When people talk about Iceland, they almost exclusively talk about the landscapes. While its true that our vistas and landscapes are second to none,  what about our animals? Iceland is full of unique and exotic animals, and my personal favorite of these is the Icelandic horse (with a very close second being the puffin. I mean, who doesn’t love a puffin?). Let’s take a look at these majestic Nordic stallions.

Icelandic horses are a special breed that descend back to Viking times


History of Icelandic Horses

The Icelandic horse is one of the rarest and purest breeds of horses on the planet. Today’s Icelandic horse is directly descended from its original Norwegian ancestors. The original Viking settlers of Iceland brought their sheep and horses with them from the mainland. As such, these breeds have stayed homogenous and pure-blooded. There are two different types of Icelandic horse breeds; both types are strong and handsome, but there are some slight differences.

Are They Horses or Ponies? And What are the Breeds?

First things first, Icelandic horses are much smaller than other breeds of horses from around the world. Standing at between an average height of 52 to 56 inches (132 to 142 cm), when most people first see them, they immediately think of a pony. They are Icelandic horses, so please don’t call them ponies. The two types of breeds are the Svaðastaðir and the Hornafjörður.

Svaðastaðir are highly prized for their beauty and their attractive gaits. A gait is the way in which a horse moves naturally or through human training. All animals that move on appendages have a gait, and, fun fact, I have been told I have a beautiful running gait. Lucky me I guess. The Svaðastaðir bloodline is also considered to be smaller and weaker than their Hornafjörður cousins.

Icelandic horses have two different breeds

Hornafjörður are the most powerful of the Icelandic horse breeds Their incredible endurance and courage make them the horse of choice for backcountry riding. While they may not be as pretty as their Svaðastaðir brethren, they are brave and noble beasts (which I will take over looks any day). While there may be variations among the two breeds, both types of Icelandic horses are surefooted, comfortable to ride, kind, and gentle.

Interesting Facts about Icelandic Horses

The first aspect that makes Icelandic horses incredibly interesting is their demeanor. Icelandic horses are, for lack a better word, chilled out. They are easy going and are not easily bothered. This definitely has something to do with the 1,000+ years of getting acclimated to one of the harshest winters in the world. Their demeanor also has made them pseudo members of many Icelandic families around the country.

Due to their pleasant demeanor, Icelandic horses are highly sought after outside of Iceland. However, once an Icelandic horse leaves the country, it can never come back. It may seem like a joke, but it is not. Iceland has had a standing law regarding this for close to a thousand years. Let me explain. Ancient attempts to create hybrid breeds of half Icelandic, half Asianic breeds of horses resulted in breeders becoming frustrated. So, in the late 900s AD, Iceland’s parliament decided that it was paramount to keep the bloodline pure. This also resulted in a ban on bringing in other breeds of horses. And that’s how the Icelandic horses’ bloodline has stayed pure for so long. Fun fact, the Icelandic horse, due to the stringent and strict regulations placed on the breed, are very resilient to livestock diseases.

Iceland's horses are the country's cutest animal, after the North Atlantic puffins


Icelandic Horses: Admirable and Adorable

The Icelandic horse comes in a wide variety of different colors, they are small and robust, and they are a perfect representation of Iceland itself. They have grown with our people, they have helped us survive devastatingly bleak winters, and they are beautiful and kind (like all Icelanders). If it weren’t for our equestrian counterparts, we might have never fully settled our small island nation, or we may have not survived at all. Icelandic horses are revered in our culture, and they are often considered a part of the family for those who own them. If you are coming to Iceland for the first time, I would recommend taking a private Icelandic horse tour. Experiencing the Icelandic countryside is best enjoyed from horseback. Book your tour before you come, and make sure to bring your selfie stick so that you can snap a picture of you and your new Icelandic bestie.

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