Category Archives: Iceland 2015

Adventures in Iceland – Around Reykjavik

Alas, this will be the last post I will be writing about Iceland.  In case you are joining late, you can view the entire saga here.

In the afternoon, post volcano adventure, I specifically planned nothing so that I could tour around the city and do some shopping.  I ended up getting frustrated with the cost of souvenirs ($3 for a postcard?!) and came home with a tattoo instead.  I still look down at my wrist and smile thinking about the wonderful time I had with great friends, horses and landscapes.

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Reykjavik is really such a beautiful city, the air feels clean, the artwork and homes are eclectic, and it is incredibly quiet.  A city that really works for me!

The view you can expect to see down any street.
The view you can expect to see down any street.
Bizarre moment: finding a line 50 people long for Dunkin Donuts.  What?!
Bizarre moment: finding a line 50 people long for Dunkin Donuts. What?!

I was determined to eat more fish while I was in Iceland, and this seemed to be my last opportunity to do so.  Feeling a bit better with some more appetite, I wandered into “Fish & More”  BINGO!  I had remembered some of the women in our group raving about how good it was, and the prices were comparatively low.  I got some sort of mystery platter (so long as it isnt sea bugs, I figure you cant go wrong with any type of fish)

Good portions, absolutely delicious.
Good portions, absolutely delicious.

Some more wandering followed before I went back to my hostel where some of the other riders were to meet me for drinks.  I stayed at Kex hostel, which was very trendy – seriously hipster central!  The decor was really cool, but its real draw for me (beyond the waterfront location) was their gastro-pub with a vast selection of craft beer (some I understood was brewed in house).  I grabbed a stout and was in heaven.

Unfortunately, it could not be a late night and we said our final goodbyes after a few short drinks.  I was due to fly out early morning.  Now, usually I hold my liquor much better, at the very least I didn’t feel impaired, however it appears I miscalculated my wake up time.  I hadn’t adjusted my phones clock to the new time zone, I just kept making my alarms the EST equivalent, and felt nice and smart about it.  The next morning, I felt like a total idiot: waking up, looking at the clock, smirking that I had an hour and 8 minutes before I had to go.  Oh wait, thats only 8 minutes before I have to catch my bus!

I am not sure I have ever done anything so fast – flying off my second story bunk, cramming my stuff into bags, and running to check out in my PJs.  Iceland… you almost got to keep me!

Long story short, I got home and entertained a few hotel clerks and patrons with my nervous jigging.

So I suppose I should do a bit of a summary of things I noticed about my trip.  Here are 10 interesting tidbits that may not have come out in my daily writings.

  1. We didn’t use saddle pads at all.  Nor were the horses ever groomed.  You might think that was a tack cleaning nightmare, but somehow the horses would go for a roll and end up cleaner than they started.  The magic of Iceland!
  2. Everything is expensive – ok you probably got that, but don’t let it deter you.  Save your cash for day trips, if you go to Iceland to spend a week shopping, you will be sorely disappointed anyway.  Bottom line, get outdoors!
  3. It is not illegal to eat whale in Iceland.  One of the few places left in the world.  If that sort of thing is on your bucket list… I did try it, I wasn’t won over.  Sort of tasted like a fishy steak.
  4. They also eat horse in Iceland.  While it filled my criteria of “lived a good life”, I couldn’t bring myself to try it.
  5. I cannot pronounce a single Icelandic word.  And here I thought Mandarin was hard! Thank goodness everyone seems to speak English too.
  6. The horses were so hardy.  They would fight a lot within the herd, yet none of them seemed to have bite marks.  Either they have super tough skin, or they know how to bite just the right way.  And here my horse looks like Rambo just by walking through a low tree.
  7. The volcano erupting a few years ago seemed to boost tourism in all the right ways.  Funny, you would think it had the opposite effect, but instead it put it on everyone’s radar.
  8. The Icelandic Sheepdog is by far the cutest dog I have ever seen.
  9. Showering procedure is group – naked (based on gender).  Perhaps avoid visiting the pools with your parents.
  10. There are a million and one things to do.  I could go back every year for the rest of my life and find new excursions.  The ones I listed here are just a short sampling.
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Adventures in Iceland – Inside the Volcano

Following Blue Lagoon and Whale Watching, our group of riders all met back up for a nice dinner in the city.  I wasn’t feeling too well, likely caused by my lack of sleep and didn’t eat much or stay too late for the party.  I guess that made me a slightly better roommate that night at the hostel.

A little more refreshed, I sat outside the hostel in the morning for the bus to pick me up for my next tour: Inside the Volcano.  Nearly all of the riders had booked this despite it being pretty expensive (lesson learned, almost everything in Iceland is expensive, except for the flights!) because it looked awesome!

I got on the bus according to plan, knowing who was supposed to be coming with me (nobody else was staying at the same hostel as me at the time), and looked out the window, waiting to see where we stopped.  We pulled into the terminal and I heard their names and the words “no show”.  What?!  There was wifi on every bus, so I started messaging them, apparently they had been waiting for the bus forever and it never came by!  Not sure where the wires got crossed, but they were never able to make it in time to catch the transfer bus to the tour itself.

I had expected the group in the timeslot before me to be there, but apparently the earlier group of riders (so many of us booked this we had to split into 2 times) received some sort of last minute notification that their tour was cancelled as it had been overbooked.  I believe they were refunded, but what a disappointment! (I do believe some of them were able to do it on another day)

So it was down to just me.

Thankfully I don’t mind spending time to myself and the guides were kind and informative.

Caverns, hills and craters created by lava some 4500 years ago
Caverns, hills and craters created by lava some 4500 years ago

We arrived at the base site, which was at the bottom of a ski hill.  The guide walked us across an old lava field and briefed us on the history of the volcano.  For one, it was a baby volcano, only about 4500 years old, but no, its not active, we won’t die today.  Phew!  The most interesting thing about it was that while most volcanos will rise up and then collapse (leaving a crater) this one managed to hollow itself out instead.  It is the only one in the entire world of its kind, so a must see if you have a thing for rocks, or just want to say you saw it.

We then got to another camp at the base of the volcano.  There, we were fed some delicious soup and coffee, we received a lovely Buff bandana (which now I cant find mine!  So sad!) and got to visit with the most adorable ambassador of Iceland we have ever met.

Arctic fox cub.  How badly do you want to give him a belly rub?
Arctic fox cub. How badly do you want to give him a belly rub?

We were given our harnesses and helmets, as well as some instructions about how to use them, and how to handle ourselves inside the volcano.  Then our group set off to climb up to the top of the volcano.

At the top of the volcano
At the top of the volcano

We entered into the lift and made our way down.  The lift was a modified window washing lift and rocked back and forth as it navigated down through the entrance of the volcano.  In some places it was a tight squeeze!

Selfie in the lift!
Selfie in the lift!

It opened up significantly and we were allowed to explore pretty much anywhere we wanted.  The colours of the rocks were so beautiful, so many different colours based on how the lava flowed and cooled.  There were also several channels as you looked up where it had flowed and hollowed out.  It was cool and damp, and water dripped peacefully from the ceilings.  After I had successfully climbed into every available nook and cranny, I took some time to sit still, close my eyes, and just listen to the quiet drip drip drip.  It felt cathartic.

While I felt sad that my friends weren’t able to enjoy this, there was something very special about taking the time to myself, and the dark quiet of the volcano seemed to fit just right.

While things felt a little disorganized with my friends experience, the tour itself was wonderful and I would recommend it.  I do believe it was a pretty new adventure, and there are always kinks at the start.  I would certainly give them the chance again!

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Adventures in Iceland – Whale Watching

When you stay at Hostel’s there is always THAT person.  You know what I mean.  As I checked into my hostel at about 2:30 am, I was very conscious of being THAT person.  Entering late at night, making far too many crashing noises and grabbing around each bunk trying to see which one was free.  Yup, I am on a top bunk.  There were lockers for us, but given my light situation, I shoved my bags against the wall and searched around for ANYTHING I could possibly use for a shower and bed – because of course, as THAT person, I stank of 6 days of horses. Best I was able to manage was some handsoap for my hair, and a sequin bar top as my PJs.  Classy.

After rocking the bed to get up to the second storey, I set my alarm for 6:00 (yes, THAT person) and groaned seeing that it was only 3 hours away.  I had to be ready for the bus at 8am, and planned to load up on coffee before, having already mapped out what shop I wanted to visit even before departing for Iceland.  I continued my nap later on a park bench waiting for the coffee shop to open (growl!)

Coffee... please... as if my life depended on it!
Coffee… please… as if my life depended on it!

I managed to get my coffee and catch my bus in time and met up with Bonnie, Claudia, Rose and Katja for the whale tour.  None had been in my van the night before so they were slightly more refreshed than me… slightly!

First things first, we got on the boat and got into these wonderful red jumpsuits.  Thank goodness for these, it was so cold!  Once we were in them, I am pretty sure we became invincible.

Bonnie and Claudia rocking the red jumpsuits
Bonnie and Claudia rocking the red jumpsuits

We were also given sea sickness tablets as the water was supposed to be rough (we learned later that some of our other friends’ tours were cancelled due to choppy weather).  We made our way to the upper deck and set out!

Reykjavik from the water
Reykjavik from the water

 

After getting out into more open water, spotted!  On the left side!  Minke whale!!!  We ran to the rail and watched eagerly.  It started to move around the front of the boat, and thats all Rose and I needed to zip down the staircase and position ourselves, appropriately at the bow of the boat like we were kings of the world.

The Minke whale was very playful and kept coming close to the boat, even breaching right in front of us.  It was spectacular and felt sorry the other girls were missing out in the back.  The puffins were also adorable, they are much smaller than I imagined and flapped along the water in the most awkward way imaginable.  Had a good laugh at their expense.

A few other Minkes came around as well as another type (which I cant remember anymore!  Anyone help?).   It was so neat to see them so close and definitely a day trip I would do again, even on 3 hours of restless sleep!

Riding in Iceland – Day 6, horse 2

For my second-last horse in Iceland, I was handed Klaus, the wonderful old-timer who had won over the hearts of every rider.  He had made it soundly through the journey so far despite his advanced age and jokes about being on the menu because nobody picked him for beach day… and the ensuing campaign “Save Klaus”.  Santa Klaus merchandise to hit the retail shelves in 2016.  Ok, I guess you had to be there.

From the get-go, Klaus was pretty knackered.  We stayed at the back… wayyyy back.  But damn, that horse never gave up!

Klaus and Balti (Who Bonnie was riding).  A nice matched pair
Klaus and Balti (Who Bonnie was riding). A nice matched pair

Thankfully for him, this was a short leg – only about 8 km and 1 hour of riding on roads.  Occasionally he even gave me little short gallops to try to keep up with the herd.  Surprise!  Butf course, then he would drop back significantly.  I felt a bit like the grinch when his heart grows and breaks the box, little Klaus was so sweet and trying so hard, and I had a lot of sad/happy sympathy for him.  Feeling bad that he had to work each day, sometimes twice.

We were getting close to civilization again.  The roads were getting paved, and we saw the occasional car.  We must not be far from home now!

We pulled up by a field, and I gave Klaus his last scratch and he went on his way to be with his friends.  Probably thrilled to have the monkey off his back!

 

Riding in Iceland – Day 6, Horse 1

Destined to be another long day, we were up good and early, having our last breakfast together and building our sandwiches for the day as per the usual routine, but the air was quiet.

We had lost a few of our riders the night before, this was a fun trip, and they were sufficiently sore that a last day didn’t appeal to them, and we would just be re-tracing the route from our first day (only backwards) so it was unlikely to be as exciting.  Fair enough, I am sure they got some much needed rest and perhaps some fun day trips!

Riders eagerly awaiting their horses
Riders eagerly awaiting their horses

The horses were rounded up into what looked like a sorting facility… perhaps for cattle? The winds were strong, in fact they had been steadily growing stronger every day but once again we had the sun on our face so we couldn’t complain.  Really it had been 6 days in a row of perfect weather, something one rarely expects to say when they speak of the weather in Iceland.

A sturdy looking grey gelding was one of the first to be caught and offered(just my type!).  I am not sure if I was given a name for him, but if I did, I promptly forgot it – Perhaps I will call him Bentley North for the sake of this post.  I volunteered eagerly, as I had a technique called “Don’t pick the hotel horses”.  I may have mentioned previously, but many of the riders didn’t like the horses that came from the hotel – little steering or brakes, lack of fitness but super fresh at the same time.  They were good tourist horses for most of the hotel patrons I am sure, just doing what the group does, no need for steering or brakes, but for those who really RIDE, we tend to like a little more control 🙂

Another benefit to getting one of the first horses... quality scratching time!
Another benefit to getting one of the first horses… quality scratching time!

 

Gunnar and Berta getting the best view of potential candidates.
Gunnar and Berta getting the best view of potential candidates.

Then we all mounted, and let them loose.  I stayed at the back of the herd, Bentley North flipping his head around with excitement and determination to join the pack.  We followed a dirt road for a while, edging some beautiful cliffs and rock formations for a while.  The road eventually turned and we headed into endless grasslands with a winding river and mountains well in the distance.

We passed an Icelandic flag, it seemed suitable imagery for our last day of riding.

We came to a small farm, with wrapped hay bales, corrals, and most importantly… an adorable foal!!!!  We had a nice rest here, scratching the momma and playing with the cutie’s lips.

Sam looks like shes picking his nose a bit.
Sam looks like shes picking his nose a bit.

We remounted and carried on.  The wind continuing to pick up, we were now in more plains.  The good dry weather we had for the previous days was showing with the extreme dust.  We all raised our buffs, tucking them into our sunglasses as best we could, and sometimes just closing our eyes and hoping we stayed on the road (we did).

Eventually we turned around and got onto a more major road and the dust settled, but the dust did seem endless!  We saw several horse and rider crossing signs and turned up a driveway to a beautiful stable, filled with tonnes of beautiful horses!

We were told it was a show horse training facility, and after saying goodbye to our horses for the time being, we were invited into the stables.  There was a large indoor arena with a round pen, a groom was longing a horse inside.  There were beautiful stalls.  Then we were ushered into the common room – which was filled with trophies and medals.  We were in the midst of champions!

Lunch with Champions
Lunch with Champions

We perused through the coffee table books and then headed out to the arena to watch the training.  There was a comfy couch… we just sannnnk in.  What privilege to be here!

Riding in Iceland Day 5, Horse 3

For the last leg of the day, I was given Fairy… who is the mare of all mares.  We all loved and hated her.  She was a nice ride, Jess had taken her to the beach, but she and her group of 2 were constantly getting into trouble when loose.  They just didnt seem to want to follow the rest of the crowd, and it was clear that Fairy was the one making this happen.

Typical Fairy mood
Typical Fairy mood -you can see it in her eyes!

She really was a nice ride though.  Smooth and forward, and could she ever herd!  I remember shortly into our ride, another horse started to wander, and without any instruction from me, she pinned her ears, kicked into gear, and put that sorry horse back in its place!  Yes, mares are wonderful.

This leg we continued more along rocky trail around the base of mountains, lava rocks, shrubs, roads, dirt, really everything!  Our shadows were growing long, and we disturbed several groups of sheep who were out grazing.

We came to the farm where the horses would stay overnight and untacked the horses.  We werent quite done there however, as we had to turn them out to pasture.  So how do we funnel them all?  Well, the string was just not long enough…

Sam rode out, enticing the horses to follow, while we all stood menacingly in a pattern to generally keep them from breaking free. Human fence – when a string just wont do!

 

Riding in Iceland Day 5, Horse 2

When we swapped horses, I was given another chestnut named Blazey – any guesses where that came from?  Given the following ride, I would have to say it was not for his speed haha.

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Bonnie told me that Blazey was her least favourite horse that she had ridden so far.  It boggled my mind, I hadn’t had a single horse so far that I disliked in the least, so what could be so bad about this guy?!

Really, there was nothing that bad about him.  He had a kind heart and a general willingness, but the issue I soon found out it was very difficult to get him to stay in any gait.  4 strides canter, 4 strides trot, 4 strides canter… then some random nonsense I couldn’t quite name.  It wasn’t his fault so much, but it was very exhausting compared to a steady trot, tolt or canter.  So in the end, I do agree with Bonnie that he was my least favourite horse for that reason only (and that every other horse I had was beyond exemplary!)

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We headed along dirt paths towards a very large mountain, and once we arrived there, followed along the base of the mounting, enjoying the beautiful view of course!  We crossed back through some familiar rivers and back through the gorgeous lava rock trails we encountered on day 3.  Very thankful at that point that I had switched to a bigger horse to get my feet over many of those rocks.  We were now following the same route we had come in on, and used our favourite rest location in the rock corral.

It was becoming very late that night(not sure what time it was exactly as the light continued so late) and we were so hungry!  What a wonderful surprise it was when we got there to see a vehicle, that Anita and her boyfriend Eggert got out of, filled with takeout containers.  The most delicious sandwiches of chicken and avocado!  We all pigged out and got comfy in the rocks.

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While we ate, a horse appeared in the fenced field across from where we had corralled ours.  After some whispers, we were told it was a mare who had been missing for more than a year.  Our guides did their best to try to capture her, but in the end she got away!

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Riding in Iceland – Day 3, Horse 4

Yes, you heard it right.  Four horses this day.  The most horse swaps of any of the days we rode.

At our next exchange, I was handed a tall plain bay gelding with a very soft eye, and very fluffy mane. I was told his name was Vitringur, and Sam, who had ridden him once previously said it meant “Ice Man”.

Short leg across mostly grassy hills and fields.  He was a welcome change to the other horses I had already ridden.  If you have been following along, you can probably tell I loved every horse that was given to me to ride, but Vitringur was different because he cantered – a gait that I had dearly missed.  It was so nice to switch to a gentle rock over the vibration of tolt and trot.  He also was very fine tuned – he had more buttons than just start, stop, left, right.  I was able to collect him and bend him, and put him anywhere I wanted.  He really respected his rider, and again I felt like a rider instead of a passenger.

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We cantered and trotted merrily along in the back, unfortunately only 7.5km – wished it could have been longer!  We came to the place they would be staying for the night.  It was at the foot of this enormous black crevice.  It was very surreal… it looked like it should be filled with monsters.  Thankfully, none of the monsters escaped, but I did have my first spook as Vitringur saw a scary rope as we corralled the other horses.  It was surprising and funny, as it took to the end of day 3 for me to have an Icelandic horse spook with me.  Bentley, take note.

We put away our gear and climbed on to a very retro looking bus, which would take us to the HOTEL where we would be staying that night.

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We had a great laugh at the back of the bus when the air from underneath began to lift up an access panel in the aisle, the panel floating and bobbing and thumping as though we were about to be hijacked by trolls.  Halli tossed his jacket on top.  No trolls were going to get US tonight!

We arrived at the hotel and settled into our dorm style room.  We all had lovely beds and enjoyed once again being able to stay all together.  That’s half the fun of the trip, the slumber parties!  We also all enjoyed showers, though they did seem a little strange to us that it was a 2 person shower to be shared by all.  Now washed up, we enjoyed a lovely fish dinner in the hotel’s restaurant, and the most refreshing cider I have ever tried.

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Over dinner, our hosts asked us to write down the names of our top 2 horse picks for riding on the beach tomorrow (and then had a great laugh while they tried to figure out what we actually wrote down).

I picked Vitringur as my # 1 and Balti as my #2 (though at the time I thought it should be spelled something along the lines of Bushti haha).  Sam had also picked Vitringur but as her second pick, and it was at that time we learned that it didn’t mean “Ice Man” but rather “Wise Man”  OOPS!  Sorry Vitringur, Ice Man did make sense in our heads though!

Anyway, since Sam had another first pick, I would be riding Vitringur on the beach (and we wouldn’t have to wrestle it out).  He was my pick because although I suspected him to be a teeny bit green (based on his spook), I thought it would be great fun to have a horse that cantered on the beach, and I really did want more time with him!

Funny thing is, only 2 horses had to be negotiated for.  We all had our own unique tastes in the horses, and everyone found something they loved!

 

Riding in Iceland – Day 3, Horse 3

We all switched back to horse # 1 of the day.  Which meant I was back on Oliver (third time!)  Actually, this ended up being the last time I rode him.  While I was very happy with him, I was excited to try out new horses later, but I do have to say, I was very thankful for Oliver’s skills through this leg as it started to get more challenging.

We started out with nothing too special (I say that loosely, because there was always beautiful scenery to look out to… mountains, interesting rocks, moss, you name it!).  Funny part was, I think Oliver had caught a second wind, despite having done more work than many of the horses, he chugged on with purpose.  We followed the “road” for about 8kms where we found a great spot to rest the horses.  There was a small rock corral and a decent fenceline to keep the horses in, and lots of fun climbing rocks.

Our lava rock resting spot
Our lava rock resting spot

 

Anita's horse Tiger is the king of the rock
Anita’s horse Tiger is the king of the rock

I sat down by the far fenceline and got to snacking on my granola bars.  Oliver was of course a mooch and thoroughly enjoyed sharing with me.  His ears flopped around happliy as he mugged me for half my food.  If I lost weight on this trip, it was because I fed more than half my food to the horses.

After my food was gone, I still couldn’t resist Oliver’s charms.  I started to snake my hand through the fenceline to pick grass for him.  Ah, it takes me back to pony camp days.  What a perfect evening!

When time came to move along again, we continued along the dirt road, only for a short time.  Then we got into the really fun stuff!

The rocks went from giant gravel to voluptuous lava rocks.  Enormous boulders with sandy paths between, moss and trees growing around and in crevices.  Part of it reminded me a little of the Bruce Trail at home, but without the tall coniferous forests surrounding the rocks and moss.

We weaved around a gnarly little trail that took us through the rock formations.  Oliver was expert at putting his feet exactly the correct spot, smooth ride, not a single stumble or anything.  This is stuff I would likely not even walk Bentley through.

Some of the trails were tight, so tight that I was knocking my boots on the rocks, and we all modified our riding style to accommodate.  Posting trot was more like : up, down, up, down, up, kick back, down, lift leg, up, down, up, tuck those toes, down, up down, and jockey style!  Of course, all while winding and climbing and all those other things to pay attention to.  I was very happy to be back on Oliver, as I am not sure I would have been able to get my feet high enough riding Friend (short of just standing on his back and riding circus style!)

As the view opened up, we worked our way down the rocks, a sand cave to our right, a river ahead and to our left.  Oliver plunged into the river eagerly (he really loved water!).  We were the first across, and I turned back to watch the rest come, just in time to see Katja’s matching pinto trip into a hole and almost completely submerge itself.  A very handy horse, he righted himself immediately as Katja whooped and hollered with laughter.  The sopping pair met us and were delighted to hear I had my camera on the whole time.

The terrain opened up to a relatively grassy trail and we breezed into the next horse change.  There wasn’t far to go before we would bed down for the night, but these horses had done 2 long legs already and had earned a rest!

 

 

 

 

Riding in Iceland – Day 3, Horse 2

After a nice long break, and cramming my rain pants into my saddle bags, our guides got to work fetching horses for us again.  I was handed a tiny chestnut gelding, and told his name was “Friend”.  Yes, our hosts had given up telling us their Icelandic names, and kindly translated them to English.  I guess 3 days of butchered language is enough!

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A size to rival Chipmunk, but given his name, I was more confident in his intentions for me.  I saddled him up, a little unsure once again where the saddle should exactly go on him, since it was about the same size as his back.  Starting with him, I began to judge where the saddle should go, not from the whithers as I am used to, but relative from the point of hip.  Back to front, makes sense when you are out of your element, just do things backwards!

My stirrups dangled just above Friend’s knees.  This should be interesting!

On a side note, I have had a lot of people ask if it feels weird to go from 16 something hand Bentley to the smaller horses… Mongolian, Icelandic… and the answer is no, it doesn’t really!  Its much weirder going BACK to the big horses.  The horses were so strong and sturdy, I never felt too big for them, and the view never seemed terribly strange.

Friend was a back of the herd horse, so we found our spot while the horses were released.  He was nice and forward with a very smooth gait.   Little legs make for easy riding!

Despite his small size, he had a zip in him, which made him good for picking off horses who decided they would rather wander off for a snack than follow the herd.

The rocks were getting tougher, the bugs were coming out, but we were all getting tougher too.

Lynne gave us a great piece of advice for riding with the nasty bugs… put your hand up in the air!  Apparently the bugs will go to the highest point.  It worked, for about 50% of the bugs, but it was enough to offer some relief.  We passed some hikers, our hands in the air, waving as though we were on parade.  Well played, just act cool!

It was a relatively short leg, but it flew by.  Being back of the pack, I was able to ride with different people, different horse, and different views.  It was fantastic to watch the herd ahead of us.