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Iceland is rugged, and the horses are surefooted.

Iceland is rugged, and the horses are surefooted "In the centre of Iceland there are only three kinds of scenery--Stones, More Stones and All Stones," wrote W.H. Auden. He was right, but last summer what struck visitors from rain-deprived California was the water. Tufted with moss, even the rocks squish under foot. Water torrents off hillsides, thunders over falls, sparkles in ponds and pools. Soft sun, rain, and mist follow each other. Geysers spout sulfurous steam, and on distant mountains, glaciers glow in the summer sun that never sets.

Iceland should be savored leisurely, but hiking here can be rugged. That may explain the nation's love affair with the sure-footed Icelandic horse. Thick-maned and tireless, these horses (say pony and you'll be corrected) are your means of conveyance on trips lasting as little as an hour or up to two weeks.

Their ancestors carried the Vikings. To protect the breed, no new stock has been allowed in for 800 years. Their distinctive fifth gait, a sort of equine speedwalk called the tolt, eats up the miles.

On a horse trip, most days start and end at a farmhouse, where rooms share bathrooms. Tent camping may also be on the itinerary. You groom your mount and saddle up rain or shine. The English-style saddle is light and comfortable; while there is no pommel to grab onto, the ground looms reassuringly close from the back of these small steeds.

Rides last 4 to 7 hours, some of the way along little-traveled roads. Trips of a week or longer often take a day off for fishing or touring by van.

Others on a trip will likely be Scandinavians, Swiss, and Germans smartly attired in leather boots and tailored britches. We saddled up in less splendid but still serviceable jeans and rubber boots.

The shortest trip is an hour's ride near Reykjavik for about $1.6. Excursions lasting up to a couple of weeks average $150 a day, all inclusive. Half a dozen outfitters regularly schedule trips; for a list, write or call Iceland Tourism, 655 Third Ave., New York 10017; (212) 949-2333.

Icelandair serves Reykjavik from New York (5 hours), Baltimore-Washington, and Orlando, Florida. Flights continue on to 15 European gateways.
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Title Annotation:Beyond the West
Publication:Sunset
Date:May 1, 1991
Words:369
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