Responsible tourism: Horse riding vacation in Iceland
Our destination is Thorsmork, a nature reserve surrounded on three sides by glaciers situated in the interior of southern Iceland. In order to reach this we use the most environmentally sensitive form of transport – the horse which is quiet and gentle on the environment and a natural part of the habitat.
We use the Icelandic horse. Sometime around the year 900 Norsemen brought horses to Iceland from Scandinavia, and thus began the distinctive breed that we know today. Natural selection due to the harsh climate, coupled with selective breeding, has manipulated and moulded to become a resilient, multi-purpose horse. The breed society was established in 1904.
Iceland is just about free from horse diseases because imports are banned and horses that are exported can never return. In Iceland the horses are first and foremost used as working horses, herding sheep. There is also a thriving leisure industry and the all-important racing. The ranch we use has about 300 horses which include riding horses, stallions, brood mares and young stock. The ranch is conducting a breeding program of the highest standard thus ensuring the survival and improvement of the Icelandic horse by supporting it we are supporting the program.
Welfare of the horse is important to us and to the ranch. English saddles and snaffle bits are used as they are comfortable for horse and rider.
One of the lodges we use as our accommodation was the first lodging in Iceland to receive the Nordic eco label – the Nordic swan which demonstrates that the building process and the daily operations follow strict ecological guidelines. The other lodges we use are older so were built before the building could have been given a label but do endeavor to reduce carbon footprint.
At home our Office encourages recycling and we work in an eco build office. Our building has facilities to encourage the use of bicycles to work.
We are acutely aware of the economic, ecological and ethical impact tourism should have on indigenous communities and fragile environments. The ranch we use on this trip hires local people to work. For many of the people working on the ranch riding and horses are their passion and they supplement the income generated in the riding months by having other jobs in the winter.
In addition we support the local economy by using a locally run and owned farm house and hut as well as the eco built lodge as our accommodation. We do not use the multi national hotel chains.
The horse is a vital part of traditional Viking culture which is rich in sagas that date from around this time and there are frequent references to horses. We feel we are supporting the traditional culture of Iceland on this trip where travelers will hear stories and learn lots about the role of the horse in Icelandic culture.
Before our clients travel we issue them with a Field Manual which has information in it to encourage travel in an culturally and environmentally aware manner.