we turned the car around and drove past two minutes later, they had already gone quite a lot further away from the road to get their food.

Tölting for the terrified

The Icelandic horse is a unique breed and they are beautiful, with long flowing manes and tails, gentle eyes and a short but sturdy body. Driving around Iceland, you see them everywhere and they will happily come over to say hello. They really are a charming horse.

Happy horses in their natural setting

They have a unique gait called the “tölt”, which is something between a trot and a canter. Their legs look so graceful when they do it. Here is a video, in case you haven’t seen this gait before:

Horse riding is a popular activity with tourists all over Iceland and you can see why – imagine being able to ride beautiful horses in stunning scenery without a lot of traffic or people around to get in the way.

I love the whole idea of horse riding and I really wish I had learned to do it as a child. I’ve tried learning as an adult, and gave up because it was just too hard, scary and expensive. It’s one of those things that I would love to be good at, but am just not. I think it’s the unpredictability and speed element that scares me.

I participated in a group ride in Iceland a few years ago. As is normally the case with these activities, they claim that you don’t ever have to have ridden before to do it as the horses are just following each other the whole time. It’s true that most people in my group had little to no experience. At least half also didn’t want to do the tölting for this reason!

We rode off in single file down paths through beautiful fields, with far reaching views. We were lucky with the weather that day too. It was a great way to explore. Then the guides shouted back that we were going to tölt, which was met with a lot of protesting that was ignored and off we went! Lots of screaming and bouncing ensued. Riding looks really easy and smooth but isn’t. Somehow no one fell off but it probably wasn’t much fun for the horses! To give them credit none of them freaked out or broke away despite the screaming and everyone probably doing all the wrong things with their legs and reins. Towards the end of our ride, the most experienced person in the group DID fall off, having been given quite a difficult horse to ride, which was traumatic for everyone in the group except the guides who seemed to find us all hilarious.

Ready?? Hang on!

Spending time with the horses before and after the ride was really fun and I think everyone came away loving the Icelandic horse even more, despite the adrenaline rush!

Every time I go to Iceland I think about doing the horse riding again. I would have really loved the whole experience if we’d just walked, although it is fun to say you’ve tölted. I know you don’t ever get any better at horse riding if you don’t try things but it definitely left some of the older people in the group a bit shaken up. I hope that some of the other riding companies would adjust their ride more to the ability of the group or split the group in two to make sure everyone could get the ride they wanted.

So, what do you think, should I give it a try again when we do the Ring Road trip this year? Or should I just accept the fact that I’m a big chicken who prefers horses from the ground?

Inspired by Iceland/Meeting an Icelandic Sheepdog

Inspired by Iceland started a campaign last year to have ordinary Icelanders get involved with tourists, particularly during the off-peak season.  They do this through a series of invitations which I have watched with interest, ranging from meeting the President to experiencing a small aspect of a local person’s daily life.

I decided I would actually like to do one of these invitations instead of just reading about them. Being an animal lover, I wanted to do the one that offered to go for a walk with Mosi the Icelandic Sheepdog. The Icelandic Sheepdog is a very old breed brought to Iceland by the Vikings over 1000 years ago. As you can imagine, their main “ability” is protecting sheep and having herding instincts.

Mosi means “moss” in Icelandic and is a very suitable dog name for Iceland– where else can dogs walk on moss covered lava fields?

I met Mosi and his “mum” Þórdís at the Öskjuhlíð area near Perlan. This is a popular recreation area with many trails and because it is wooded and hilly it feels quite rural and not just like a park. Mosi is a really well behaved dog who was happy to walk either on the lead or go off exploring on his own and would always come back when called. Despite being a breeding dog, he isn’t aggressive towards other dogs and has a quietly cheerful nature. I come across other people’s dogs misbehaving all the time (which I do appreciate is the fault of the owner and not the dog!) so it was really refreshing to meet a dog who wasn’t any trouble at all and is obviously very happy with his life. He’s always on the move and it was only when we tried to take pictures of him that I realised that he doesn’t keep still!

Some time ago people released pet rabbits around where we were walking and there is quite a large rabbit colony now, with the hot water pipes keeping them warm in winter. We did see a couple of rabbits and it was quite strange as I’m used to only seeing “wild” rabbits outside and these really were pet-looking rabbits. Luckily Mosi was distracted by something else at the time and didn’t see them!

I can see why some people still consider Reykjavík to be unfriendly to dog owners. Although this must be one of the main dog walking areas in the city, there aren’t many bins for dog walkers and you are forbidden from taking dogs in some areas, and in some other areas they need to be on a lead. Having said that, we have the opposite issue sometimes in the UK where we are too accommodating to dogs everywhere.

Although I’m not in the market for a dog right now, I would seriously consider an Icelandic Sheepdog if I was. They are a nice manageable size, not too big and not too small. Mosi’s coat was very soft and he doesn’t really bark – my perfect dog. And just look how handsome he is.

If you are interested in reading more about the breed, you can visit Mosi’s breeder’s page here and see pictures of his latest puppies. Mosi has his own Facebook page too. The breed is also available outside Iceland and make very good ambassadors!

If you are going to Iceland and have some time, I would really encourage you to look at what Inspired by Iceland is offering when you visit. I had a great time doing something very simple. Aside from whatever activity you do, it gives you the chance to get to know someone from Iceland that you wouldn’t have met otherwise. I look forward to seeing how long the campaign continues and what new ideas they come up with.

Do you think this type of initiative could work in other countries? How would you show a tourist something of your world?