The Icelandic Horse - Man’s Most Hardworking Friend Skip to content

The Icelandic Horse – Man’s Most Hardworking Friend

By Þórunn Arnaldsdóttir

Photo: Berglind. Icelandic horses are a big part of the culture.

The Icelandic horse has been an important part of Icelandic culture since it was first brought to the country from Norway in the 9th century. For hundreds of years it was a loyal servant of the Icelandic people as it provided the only means to travel across the harsh landscape of the country. As a result, the Icelandic horse evolved into a hardy animal that is capable of withstanding long, cold winters and due to having no natural predators, the Icelandic has a confident disposition and isn’t easily spooked. The Icelandic horse is one of the few horse breeds in the world that has five gaits, but aside from the usual walk, trot, and canter/gallop, it can perform an amble gait called tölt and a flying pace called skeið. The tölt is a comfortable, fast pace that is inherent in most Icelandic horses but  but the skeið is not present in all horses and individuals who can perform both gaits are therefor most prized. 

Photo: Signe. The Icelandic horse is a tough animal that can withstand harsh winters

Horse or Pony?

Icelandic horses come in numerous colour variations and one of the many pleasures of driving across Iceland is seeing all the different coloured horses scattered around the fields and hills. Their size is almost classified as pony size but just manages to be put in the horse category. Adding to that, the Icelandic horse’s characteristics, strength and personality are more closely related to horses than ponies. The Icelandic is a huge part of Icelandic culture and economy and is still used to herd sheep by farmers. But through the years its purpose has developed into more of a pleasure aspect as it’s used in competition, horse rentals and simply as a companion animal. For visitors, horseback riding has been a hugely popular activity ever since Iceland became a tourist destination.

Photo: Golli. Icelandic horses in various colours

Protecting the Breed

Horse breeders in Iceland have always been very protective of the breed and since the early days of horse breeding here there has been a rule that no horses can be imported into the country. That means that the Icelandic horse is extremely well protected from diseases but also extremely vulnerable should an infection breach the country. Also because of this rule, horses that are exported from Iceland to compete abroad are not allowed to return which can be an emotional endeavour for their owners.  

Photo: Golli. Icelandic horses in bushy winter coats

For animal lovers and adventure seekers there are countless options for horseback riding in Iceland all year round and it is an excellent way to get to know the country’s history and personality. Every area has its own history with the Icelandic horse and since breeders and farmers are extremely passionate about their horses they’ll be more than ready to educate visitors on their specific knowledge.

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