Icelandic Horses Could Help Save their Faroese Cousins

Icelandic horses Berglind Jóhannsdóttir

The Faroe Islands’ unique horses are at risk of dying out. Their advocates are considering using Icelandic mares as surrogates in order to save the breed. RÚV reported first.

Faroese horses (also called Faroese ponies) share many similarities with their Icelandic relatives, though they are slightly smaller. Both breeds share the ambling gait known as the tölt and grow shaggy winter coats that they shed again in the spring. DNA analyses in 1978 and 2003 have established that the Faroese horse is indeed its own breed, and that the Icelandic horse is its closest relative.

Icelandic horses in Denmark could serve as surrogates

The biggest difference between the Icelandic and Faroese breeds may be their number: while there are 250,000 Icelandic horses all over the world (some 40% of them in Iceland), there are fewer than 100 purebred Faroese horses alive today, including only 25 fertile mares. In order to ensure the breed’s survival, Jóna Ólavsdóttir, the chair of the Faroese Horse Association (Felagið Føroysk Ross), says at least 3,000 horses are necessary.

Since the size of the Faroe Islands could not support such a large horse population, the association is calling on Faroese authorities to abolish the current export ban so that Faroese horses could be bred on the Danish mainland. One proposal that has been made entails transporting ten Icelandic horses from Denmark to the Faroes, where fertilised eggs from Faroese horses would be implanted in them. The Icelandic mares would then be transported back to Denmark, where their offspring would be the start of a population of Faroese horses outside of the Faroe Islands.

Anonymous donor has offered to pay for surrogacy

If the plan goes ahead, it wouldn’t be the first time Icelanders help the Faroe Islands to maintain their horse breed. In 2018, the Faroese Horse Association and the Icelandic Farmers Association (Bændasamtök Íslands) partnered to create a family tree and digital registration system for the Faroese horse breed, with information on origin, offspring, breeding, and more.

The surrogacy project has a projected cost of $220,000 [€200,000]. An anonymous donor has reportedly already offered to pay the cost if legislative changes make it possible.