Since arriving in the Arctic, Dan and I have been like two small children on Christmas morning. I think it’s because despite being the end of March, Swedish Lapland still looks like a winter wonderland taken straight from the pages of a holiday book. Houses are dusted with a fresh coat of snow. Trees are heavy with ice, shimmering from the rays of the sun. Cars are buried under feet of snow as people opt to use their snowmobiles instead. After six months of travel through Vietnam, Costa Rica and Mexico—all hot and humid countries—the chill in the air is delightful.
Last time we went horseback riding, I discovered that I wasn’t exactly a natural equestrian. I didn’t fall off or anything (though I might have come mightily close when we took off galloping towards the end of our ride), but I definitely didn’t feel connected to my horse. It kept stopping to eat leaves, grunting and shaking its head at me, refusing to follow the other horses. I followed all the helpful advice given to me by our skilled guide, but nothing seemed to do the trick.
So after that first horseback riding adventure, I assumed I wasn’t the horse-riding-kinda-gal. But as it would turn out, I was just on the wrong breed.
Me and Icelandic Horses? Now that’s an entirely different story.
A Moose Safari via Icelandic Horses
We began our moose safari at Ofelas Icelandic Horse Ranch, located in a small village about thirty minutes from the town of Kiruna. Kirsten and Mats, the husband and wife team behind Ofelas, have been in the business for well over a decade. They are known and esteemed by the locals in Kiruna, not only for their horse riding safaris but also their commitment to preserving the land that is central to moose migration patterns. As the government is planning on increasing the mining business in the area (Kiruna already has the largest iron ore mine in the world), this is becoming an even more pressing issue.
We arrived at Ofelas high on excitement, ready to begin the adventure. But before we could do anything, we had to deal with the issue of our apparel. Kirsten gave us the appropriate warm weather clothing we would need for the expedition, laughing at the ‘springtime boots’ I had brought from my own closet. We donned plush overalls and hats, four pairs of socks and two pairs of mittens. Only when we finally resembled the Michelin Man could we go to meet our horses.
But when we did, it was love at first sight. My horse for the day was Elja, and she was a beauty. Dan’s horse, named Kjolur, was a bit more rugged around the edges but just as gentle and calm.
Icelandic Horses are a breed unique to Iceland (where Ofelas purchases theirs), though they can be found around the world in cold weather climates. Icelandic Horses are often pony-sized, but strong and sturdy, able to withstand rough terrain and harsh weather conditions. They have full manes, stout necks and short legs. All in all, they are as cute as could be.
We brushed our horses and secured their saddles, using the opportunity to get to know our new buddies. We were then given an introduction to the footprints we might see in the untouched snow, like moose, reindeer, fox, hare, and capercaillie bird. With the new knowledge tucked away, we were finally able to mount our horses.
Icelandic Horses are unique because they have five gates rather than three. We began on a gentle walk, eventually picking up to a bit of a tölt, or ‘ambling’ gate.
As we journeyed through the frostbitten landscape, with only the sound of crunching snow beneath our horses’ hooves, I felt myself longing for more experiences like this one—simple but beautiful, with a strong connection to the environment. Before our encounters with wildlife in Costa Rica, I had very little interest in observing nature. Now I am starting to appreciate just how stunning the natural world can be.
We were quite lucky on our moose safari. All in all we spotted nine moose, some of them allowing us to get quite a close look. To see them for yourself—and watch an adorable goat and dog having a bit of a feud—check out our latest travel clip. It was a bit difficult filming while also bouncing up and down on a horse, but we think the end result turned out okay. What do you think?
Ofelas explained to us that the winter months are quite hard on the moose. The animals eat a lot of branches, leaves, lichen, and shrubs, but sometimes the thick snow makes it difficult for the moose to access a meal. Additionally, with warm days and cold nights, the snow begins to melt during the day but then freezes once more once the sun goes down. When ice coats the branches and twigs, the moose can consume too much water, ultimately leading to ‘water belly’ and then unfortunately death.
Though we enjoyed observing the moose in their wild habitats, the highlight of the day was spending time with the horses. Icelandic Horses are incredibly gentle creatures. Every time I stood next to Elja she would nuzzle up against my chest, begging for a bit of a hug or rub. I’m not sure if other horses act the same way (the last horse I rode certainly did not), but the Icelandic horses seemed particularly friendly.
After a heartfelt goodbye to our horses, we sat down to a typical Swedish meal of hot lingonberry tea, reindeer, potatoes, and vegetables. The food was delicious, and we enjoyed having the opportunity to talk with Kerstin and Mats about Sami culture and life in Lapland.
If you have a penchant for Icelandic Horses and moose, or you just want to explore the forests of Lapland, we recommend Ofelas Riding Tours. The Moose Safari is offered from December 14 to April; the five hour tour costs 1590 SEK, and includes equipment, transfers, and lunch. Other riding tours are available if moose just aren’t your thing.
Share your thoughts! How cute are those Icelandic Horses?!? Have you ever taken a horseback riding tour? Are you interested in a moose safari?
This post was made possible by Ofelas. All thoughts and opinions, as always, are our own.
Those have to be the cutest horses I’ve ever seen! And if they are as sweet as you say…dang it. More to add to this ever-growing list. This place looks too awesome!
They really are so sweet! We have the same problem on our bucket list… it just grows and grows the more we travel!
So the moose and horses are awesome, but I think my favorite part of the video is when the goat tries to head but the dog! LOL
And now I have another animal adventure to add to my list!
Heather recently posted…International Spy Museum: Celebrating 50 Years of James Bond
Haha we got a good laugh out of that too! Definitely the entertainment over our lunch :)
This post is awesome!!! Definitely an activity to add to my bucket list!
And the horses are just too cute!
I recently visited Las Vegas, and instead of taking a normal tour to Red Rock Canyon I horseback rode around it! It was awesome! :)
Pam | a Blonde around the World recently posted…PARADISE IN BLED
That sounds awesome! I’ve never been to Red Rock Canyon but I have heard it is really beautiful. I think Dan might have actually been and taken a donkey tour haha!
Now, this sounds like fun! Spotting moose would just be frosting on the cake…
Sand In My Suitcase recently posted…Snapshot Story: Vancouver cherry blossoms blooming!
It was definitely a unique outing :) And yes, lots of fun!
I was there last december, it was amazing! The temperatures dropped to -30C that day but it was all worth it. I actually rode the same horse as you did! Elja was great!!
That is too funny that you rode the same horse! Wasn’t she the best? Glad that you loved it as much as we did. Though I can’t imagine how you managed in -30C!!!
This is seriously the best! When we came across Icelandic horses across the road from Gulfoss we just spent ages standing around marvelling at them. They are so cute.
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Thanks!! It would be great to see them out in the wild. If I ever owned a horse, it would definitely be an Icelandic one :)
Wow that looks so cool! Such cute looking horses :)
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Thanks Michelle! It was great :)
Beautiful horses. They’re kind of short and muscular, I guess being tall and lanky in the frigid north isn’t so great. If you two ever find yourselves in Alaska, be sure to swing by Kincaid Park in Anchorage for moose close-ups.
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Thanks for the suggestion! Sounds like an awesome park. Dan went to Alaska ages ago with the boy scouts, but we would love to return and visit together!!
We LOVE Icelandic horses. They are just as cute as can be and so much fun to ride.
Jennifer recently posted…Wine Ski Safari in the Dolomites
Yes! So much more fun than riding other horses, in my opinion :)
What pretty horses!
Charlie recently posted…Picture This: Viewing the Northern Lights
I’m pretty sure Icelandic Horses are the most adorable on the planet!
Icelandic horses are SO CUTE! I know they are powerful warrior horses, but come on: adorable! :D
Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted…Where & What to Eat in Savannakhet
I don’t see how anyone could fight one of these! That’s probably what made them such great warrior horses, you’d have to stop fighting and just give it a hug :-p
Those horses look so sweet! Seems like a great experience, something else to add to my bucket list!
Emma @ Everyday Postcard recently posted…Visiting Singapore on a budget
The Icelandic Horses were so much fun to ride! Very calm and super cute :-)
It is gentle to ride these beautiful and calm Icelandic horses.It is exiting to drive in the snowfall, both in the forest on smaller trails and on ice on the river.During this trips we take at least one break, in which case we will take picnic bags with us.Thanks for sharing this article.
I’ve only been to Iceland once but I stopped on the road next to some horses and got out to take pictures. A couple of them were the most social animals I have ever some across. Plus they really do look awesome!