This past summer, Hermann Árnason, fertility technician and horse breeder in Hvolsvöllur, South Iceland, finalised his dream of becoming the first person to crisscross Iceland on horseback in the shape of a star. He set off with 42 horses and a party of riders on 27th June and returned from his journey on 19th August, riding for 45 days on horseback – with only a few rest days in between.
The idea of riding across Iceland in the shape of a star came to Hermann decades ago, while he was living in Vík í Mýrdal. Hermann considers himself fortunate to be abel to realise his dream of this arduous horse tour. In 2016, he took his entourage from Vík in the south, across the highlands and all the way to Hraun in North Iceland. The next step was to ride from coast to coast, from the northwest to the southeast.
In 2017, Hermann took a break from the “star ride” but completed it this summer. First, he rode from his home in Hvolsvöllur to Reykjanes in the southwest and then diagonally through the country’s interior to the easternmost tip of Langanes peninsula. Now it was time to complete the star by riding in a horizontal line, from East Iceland to the westernmost tip of Snæfellsnes peninsula. Hermann celebrated the milestone by taking a party of 17 riders to the white sand beaches on the peninsula’s southern coast – before driving the horses home.
Three riders accompanied Hermann the entire time. His wife, Sigríður Magnúsdóttir, rode with him a large part of the tour and friends and acquaintances came and left. “Usually, six people were riding at a time. It went extremely well and no horse went limp,” says Hermann in an interview with Horses of Iceland. He estimates that they averaged 50 km per day. The weather played along, too. It wasn’t particularly sunny or warm, but it didn’t rain much either.
Hermann trains his horses strategically for extended riding tours. “I start taking four-year-olds with me part of the summer but make sure that they don’t get too tired but only run along short distances to begin with. At five they can usually take more. This time I had four five-year-steeds which ran with the herd the entire tour, but I never rode them. At six, they are usually prepared for riding long distances. When they run so much that young, they develop extremely strong leg muscles.”
He takes special fodder with him on tour. “I have discovered that what travel horses lack mostly is salt, especially in warm weather.” In 2016, he teamed up with vet Grétar Hrafn Harðarson and fodder specialist Erlendur Jóhannsson at Fóðurblandan and together they developed special chow for travel horses with varied minerals and calcium chloride. Ferðaþokki contains 4% salts and Hermann feeds one kilo to his horses per day while on tour.
“Organising is the largest part of these trips,” says Hermann. “Rest days, shoeing, accommodation, food for the people… everything has to harmonise.” An SUV with a cart brought supplies to the riders and the necessary equipment. They spent most nights sleeping in huts and only one in tents.
At Gæsavötn, the most remote place they stopped at, he had to have the hay – which came from South Iceland – certified, because it crossed the sheep disease protection border.
In spite of a long and arduous journey, both people and horses enjoyed the ride – and the spectacular surroundings. For part of the tour, a few Swiss travellers tagged along. “They had the strongest experience. They thought it was remarkable to feel the strength of the Icelandic horse and that it was able to tölt every day, all legs of the journey.” The wide expanses also left an impression. According to Hermann, his four-legged friends were equally happy with the experience. “It’s amazing to observe how much they seem to enjoy it, too. At least they follow me wherever I go and I never have to worry that the loose horses stray away from the riders in front.”
After completing his “star ride”, gratitude is at the top of Hermann’s mind. “It’s an extraordinary feeling. First and foremost this incredible connection with nature and the horses. The abilities of this animal are mind-blowing and what it is prepared to do for you.” He’s also thankful for all helpful people whose paths he crossed, who offered the riders a bed for the night and the herd a green pasture. “It’s wonderful how many good people I’ve met.” How smoothly this great journey went also strengthened his faith of the Almighty. “It has undeniably made me even more certain of my belief in destiny, that I’m not on my own but that I’m under the guidance of guardian angels and helpers from beyond.”
One adventure leads to the next and two weeks after completing his “star ride”, Hermann travelled with his wife Sigríður and their hiking buddies from Fjallafélagið to Tanzania for a trek of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak. But he’s not planning any future long-distance riding tours – for now, at least. “I promised myself and my family that this would be it. I’ve done so many things and satisfied my strongest hunger for adventure.” However, he will never stop going on horse tours. “I think I will travel more on my own, carry my own supplies and be dependent on no one.”
Text: Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir.
Photos: From Hermann's collection.