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Meet the Icelandic Horse


Icelandic Horse

Icelandic Horse

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Meet the Icelandic Horse:

My first encounter with Icelandic Horses came through a trail ride I was invited on at a farm that raised Icelandic Horses. At the time, I had never ridden a gaited horse, so I was quite happy to accept. Because I am tall, the first thing I noticed was that these horses were pony sized. However, once aboard, I did not feel as unbalanced or burdensome as I had expected. Iceland is a harsh environment on the people and horses, and these little horses are tough. They are also remarkably calm and surefooted. Although there are lots of opportunities to compete with Icelandics, they are also just plain fun to ride.

Body Type:

The body of the Iceland Horse is more horse than pony-like. Often they look like a horse with shorter legs. They are very sturdy and capable of carrying a full-grown adult with tack easily. They are muscular and deep chested, with sloping shoulder and croup. Their heads are not refined, but proportional to their necks and bodies. They give an impression of strength and solidity. Because different breeders tend to breed for different uses and qualities, there is no one standard adhered to when choosing breeding stock. Some are bred for riding and good gaits, others as draft and pack animals. Others are bred for meat, and some breeders favor specific coat colors.

Average Size:

The pony sized Icelandic Horse is 13 to 14 hands high (132 and 142 cm) and they weigh around 800 lbs (363 kg). They are of a stocky build with good bone—more like a horse with short legs than a pony.


Icelandics are bred for riding, driving and meat. They have five gaits, the walk, trot, canter, tolt and pace. I know from my trail ride that the pace is smooth and speedy. The tolt and pace were developed to negotiate quickly over the rough terrain of the volcanic Iceland landscape. The pace is used when riding and driving.

Color and Markings:

Some breeders breed for specific colors, and Icelandics come in every color, solid and pinto, known to the horse world, except spotted Appaloosa-like coat patterns.

History and Origins:

The Iceland Horse traces its origins back to horses brought to Iceland by the Vikings about fifteen hundred years ago. After an unsuccessful attempt to refine the breed by introducing Arabian horse bloodlines, the ruling government passed a law against crossing the Icelandic with other breeds. For over one thousand years, the breed has remained 'pure' with strict laws about introducing outside bloodlines. Also, because common horse diseases are almost unheard of in Iceland, importing horses to the island for any reason is prohibited. If an Icelandic Horse is sold to someone anywhere else in the world, it cannot return to its Icelandic home.

Unique Characteristics:

The Icelandic is a gaited breed and the tolt does not need to be taught. This fast running walk is very smooth to ride and ground covering. It almost appears to be 'up hill' as the horse carries its head higher than we ask many riding horses to. Its easy temperament make it a great first time horse and it's perfect for those of us with back problems or other issues that make make learning to ride difficult. I think one of the most distinctive physical features of this breed is it copious mane and tail.

One surprising aspect of Icelandic shows is that after competition the horses are often turned out in a pasture together—a far cry from the protecting, segregating and wrapping that is normal with most show horses. While the breed itself has been around for centuries, breed associations only began in the early years of the twentieth century.

Icelandic Horse Champions and Celebrities:

Each year the World Championship of Icelandic Horses is contested. The competitions include breeding horse evaluations, classes that judge the horse and rider team for rider capability and horse obedience. Icelandics are used for jumping, trail riding and dressage and are shown in classes that evaluate the spirit and attitude of the horse.

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