Friday, 5 June 2015

Icelandic horses: About the Icelandic Horse

When traveling around Iceland, you will probably notice the Icelandic horse, wherever you go. The small horse might look wild, but it is known for being very friendly, it is also believed to be one of purest horse breeds in the world. So what is Icelandic horse and why is he so unique? Here will be answers for those questions.

This small horse (average 135cm) came to Iceland when first viking settlers sailed to Iceland around year 800. Even though it is not a big horse, it is very strong, can carry a full-grown man and has adapted to Icelandic weather conditions very well. Most of the time horses spend outside, and during the winter time they grow very thick coat to protect themselves from the cold and strong winds.

The Icelandic horse is enormously muscular, and with very dense bones, often with a heavy head and compact body.  This breed is possessed of great agility and is also very sure-footed.

Icelanders are very proud of their horse, and it is not recommended to talk bad about their horses in front of them. Even they are in size of ponies, they are not called Icelandic pony.

The Icelandic horse is the only horse breed in Iceland. Natives are doing everything they can to protect their breed. That´s why all horse import in Iceland is strongly forbidden, no exceptions. Once the horse leaves Iceland, it never returns back. That way Icelanders can make sure their breed is pure and also no diseases come to the country.

Because Iceland is geographically isolated, with help of import ban, only very few horse diseases are known here. Which makes difficult for horses that leave this country, as they are are not immune for sicknesses that are popular in other countries.

Back in the days Icelandic horse was very important part of Icelandic people. Before cars came, it was the only way of transportation. Iceland is also one of not so many contries that eat horse meat (also still today). A popular entertainment among vikings was also stallion fights. Nowadays Icelandic horse is bred for leisure, sport and also meat.

The icelandic horse has 5 gaits.  The gaits are walk, trot and canter/gallop, like in other horses, but also the super smooth tolt and many of the Icelandics also master the 5th gait, the thrilling and fun flying pace.    

The tolt is a smooth four beat gait (similar to the running walk or rack)  The rider sits virtually bounce free at speeds up to 20 mph.  You can carry a glass full of beer or your favorite drink while riding the tolt, without fear of spilling it.  The tolt is a natural gait, and you often see foals and grown horses tolting in the pasture.

It is very popular among tourists to explore Iceland on horseback, there are many horse rentals all over Iceland that offer shorter and longer horse riding tours. If you have never had experience with horses, Iceland is a place to give it a try. Icelandic horse is a gaited horse, which means besides the „regular“ gaits that all horses have – walk, trot and canter, Icelandic horse has two „extra“ – tölt: very comfortable gait, often said to be faster version of walk and flying pace: a very fast gait, where the horse shows off all his power.

If you are interested in trying to ride and Icelandic horse, contact Icelandic Excursions (, and they will help you to find right riding tours that suits you.

Peter, Iceland24
June 2015

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