There’s something about horseback riding that stirs something in me. Call it movement without machine, synergy from human to animal, or the freedom to go new places via less-traveled pathways. Whatever you call it, riding horseback in Iceland was at the top of my list when I arrived.
Icelandic horses haven’t changed since being ridden by Vikings, so it’s almost as if you’re in touch with history to sit atop one.
Once I was bundled up and saddled, I maneuvered about a bit to get my balance and rhythm in place. As soon as the group leader said, “Who wants to go fast?” without a thought, I was game.
I could feel my horse’s desire to move quickly. She carefully bobbed and weaved to get us to the front… She was old, but she was fast. As we neared the front of the group, I could feel she was ready. The momentum shift from the group leader kicked in, and soon we were at a quick trot. The roadway opened up and we were off.
I felt a red ski jacket come from the corner of my peripheral, and a frantic, frenzied energy… A tall English man yelling “Shit, shit, stop, stoppp!” I felt myself immediately panic. We were going fast. He was out of control, and now I felt out of control.
I could feel the shift in my saddle go left, my foot slipped out of the stirrup…We were running and I could feel myself slipping off. I grabbed the saddle horn tightly, and felt my heart race. The horses were closely knit together which meant going down would equal getting trampled.
The group leader looked the English man straight in the eye. Steadily she commanded, “Relax. You’re fine.”
I immediately felt my body loosen. My entire energy shifted with those words. Relax. You’re fine, I repeated to myself. My foot easily slipped right back to the stirrup. We were still at a fast gallop, but I was in total control again. I could feel myself completely in sync with my horse, going as fast as I’d ever gone.
As we rounded into the last long stretch, I kicked down and confidently sprinted as fast as she would let me go. I felt like I could go anywhere. And I wanted to do it again.
There’s a point where you and horse are in sync, a connection of non-verbal communication that feels oddly spiritual. I was aware of the strength of the horse beneath me…The sensation of speed, elevation and movement. The clacking of hooves, the icy wind on my face…I had never been immersed in the moment this much before. It was if every sense came alive in florescent hyper color.
It occurred to me how often I am quick to hold the brake down when things feel fast and out of control. When riding my bike down a steep hill, I tend to ride my brake or put my feet down; that sudden moment of panic triggered by frenetic fear cancels out the opportunity to fly. Anytime I ballroom dance, I find myself struggling to find the beat initially, fighting the urge to lead; when I submit to the steps and sync into the guy, a beautiful flow and dance takes hold.
But the only way to enjoy it, to get to that place of exhilaration meant I had to surrender. Syncing into the horse’s rhythm instead of fighting mine, I just had to let go.
How many times my fear of losing control causes me to tense up and pull back, “Shit shit stop stoppp!” when all I needed to do was to breathe deep and go with it? That frame of mind gives us the chance to recalibrate, readjust ourselves in our saddle and most importantly, enjoy what the experience is bringing us.
It is scary when your instinct is to be in control, especially when you rationalize because you feel your mind knows better. What if I fall? What if I go too fast?…So, what if you do? I find when I let myself explore those questions, they aren’t so scary after all.
And the other side of that surrender is freeing.
Giving up control is often how we best regain it. We find that the hardest thing we’ve been fighting is ourselves, and if we relax long enough to listen, we already know what to do.
I’ve never experienced a sensation like that before, where I was so abandoned yet felt so powerful. It was like my body was an extension of my horse’s and I instinctively knew how to move.
How funny it is that the best part of Iceland came from sitting on an old horse.
Thank you to my Viking horse, Adda, for inspiring this post.
And thank you to Dave for being so amazing with your encouragement.