Skorrahestar Icelandic Horse Farm
If you like big nature, working farms and friendly locals, Skorrahestar Icelandic Horse Farm should be on your family’s Iceland to-do list. Managed by Doddi and Thea, Skorrahestar is a lovely family farm that combines a B&B with cattle farming (sheep) and Icelandic horse tourism in the Eastern fjords of Iceland. For our girls, staying at Skorrahestar Icelandic Horse Farm was undoubtedly the best part of our trip as they got to ride Icelandic horses, visit newborn lambs, and ride a tractor to feed a group of horses in a snowy field. How’s that for a winner family farm holiday?
Skorrahestar is an hour’s drive away from Egilsstadir, the biggest city of the Eastern Fjords. The only road going to Norðfjörður, the fjord where Skorrahestar is, goes through a mountain with a tunnel that goes on and on for 9km. In early April, we experienced true winter conditions and as our car exited the tunnel, we were momentarily blinded by the whiteness of the snow on the other side. Our eyes quickly adjusted and embraced the succession of rounded mountains on both sides. Wow! Twenty minutes later, we were down in the flat and wide snowy valley, driving by horses in open snowy fields and remote rural houses.
At the Skorrahestar sign, we turned left and drove up a steep and short road leading to the farm house and the converted B&B barn. It had a long driving day from Akureyri and we were glad to reach our destination. At the top, Thea welcomed us with open arms and showed us to our rooms. We were ready to meet little poneys!
Icelandic Horse Riding
After unloading our luggage, we met Doddi for a horse ride. I was glad that the weather was nicely cooperating because when I had mentioned horse riding to him, he had warned me that the ride would be weather-dependent. If you’ve had a taste of weather in Iceland, you’ll know that it’s pretty extreme and that it changes every five minutes. Clear skies were a good sign for our ride! We went to meet the Icelandic horses selected by Doddi for us. It was like Goldilocks–a tall male for my husband, two medium-sized females for my 12-year-old and I and a smaller female for my 10-year-old. Just the perfect sizes! Mind you, they were still quite big. True, they are not as tall as the horses of the mounted police in London, but they are definitely taller than me and forces of nature too. You need to have seen these hardy animals grazing in frozen fields, unfazed by howling winds and blowing snow, to understand that they are no ordinary horses. When Doddi said that they had a thick layer of fat as wide as his hand under their skin, I believed him.
We saddled up and went on our way. Riding along the road, Doddi greeted at least three or four other villagers riding their horses. Beyond recreational tourism, Icelandic horses are fully part of the Icelandic way of life and many people in Doddi’s valley own horses to ride them and explore surrounding mountains. If anything, having a horse would motivate anyone to enjoy the outdoors whatever the weather (a strong proposition in Iceland) because the horses need the exercise. It’s like taking the dog out! Also, the Icelandic horse culture may explain why certain fjords cannot be reached by road at all, but only by horse, by boat or on foot. If you have a horse and are a good rider, wouldn’t you rather travel like a cowboy? On that note, Doddi does organize long trips to remote fjords in the summer and if you are an experienced rider, it sounds like a real adventure.
On the road, we passed a neighbor whose horse was in full tölt, a gait specific to Icelandic horses and considered super smooth for the rider (as in, you can hold a pint of beer and not spill a drop). As for us, beginners, we were treated to an hour-long tour to a horse racing arena and back. My tender bum thanked me for not doing longer.
Feeding Icelandic Horses
At Skorrahestar, all the food is home-made and that goes for the horses too. The hay that Doddi’s horses eat is grown and harvested in the summer by Doddi, before he wraps them as bales for the winter months. At the end of the afternoon, Doddi took my 12-year-old and I in his tractor to feed the horses in the field across the road. With his tractor, he lifted an entire bale of hay to drop it in an enclosure as my daughter and I watched the horses gather round for dinner. “This will last them two days,” said Doddi.
On the way back, he handed the wheel to my daughter who beamed and drove the tractor like a bumper car but thanks to Doddi’s guidance, we didn’t end up in the ditch. This was fun!
Feeding Icelandic Sheep and Newborn Lambs
So, you want to be my daughters’ BFF? Ask them to visit newborn lambs and wait for the grin. As soon as we arrived at Skorrahestar, Doddi and Thea announced that three lambs were born that day. You should have heard them squeal, “Baby lambs!” By the time they jumped off a barn door onto a hay bale, then down to the ground, my girls were giddy with anticipation. Since the lambs were drinking their mother’s milk, my girls got to watch them (more squealing) and got down to true Icelandic farm business by feeding the adult sheep with hay cartwheeled directly from an open hay bale. Since there was a chicken coop at the back of the barn, Doddi asked if they would check on the eggs. Luckily, there were two and once Doddi had added them to an egg carton, he then handed the carton to my girls. “For you.” Yum! If ever you need to know how to transport fresh farm eggs by plane as cabin luggage, ask me. Farm holidays don’t get better than this!
The cute baby lambs had a direct influence on our dinner as my 10-year-old read the menu that night and shook her head. “No lamb for me, they were too cute. I’m having chicken fingers.” I, on the other hand, had the “fish of the day” which, in a remote restaurant in the off-season in Iceland translates as salted cod with potatoes. Good thing I like salted cod, because it’s the fish of the day every day in many restaurants.
Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day and with Doddi and Thea, we had the best breakfast ever. On the table, she had prepared a a selection of cold cuts, spreads, jams, breads, fresh fruits and cereals. What was the best part? Wait for it: home-made buttermilk barley bread. It was absolutely amazing and moist, a sprouted bread with accents of cumin that was delicious with butter, cucumber, tomatoes and ham. If you want to make it at home, the recipe is here.
As we were discussing with Thea, she told us of reindeer bread, a bread she makes with reindeer lichen harvested in the mountain in the summer. “The reindeer love this lichen,” she said with a sparkle in her eye, and she opened her cupboards to show us her harvest in a plastic bag.
Dried to a crisp and silvery green and brown, it looked like lichen alright and I wondered what other treasures grew in these mountains that would never seem like food to us. Doddi had just arrived and hearing this, he showed us a book of edible and medicinal plants of Iceland. I haven’t mentioned it but he’s a biologist so if you’re interested in foraging, he’s got a lot to teach you.
This concluded our stay and as Skorrahestar’s website promised, we arrived as guests and left as friends. I can’t even believe I’m writing this but it’s true. Thank you Doddi and Thea for your warm welcome!