My own hiking and trekking experiences are limited to those on foot. So why not let someone else carry you around while you focus on enjoying the view?
On my adult years I realized a childhood hobby had been reactivated; horseback riding. Five years ago I began again with this noble craft and it had been almost 30 years since my last attempt. This time around it really grabbed me.
My enthusiasm usually overpowers my physical and mental capabilities but inspiring tutors make all the difference.
Icelandic horses are an interesting bunch in the sense that even a complete newbie can climb on and no harm will come to them. For a more demanding experience you can attempt to accomplish the purest of gaits but that’s a whole different deal.
These horses advance in five different ways: gait, trot, tolt, gallop and pace. The most common ones are gait and tolt. In a gallop you can cover ground in short bursts but in a tolt you can go as far as tens of kilometers a day. When it comes to speed, tolt can be anywhere from gait to a gallop.
In addition to weekly field classes I missed the whole idea of hiking on horseback. The natural step was to go on these 1 to 4 hour hikes the stable arranged.
It’s difficult to describe the rush of freedom that overcame me when we took our first steps outside the fenced field – the horse and I, together in the wild!
Hikes on horseback
They also offered a longer, 2 to 7 day hike, which I took part in in December. The location was Seitseminen National Park and Tiura Stables. On this polar night hike we would ride for two days with rider maintenance during the evenings. We gathered in a headquarter-y cabin on Friday night. Since it was Wintertime, our accommodations had all the luxuries. Summer nights can be spent in wilderness huts, though.
As Saturday dawned, the thermometer showed -18 degrees Celsius with a nice touch of sun. Perfect weather and layers upon layers. Wool, fleece and some more wool to top it all off before the actual riding overalls. And three layers of socks. As I pulled up my helmet hoodie and put on two layers of gloves, we were ready to go. Some riders also had small heater packs, either expendable or battery-powered ones. Oh, and headlights!
Our six member group was a bit more experienced, which allowed us to advance in a faster pace. And what about the view? Long, car-free roads, National Park ridges, pine and spruce trees and not a soul, save for our group. The horses seemed high-spirited and we even galloped parts of the hike. The cold didn’t bother us at all, because believe it or not, it’s a workout to ride a horse!
For breaks we utilized the lean-tos and shelters of the Park, where a warm and tasty lunch was waiting the riders. With dessert! The horses naturally had a chance to rest as well.
We arrived at the stables at sundown. After that we focused on rider maintenance: delicious dinner, sauna, a tub and a massage with the night sky as our ceiling.
We didn’t have to wait for sleep to come. On the next day we woke up re-energized. On the whole, we rode 50 kilometers in two days.
So what’s the big deal?
The entire experience gains a new twist when your hiking partner is an animal. Literally. Hiking horses are known to be surefooted with nerves of steel but you’re still responsible for them.
With co-operation and trust between you and the horse, you’re able to accomplish something you could’ve never imagined: an almost meditative state of mind as you advance and the only thing breaking the silence are your companions hooves against the ground.
And yet you can feel the wind against your face. The horse can carry you over terrain you never would’ve traversed alone. Not to mention the higher perspective which allows you to spot the best mushroom and berry locations.
You’ll meet new people and see amazing locations. But I’ll tell you about that later.
In Finland, you can check out Suomen Vaellustallien Liitto Ry (Finland’s Hiking Stable Union) etc for horseback hiking offers!