Sigríður Pjetursdóttir and her family run the horse farm Sólvangur near Eyrarbakki in South Iceland.
“We bought the farm in 2001. We live next to each other, my mum and dad in one house and my husband and I with our two daughters − who are seven and nine − in another.” Sigríður and her mother are both riding instructors and in addition, Sigríður has a Bsc. degree in tourism and is a certified guide, and recently completed her MBA degree, Masters of Business Administration. “During my studies, I kept reflecting on how we could expand the business from being exclusively a horse breeding farm and do more with riding instruction and take better advantage of the horses.” Sigríður explains that while their horses have a good lineage and are well trained, horse sale doesn’t deliver much profit. So the family decided to offer riding lessons at Sólvangur for riders of all levels. “We have well trained horses for everyone, beginners and professionals alike.” She explains that people don’t drop in for a horse trip, but they can book a riding lesson of even just one hour one day in advance.
Stable Café and Souvenir Shop
Sólvangur’s Stable Café opened in mid-July. It serves home-baked cakes and traditional Icelandic flatbread with smoked lamb, among other treats. “And people can always have freshly-baked waffles – and very good coffee,” Sigríður adds. The design of the café was inspired by horses. “Our centrepiece is a staircase designed by me and my husband, which is made of horseshoes and chains,” says Sigríður. From the café, guests have a view of the horses in the stable. “The goal is to build a paddock at the end of the stable so that people who don’t want to ride themselves can relax with a cup of coffee, use the free wifi and observe their loved ones on horseback.”
Inside the café is a special souvenir shop. From key chains to t-shirts, it carries all kinds of memorabilia, clothing items, pieces of art and local handicraft dedicated to the Icelandic horse.
"Since I was a child, I’ve collected horse-related things. I did some research and couldn’t find any souvenir shop anywhere in the world selling only such objects, apart from maybe one in Australia,” Sigríður says, identifying a gap in the market. With time, she would like to expand the store and turn it into a gallery specialising in art and handicraft inspired by the Icelandic horse.
Horses and Nature
Accommodation in bungalows is also available at Sólvangur. Currently, there is room for four overnight guests but the family is planning to add more with room for ten to twelve people in the future. “We want to appeal to people interested in riding lessons but as it is, overnight visitors mostly come here to get away from the crowds and enjoy the peace and quiet of the countryside. They are amazed at the horses outside the window when they go to sleep,” Sigríður says. During the dark season, Sólvangur is an ideal location for watching the northern lights, away from the light pollution of the cities, she adds.
Sólvangur is for everyone, from people with no prior knowledge of horses to passionate horse enthusiasts. “Our slogan is: ‘We bring you closer to the Icelandic horse’. You can drop by just for a coffee or a15-minute visit to the stable, look at the horses, pet them and listen to a short introduction.” Shorter and longer riding lessons, from one hour to a multi-day course, are an option, too, for both beginners and experienced riders. Participants in longer courses can go on rides on the black sand beaches nearby and to the bird reserve Friðland í Flóa. Sigríður is keen to launch a cooperation with tourism companies offering riding trips, so that participants can take a two-day course at Sólvangur before taking off into the highlands. “Everyone can improve their technique and it does everyone good to take a course now and then. It makes riding much more fun.”
For more information, go to www.icelandichorsecenter.is.
By Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir. Photos by Gunnar Freyr Gunnarsson.