Conquering the world on horseback is easy said Ghengis Khan (1162-1227). He was a Great Khan and founder of the Mongol Empire and present-day Mongolians regard him as the founding father of Mongolia. In his time as emperor he put together a system of messengers who could travel on horseback all the way from the capital Kharkhorin to the Caspian Sea in only a few days.

Aníta Margrét Aradóttir went to Mongolia in 2014 and took part in the longest and most challenging horse race in the world, The Mongol Derby, and rode Mongolian horses 1000 kilometres in 10 days.

Aníta is an educated riding instructor from the Hólar University, and she has been riding since she was a little girl, despite of the fact that no one in her family did. So, the love and interest for the horse is definitely her own.

“After taking part in The Mongol Derby, I wanted to establish something similar in my home country Iceland because I thought that it would be perfect for this kind of race,” says Aníta who saw her dream come true in August when she as the employee of The Icelandic Equestrian Association got the support to lead the work to host an endurance race across the highlands of Iceland with Cintamani as the main sponsor.


What does a horse race like this do for the horsemanship in Iceland?

“We hope to raise people’s interest in a new type of competition and hopefully bring in new people to our sport, since endurance races are simple and easy to understand. We also want to hold high the Icelandic horse’s trademarks, who among others are endurance and stamina. I’m sure it will also raise common interest in the endurance and stamina of horses in general.”

The form of the race was that four teams took part and each team consisted of one rider, two assistants and three horses, and only two horses were used each day. The starting point was the farm Lýtingsstaðir in Skagafjörður and the route went south over Kjölur and the end point was at Skógarhólar in Þingvellir, a total of 240 kilometres in four days. The contestants rode two sprints of 25-35 kilometres each a day and after each sprint the pulse and condition of the horses was checked by a vet. The pulse had to have gone down to at least 56 bpm in 30 minutes to avoid any penalties in time. Injuries also meant penalties in time. Helgi Sigurðsson veterinarian was the event’s vet and check all the horses and watched them closely the whole time.

The teams were: Hermann Árnason horse travel guru (Team Hermann hestaferðir), Iðunn Bjarnadóttir (Riding Iceland Saltvík, the winner), Annie Whelan USA (Íslandshestar) and Musse Hasselvall Sweden (Eldhestar). Annie and Musse came especially to Iceland to compete in the test race in Ieland. But contestants are one part, and staff in another part. A vet is needed as well as a black smith on call and someone must take the time. Next year the plan is to add GPS trackers on all participants so their location will be accessible on a webpage the entire race.

It must take some good preparation and training of horses and riders for such a race.

“Yes, this race was a test and meant to teach us a lot. We ran into complications and adventures but in the end, it was a success. Of course, there are things we can change and everyone who took part in planning the race will carry on the development of the future races. We learned a lot, which was the focus on our first race. We saw that we can host races in Iceland, and we can expect it to grow into a very popular competition, since it is already very popular to come here from abroad to travel on our strong horses in the amazing landscape. The horses who took part were extremely strong and did very well, and they were all used to be in the travel groups this summer, so they were in their best shape. As for the riders, the best preparation is also to travel a lot on horseback, that is what I did when training for Mongolia. It is also good to work out and run, just keep moving and get stronger,” says Aníta who obviously has the knowledge and experience.

The results

  1. Iðunn Bjarnadóttir, 18 hours and 40 min – Riding Iceland Saltvík
  2. Annie Whelan, USA 18 hours and 52 min – Íslandshestar
  3. Hermann Árnason á 19 hours and 3 min – Hermann hestaferðir
  4. Musse Hasselvall Sweden 19 hours and 4 min – Eldhestar

“Endurance races are very popular abroad and contestants and interested people probably many millions, so the market is quite large, and we should be able to bring some of them to Iceland. The foreign riders Annie and Musse thought our test race was a great success and that Iceland has everything to host such a race in the future. They had never seen such landscape and then the weather is also a bit of an X-Factor that gives it something extra. They had to ride in very strong winds on day three, and said they never done anything like it before,” said Aníta and added: “They also mentioned that with our horse, Icelandic landscape and scenery we had many advantages in making this kind of competition great in the future.”

It will be exciting to watch the evolution of endurance races in Iceland in the next years and Horses of Iceland congratulate LH on the success of the test race and wish them good luck with the work ahead.

Updated December 7th: a link to a beautiful video with footage from the race. 

Text: Hilda Karen Garðarsdóttir. Photos: Icelandic Equestrian Association


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