Icelandic horses: Everything you need to know about this special breed

Icelandic horses: Everything you need to know about this special breed

06.10.2020 | Louisa Hackl

Icelandic horses have gained popularity and become the main reason for many to travel to Iceland. Their natural beauty, charisma, strong personality, small stature, and strong physique make them a unique breed. Driving around Iceland, you can expect to see these beautiful creatures and you may want to pose for a photo with them or even join a guided horse riding tour or stay at a farm accommodation to get closer to them.

This article was written by Louisa Hackl who works at the Hestaland horse farm. They offer authentic farm accommodation as well as horse riding tours.

Icelandic horse in rugged nature

Iceland can be rough terrain. The weather gets harsh and the winters are long and dark. But the Icelandic horses are just as tough as their home country and when you see them standing outside, facing the wind or snow, it often seems like nothing can throw them off the tracks.

Beautiful brown Icelandic horse

Are the Icelandic horses native to Iceland?

Icelandic horses aren’t native to the country, they have been brought by the Vikings over a thousand years ago. Since then, the horses have been living and breeding without any genetic input. This makes them one of the purest horse breeds in the world and let’s be honest- it’s pretty cool to imagine the ancestor of a horse you can meet today next to a strong Viking, isn’t it?

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Horses have played an important role in Iceland's history 

Former times, horses have not only been used for riding but rather as working animals. They helped the farmers make hay and pulled all kinds of carriages. If they were taken for a ride, it was rarely for fun or competition, but rather to get from A to B. Iceland has been developing at a slower pace than most European countries and it was very common for Icelanders to ride to church or visit friends and family on horseback. It wouldn’t have been possible to survive in Iceland without the help of the Icelandic horse.

Horses playing

Their role has changed a lot

Their role has changed quite a bit in the last century and nowadays, while they are still as loved and treasured as always, they play a very different role in our lives. A big part of Icelandic culture still revolves around horses and the breeding has evolved a lot. There are some horses that will compete on the highest level and get cheered on by what feels like the whole country during the bi-annual Landsmót (The National Icelandic Horse Competition) and there are horses that safely take their riders across the vast Icelandic Highlands, for example following the ancient Kjölur trek.

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What makes the Icelandic horse so special?

It is not only their mostly calm and steady characters that make Icelandic horses so special. Next to walk, trot and gallop, Icelandic horses have two extra gaits: tölt and flying pace! The tölt is a four-beat lateral gait with at least one foot on the ground at all times. This makes the tölt incredibly smooth to sit and comfortably travel long distances. The flying pace however is only ridden over short distances as it is a very fast and exhausting gait. It is also a lateral movement, but only two-beat and with suspension. It is usually used for racing over distances not longer than 250m. While all Icelandic horses have the ability to tölt, flying pace requires the so-called “pace gene” which can’t be found in every Icelandic horse.

Icelandic horse looking at you

They may be small in stature, but should not be underestimated

Even though Icelandic horses are mostly calm and patient, they are not to be underestimated! They have an extremely powerful nature and are always ready to give 100%. This positive willingness is what Icelandic horse riders value most about their horses.
So if you’re travelling to Iceland, make sure to visit a horse farm and get to know this unique breed. But remember, even though some of them might be quite small, we refer to them as Icelandic horses. So never call them ponies!

More information about the Icelandic horse places to get to know them can be found on the Horses of Iceland website.

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