This post was last updated on August 12th, 2014Riding Icelandic Horses through the pristine, snow-covered forests of Swedish Lapland was a magical way to begin our Arctic Adventure. The moose spottings along the way made it all the more memorable.
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.