When the first settlers arrived some 1100 years ago they brought with them some life stock. Among them some Scandinavian horses. Our Icelandic horse is not very tall but he is strong, healthy, resilient and weather sealed.
The Icelandic horse is very famous for good temper and welcoming character. The horses are friendly, adventurous, smart and quick to learn. They are easy to handle but sometimes they can be very strong headed specially when the rider is unsure, yet also powerful and with a great will to work.
Often the same horse can be used for competitions at the highest level, as well as to safely carry the youngest family member on a ride out.
They are very social and want to be grazing among other horses.
The Icelandic horse played a big role in the viking age as a war horse. The horse was his symbol of power and wealth. The Icelandic horse was often given to Kings and Landlords as presents.
In the Nordic mythology the horse was highly respected and was the symbol for fertility and keeper of the poetry. The most famous horse was Sleipnir own by the God Oðinn.
We can still see the effect from the Nordic mythology because many of the Riding clubs have names from the Nordic mythology.
The horse has been called the most needed servant. He has been used as a working animal for centuries and also used for traveling and transportation. Today he is mostly used for a hobby riding in the western world bur he is still a working horse in a big part of the world.
The Icelandic horse has been isolated since the settlement and has not been blended with other horses and therefor developed as an special breed.
The size of Icelandic horses can vary considerably, from just about 130 cm on highest point of withers, to over 150 cm. The average size of horses shown in breeding evaluation is just under 140 cm to the withers which is considerably taller than 30 years ago. The reason for horses growing taller is due partly to better feed, but also selected breeding.
The first settlers could only bring few horses with them, so they had to select only the best horses for the difficult sailing to Iceland.
Because of our geographical location and isolation we have no infectious diseases and therefor no need for vaccination. But we need to be careful.When we send a horse to a horse show abroad we can not bring it home again. All our riders are asked to be extra careful not to bring the riding gear back and wash and clean all their clothing before entering an Icelandic stable.
Five different gaits
The Icelandic horse is best known for its five different gaits. They are FET (Walk), BROKK (Trot), STÖKK (Gallop), TÖLT (Tolt) and SKEIÐ (Flying pace). What makes this special is the fact that no other horse breed have five different gaits.
Here you can see a video explaining the five different gaits
Not all Icelandic horses have this five different gaits. We put our horses into three different categories.
- First we have Alhliða hestar and they have all five kind of different gaits.
- Then we have Klárhestar with Tölt have all but skeið Flying pace).
- And finally we have Klárhestar with fet, brokk and stökk like all other horse breeds.
There is hard to find Klárhestar anymore because most of our horses have at least 4 different gaits.
The extra gaits that set the Icelandic horse apart from other breeds are called tölt and flying pace.
Tölt is the unique four-beat lateral gait, that the breed is best known for. The horse’s hind legs should move well under the body and carry more of the weight on the hind end, allowing the front to rise and be free and loose. Tölt is very smooth to ride since there is no suspension between strides, as is the case in trot or canter, and it can be ridden very slowly up to a very fast speed, depending on the horse.
The Icelandic Horse have more than 40 different colors with up to 100 variations. The red and brown color are dominating with very variable color patterns and their head hair and tail can have different colors. The rarest color found in Icelandic horses is the color-changing roan.
The official breeding goal of Icelandic horses is to produce a healthy, fertile, and durable riding horse, a robust and yet elegant and versatile horse with five excellent gaits. The conformation should offer optimal natural balance, and the movements should be supple, high and ground covering in all gaits, giving an elegant and powerful image.
Icelandic horses are often said to be very easy to ride. The truth is that due to their gentle and sweet nature, as well as their smooth gaits. There are many horse farms in Iceland, many of them offer guided riding tours. If you are interested I recommend you try it. At least visit one of the Horse farms and have a look.
When I was 12 years old I had my first experience with the Icelandic horse. I stayed at Goðdalir farm in Skagafjörður for the summer. The day after I arrived I took part in getting our herd of horses to their grazing area up in the high county. I was put on a very gentle 20 year old stallion. I was given the fundamental instructions and told to sit tight in the saddle no matter what. It was a lovely day in a beautiful country side. Everything went smoothly but my horse was all around the mares and most often I was in the middle of the herd instead of being behind them. It was a very memorial 3 day ride I never forget.
Later in my life I was an owner of three horses and enjoyed keeping and riding them. They were my best friends.
I hope this information helps you to know more about the Icelandic horse and as always I would love to hear from you so please leave a comment or a question below.
Þórhallur / Thorhallur
Founder of FactsAboutIceland.com