Saddle up! 7 ways to experience North Karelia on horseback

In commercial cooperation with VisitKarelia

Article by Terhi Ilosaari

You turn onto a path that can barely be distinguished from the terrain, leading you into a mystical old forest. Your ride carries you up high, above the scratchy brushwood. You admire the dark scent of autumn, while your horse bows his head to fumble for hay. You marvel at the effortlessly rambling animal as well as the landscape all around you. Somewhere in the distance you can already see a sandy beach and a lean-to, waiting for you to take a break. You’re no stranger to hiking, but taking in the outdoors on horseback is a completely new experience for you.

In Finland, North Karelia is famous for its national landscape seen from Koli, Karelian hospitality, many different varieties of pies and the lyrical Eastern dialect. However, many would be surprised at the number of stables that warmly welcome new riders. If you’ve always thought that riding on horseback in the forest requires many years of practice and circling around a paddock for hours on end, you’ll be pleased to hear that’s not the case! We have listed seven horse riding stables in the North Karelia area, all of which offer forest rides for beginners as well as multi-day horse treks for the more experienced. Most of the stables work together and also offer nights in each other’s cosy lodgings.

1. ElämysMantsi, Ilomantsi

In Finland’s easternmost municipality of Ilomantsi, there is an idyllic country farm whose horses are members of one big farm family including dogs, cats, sheep, rabbits and hens, all living happily alongside one other.

Potential visitors would be pleased to know that most of this stable’s trips are off-road. Relaxed cross country lessons are not merely adapted for, but actually designed for novice riders. Experienced horsemen and women can take part in longer excursions, which may involve spending the night in the woods and riding on the shores of Lake Koitere with its hundred islands, while glancing over at Patvinsuo National Park across the water.

2. Kuivala Icelandic Horse Stables (Kuivalan islanninhevostalli), Vuonislahti

On one of Kuivala Stables’ trips, on the shores of Pielinen

You can already sense how well looked after the farm is when entering the courtyard. This radiates from the main building, which dates back to the 19th century, as well as the dappled chickens and nine Icelandic horses.

All excursions from Kuivala farm venture into the countryside, often wandering up to the shores of Lake Pielinen, which are part of the national landscape. Riders going on these trips are required not only to have mastered the basics of riding but must also know how to respect the surrounding nature.

Those without a car or horse will be pleased to know that you can also get to Kuivala farm by train.

3. Kiies Farm (Kiieksen tila), Nurmes

Rabbits, dogs, cats, goats, sheep, pigs, cows, ponies and, of course, horses, can all be found frolicking on Kiies farm. Finnish horses lead treks on forest trails, in impressive wooded fell landscapes. While the elevation changes might not be daunting for the experienced rider, they do make these trips unsuitable for first-timers.

Experienced riders also have a chance to trot briskly and gallop in certain sections if they so wish. Only two riders are taken on a tour at a time – what could be more luxurious than that!

Kiies Farm on Facebook

4. Paimentupa, Koli

With Koli’s Paimentupa, even first-time riders get to go on a cross country trip. And this is not just any trip, but one that takes place in one of our most stunning national parks. It follows the Kaski trail and goes through the home turf of the Eastern Finncattle. Antti Huttunen of Retkipaikka wrote about his Paimentupa trip:

“The horses found a solid foothold for every step. It was great to witness the precise work of these noble animals. On the way back, further away from the national park, we stopped by another highlight of the trail. We had come to a place where there really was magic: a spruce forest that seemed to be from a fairytale. Spread out at the foot of the handsome young trees was a glowing carpet of moss. A few blueberry sprigs and some May lilies poked out, but otherwise the moss mat continued through the whole forest”.

5. Heiskalan Hoppala, Liperi

Gustur, Ófeigur, Gaefa, Raudskjona, Nattfari, Teitur aka Töltti-Teppo and many other maned charmers take their riders on trips lasting up to several nights. On Hoppala’s trips, nature is savoured with all the senses, focusing on holistic well-being. Groups are organised by terrain type and rider ability, so riders of all levels can enjoy the experience of touring. After dismounting from our saddles, our rumbling stomachs were quietened with campfire delicacies prepared by our guide and our minds were soothed with forest mindfulness exercises. On treks, riders spend the night in an army tent while the horses rest in temporary fencing.

What if the whole family wants to go on a riding trip? With Heiskala’s Hoppala, a group can also ride off-road, with one on the back of a Finnish horse, another on a horse-drawn carriage or sleigh, and a third person on the back of a gentle Icelandic horse.

6. Teija’s lodgings and countryside stables (Teijan Talli)

During the autumn at Teija’s Stables, you can observe signs of the season changing: flocks of migratory birds and wonderful shades of autumn, from the back of a horse on a real western saddle. In winter, glistening snow and the silence of the forest paths embrace the rider, snow crunches rhythmically under hooves in the background.

The stables are home to gentle and sure-footed Finnish and Norwegian fjord horses, who have been trained primarily for cross country riding. An alternative to a forest trip is the stables’ Refresh & Empower programme – focused training for those who want to practice mindfulness and interaction with horses, in the surroundings of nature.

7. Hepovaara Wellness Farm (Hepovaaran hyvinvointitila), Kitee

Mira of Hepovaara Wellness Farm
You can also meet a mini pig at Hepovaara’s Wellness Farm

The people and animals of Hepovaara Wellness Farm are living examples of their own values: presence, stillness and well-being. In addition to field lessons for beginners and more demanding treks for the experienced, you can also come to the farm to get over a fear of horses. Most importantly, the treks allow you to enjoy nature and interaction with Icelandic horses.

Have you already decided on your dream tour?

Tips for your dream trip to North Karelia

Do you dream of adventuring in the rugged nature of Eastern Finland, with its landscape full of contrasts, while spending nights in cosy guesthouses? Koli’s sculptural snowy trees, Pielinen’s majestic waves, the shimmering autumn colors of Ruunaa and peaceful hiking trails in the wilderness are all waiting for you. You can also find inspiration for your trip on VisitKarelia’s website!

See also

The Guesthouse to Guesthouse tour is a full service cross-country ski tour in North Karelia

The Photographic Playground of North Karelia – Outokumpu

Koli National Park

Translation by Becky Hastings

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