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The Icelandic Horses

The Icelandic horse is increasing in popularity all over the world. In Iceland itself, the number of this breed of horse amounts to about 80,000, and this is in a country with a population of only around 300,000! There is even an international Federation of Icelandic Horses, comprising of 18 countries. This should be no surprise, as there really is so much to love about this beautiful breed.


The beautiful and infamous Iceland horse is one of the oldest breeds of horse in the world. They were introduced to Iceland by Norse settlers in the 9th and 10th centuries. This breed is known for its purity of bloodline. It is amazingly to this day the only breed of horse in Iceland.

Back in the early days of their introduction to Iceland, these horses were held in high esteem by the Norse people. References to the breed are to be found throughout Norse mythology. The Viking Age Scandinavians believed that horses were a symbol of fertility, and of course they were also highly important in the context of war.

Through the years, from this medieval beginning, a combination of natural selection and selective breeding has contributed to developing the horse to its current form. Iceland does not allow any horses to be imported. Also, once an Icelandic horse has been exported, it is not allowed to return. So strict a hold do they wish to have on the purity of the breed.

Small but Mighty

Icelandic horses are quite small, often around the stature of what would normally be considered to be pony sized. They have however always been known as horses rather than ponies. Some suggest, that this is down to their bold and confident personalities, their bone structures and weight aligning them more so with fellow horses than ponies.

Their legs, though short, are strong. They also generally have muscular shoulders and necks. No doubt this was an influencing factor in the British use of the breed before the 20thCentury in the coal industry. Icelandic horses are sure of foot and very hardy, growing extra thick winter coats when the temperatures drop. They are particularly sturdy as they have developed over the years to be able to survive not only cold conditions but also harsh and rugged terrain.

Icelandic horses are also known for their stunning beauty. Beauty that can be seen in the many different coat colours. They have well proportioned heads, long muscular backs and also lovely long manes.

The Fifth Gait

The Icelandic horse is unique, and this is no overstatement. This is true because they are the only breed of horse in the world that has five different gaits. Other horses will be able to move in the normal walk, trot, canter and gallop. Icelandic horses however have some more moves up their sleeves, as they are able to pace and move into what in Icelandic is called the tölt.

The tölt is a four beat ambling gait which is very soft and should be highly comfortable for the rider. The pacing gait, or what is known in Icelandic as the skeið, is also called the ‘flying pace'. Not all Icelandic horses can perform this gait, but those who can are able to reach up to 30 mph. This movement is a two beat gait and is meant to be performed by well trained Icelandic horse with skilled riders.


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