To my left, the mossy ground sped by too quickly for me to find a place to land between the jagged, malicious-looking boulders. To my right, the sharp gravel was broken here and there by an alarmed ewe darting out of the way. I briefly considered throwing myself on the next sheep I passed (the wool looked far more appealing to land on than the ground), but realized it would end with a cloven hoof in my face, if I hit my mark at all. To the left it was.
I craned my neck around the horse, the damnable horse, and tried to peer ahead to time my fall so I wouldn’t land on one of the rough granite outcrops, but had no such luck. Between the icy summer wind and the stinging of the dark mane that was whipping in my face, I couldn’t open my eyes more than a meager squint without them tearing up.
Time does a funny thing when you’re clinging like a burr to the back of a runaway horse: it slows down in direct proportion to how fast the horse is going. As the mare’s hooves tattooed a staccato beat into the ground, I realized my options with a cool clarity:
My first choice was, I could hang on for dear life and hope the mare came to a stop on her own before we found ourselves back on the highway.
The second option: I could throw myself to the ground and hope for the best.
The third was, I could try regaining control of the horse, although previous attempts had proved wildly unsuccessful thus far and had probably contributed to the current predicament in which I found myself.
I decided to try one last time to bring the mare down from her breakneck pace. I tugged on the reins and shouted the command to stop. Stones clattered beneath me as the dark horse remained willfully deaf to my cries.
Fuck, I thought. And then, Fuck this horse.
I went back to scanning the ground for a place to land, recalling the last time I had thrown myself off a horse determined to shake me, and began calculating how hard I would have to push off the saddle, bracing myself for the inevitable pain of landing on the unforgiving Icelandic turf.
Thank whichever Viking invader it was who decided his ideal horse was a short one, and bred an entire stock that way. This fall wouldn’t last too long.
I shifted to the left in my saddle, praying I wouldn’t land on a boulder. The horse, in response to the change, shifted her mad stampede off the trail and on to the mossy, lumpy ground of the hillside. My time to stall was running out: either the mare was going to trip in one of the shallow depressions that dotted the ground and I would somersault over her head, or she was going to jump over a boulder and I would lose my seating off the other end.
If I was to fall, I wanted it to be on my own terms.
One, two, thr—
Right as I was about to throw myself to the ground, the mare came to an abrupt halt before a boulder, apparently deciding her best option to be rid of me was to throw me. Using the momentum to my advantage, I slithered to the ground before the hellion had a chance to change her mind, and grabbed the reins by her head.
“You,” I exhaled the breath I didn’t realize I was holding, “are a crazy bitch.”
She snorted at me in response. We stood for a long moment, both of us panting and shaking from excitement and exhaustion. Sweat lathered the horse’s chest, but she champed at the bit as I held her still, the wildfire still in her eyes.
It may have been a minute, it could have been a week, but eventually the trail guide came cantering around the corner, her blonde braid bouncing on her back.
“Are you okay?” she called as soon as she saw me.
“I’m fine,” I replied as soon as she came to a stop before me. “She tried to throw me but I hopped off and landed on my feet.”
The poor girl was fraught with worry, and she apologized profusely as she took the reins from my hands. She asked repeatedly if I was hurt, had I fallen, and so on, nearly in tears as she did so. I laughed, adrenaline making me giddy, and assured her no harm had come to me or the horse.
The guide traded me the sorrel gelding she rode for the wild animal I had been astride. “His name means Day; he’s much calmer,” she informed me as we trotted back to the group I had unwittingly abandoned. We were greeted with cries of, “What happened?” and “Did you fall?” in various American and British accents.
“It’s okay,” the guide declared in her heavy Danish accent, glossing over the incident. “Now, is everyone ready to continue the ride? Yes? Okay, here we go.”
Please note: this was a freak accident, and while very entertaining/scary should in no way be indicative of the typical experience of taking horseback tours. This was actually the second ride I had gone on while in Iceland, and both tours were very enjoyable, runaway horses aside.