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The Viking Challenge Ride: Diary 2014

Looking for a taste of what the Viking Challenge Ride is really like?

Check out our blog from a group of riders who have come to the BHS for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore Iceland on horseback!

It is no surprise that The Viking Challenge is one of our most popular rides. Challengers experience not only a new country, but a new pace: the Icelandic horses’ unique gait, the tolt.

With scenery including black sands, lava fields and volcanoes, the trip is like nothing you will have experienced before. The stunning surroundings and amazing horses provide an amazing reward for the dedicated fundraising leading up to the trip.

Sunday 17 August 2014 

Hello from Iceland!

We’ve now been here for a day and haven't got over the sense of amazement at our surroundings.

As we write this, we're looking at the famous volcano Eyjafjallajökull (we couldn’t say it, either!) that erupted to cause the ash cloud that grounded so many flights, plans and holidays in April and May 2010. We’ll be sure to give it a proper telling-off if you were affected by it!

The views are incredible and we’re feeling very lucky to be here. We spent most of the first evening getting to know each other and enjoying a glass or two of wine – it is a challenge, honest! One of the group has been to Iceland before and another couple of people are BHS Challenge Ride veterans, but this particular ride is a brand new experience for everyone and we couldn’t wait to get going. 

Each person is initially allocated two horses for the week, but our guide is keen that all ride each of them so we most likely won’t be riding the same one twice. We collected our first horses and with each of us riding, we set off to base camp herding a second group of our mounts. 

It does feel like we’re in the middle of nowhere. Our current base is a camping hut in field within a valley. The horses are in a makeshift paddock and one of the horses, a cheeky chestnut gelding, is a would-be Houdini, which is keeping our guides occupied!

The rest of the horses are looking particularly chilled out and enjoying having the sunshine on their backs after a few continuous weeks of rain and bad weather – we certainly got the best week for our ride! Unfortunately we can't introduce you to our mounts by name yet; we've yet to grasp the Icelandic spellings and pronunciation but we're working on it!

The tack is all very simple with no fancy gadgets. Bridles have a drop noseband and a snaffle, with the saddles having a very similar cut to a dressage saddle and very long stirrups. It'll certainly be interesting going back to our instructors at home and trying to drop our stirrups down a few holes! 

Wish you were here! 
The BHS Challenge Riders – Iceland 2014

Monday 18 August 

Yesterday was an excellent day and we were entertained by a story from our guide as we passed a cave in the valley.

According to the tale, in olden-day Iceland women's husbands were chosen for them but just like Romeo and Juliet, a young farm girl fell in love with a poor boy from the next town. They ran away together and found the cave we rode past, where they stayed for almost a year. They were eventually found out when the farmers were searching for somewhere to put their sheep for the winter. The boy was killed and his love taken back with them to marry someone else.

It was fascinating to hear history and folklore of the area as we rode through on these beautiful animals!
We’re all being fed really well, with home-cooked hot meals to keep our energy up; and it appears the horses eat well, too! One in particular went keenly in front, splashing everyone through the small rivers.

Last night’s dinner was in the hut and we sang camp songs all evening. Omar, our guide, even tried to teach us an Icelandic one! The guides are excellent hosts and even made us their own alcoholic drink called Moonshine. It was pretty strong stuff – so much so, our chef is feeling very sensitive today and a self-service breakfast is in order to help him out!

Today will be long and fast-paced, so wish us luck and remind us to keep away from Moonshine. Tonight we may even be treated to the luxury of electricity when we reach our next camp! 

Wish you were here! 
The BHS Challenge Riders – Iceland 2014

Tuesday 19 August 

After breakfast today, we started off on our horses at a fast pace for the flat part of our journey.

Tolting on the Icelandic horses is something rather new to all of us and was a very odd feeling moving like that – using this gait means that we can travel at a quick pace over a long distance. If you’ve never seen it in action, I’d highly recommend stopping by Youtube to have a little look.

We then stopped at about the half-way point to change on to the stronger horses that are better for the climbing leg of today’s journey.

We went up so high that we were riding over the snow! That was pretty special, and a surprising treat given the contrast of the lush green trails we’d been following lower down.

We then rode through the Smokey Valleys, which is full of hot springs with steam coming up from them - it was a surreal view! We also reached a point where you were able to see all of the glaciers in Iceland – magnificent views and were all feeling very grateful for such an incredible experience.

Now, after we mentioned the culprit of the ash cloud of 2010, the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, being in our sights the other day, we hear that there is potential for a similar situation not far away - the Bárðarbunga volcano has reports of activity. See, we told you it was a challenge!

While there’s no danger to us on the ground, if it does erupt and create an ash cloud similar to that in 2010, we and many other travellers could face a whole new challenge! Our guides have assured us that the team and the horses are safe and while we were travelling towards Bárðarbunga yesterday, the trail we are following is now leading us away from it. 

After a long day of riding we all had dinner and went off in the car to enjoy one of the hot springs. Putting a bikini on in the freezing cold felt very odd but sat in the hot spring under the stars with all the scenery surrounding us was breath-taking.

Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, our guide pointed out a white light shining from the sky like a spotlight, which he said was the Northern Lights. We were told it's incredibly rare to see them in August and were all staring at the small speck of light in amazement.

On the way home, with us all pleased to have seen the lights (if only a speck), suddenly the sky lit up filled with greens and purples. We stopped the car and got out to see the sky dancing and full of vibrant shades.

We all went to bed feeling very smug – what an incredible day!  

Wish you were here! 
The BHS Challenge Riders – Iceland 2014

Wednesday 20 August 

No word on the volcanic eruption so we’re looking safe at the moment! Phew! 

We set off for the day with it split into two stages again – the first half was fast-paced on the quick horses, on whom we rode up to the base of the Hekla Volcano, with some fantastic views where we stopped for lunch.

For the second half of the day, we changed mounts onto the stronger horses with a challenging and long ride through the dust. All of this was accompanied by some sore bums, blisters and minor war wounds acquired over the course of riding full, long days for a week, as you’d expect!

One of the Challenge Riders was riding Errow, who has been a gentleman all week. However, now we’ve ridden back down the mountains and turned on the trail back towards home, he’s very much decided that he knows exactly where he’s going, and led us at such a terrific pace that we had to stop and swap horses with to give his rider a little rest.

We headed back to our next base camp for the evening and were spoiled rotten with a shower and electricity. Hurrah! We thought we’d gone to heaven!  

Wish you were here! 
The BHS Challenge Riders – Iceland 2014

Thursday 21 August 

We’re all feeling a little subdued this morning because it’s our last day of riding and we don’t want it to end!

We’ve all given the name of our favourite horse to our guide so hopefully we can ride them again. We’ll be riding them back to the farm where we started our trip from on Sunday and saying our goodbyes to the horses that have just been so fantastic, entertaining and energetic.

Afterwards, we'll be rewarded for our riding efforts with a trip to the outdoor pools with slides and hot tubs – no doubt we’ll be hogging the hot tubs to soothe our aching muscles!

Some of us were clever when packing for the Challenge and brought padded cycling shorts, some of us were innovative and created a makeshift seat saver with a spare fleece jacket, and some of us have very sore bums and blisters in unfortunate places!

Every ache and blister has been worth it, though, to see such incredible views, to experience the Icelandic horses, and to be looked after, entertained and taught by our guides who have really made this trip so memorable. They’ve even promised us a trip to a tack shop tomorrow to get some riding trousers that are fitted with the usual seats and features of jodhpurs/breeches but they go over your boots, like a cross between your waterproofs and breeches. 

Our guide, Kiddi, has just come bounding in and says ‘Hi!’ and that he's awaiting your arrival on the next Challenge Ride! We’ve been told that Kiddi can do some fantastic tricks with his horses so we’ll be pestering him for the rest of the day until he shows us. We promise we’ll add the footage for you all to see later!  

Wish you were here! 
The BHS Challenge Riders – Iceland 2014

Friday 22 August 

Although yesterday meant our last ride in this amazing country, it was a perfect day!

We’ve had fantastic weather all week, and Kiddi and his horse finally showed us their tricks when we stopped for lunch, which was so much fun. Omar also showed us the flying pace of his horse which was super fast! We lined up our horses last night and crossed the finish line and said goodbyes with heavy hearts.

Today we’re in Rekajvik with whale watching, the Golden Circle tour and Blue Lagoon trips lined up to add some tourist stops to our incredible Challenge Ride. A huge thank-you to our guides and everyone that came along. Look out for pictures on the BHS Facebook page. Why don’t you join us on the next one?

The BHS Challenge Riders – Iceland 2014

Has this blog left you fired up for the ride of a lifetime?

If you’re interested in helping raise money for BHS Welfare, take a look at the other Challenge Rides that you could be a part of! With challenges now operating in Bulgaria, Iceland, Mongolia, Inner Mongolia, India, Jordan, Peru, Spain and Lesotho there is a trip to inspire everyone, each offering a unique experience no matter where you ride.

These challenges really do put the fun in fundraising but as well as enjoying a life-changing trip, all of the riders raise money that is vital in continuing our welfare work.

Without the aid of our dedicated Challengers, our nationwide network of Welfare Officers would not be able to help anywhere near as many horses as they do.

The British Horse Society has over 200 equine specialist welfare officers, more than any other charity, and together they improve the lives of countless horses, horses and donkeys in every corner of the UK.

So if you want to show your support for British horses, saddle up! We guarantee you won’t regret it when your reward is one of our Challenge Rides - and knowing you have contributed to the welfare of every horse in the UK. See what challenges are coming up and get ready for the ride of your life!

If you've got questions or simply want to know more, please contact our Challenge Ride Organiser, Wendy Minor, at or call 02476 840572.

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