The Icelandic Horse
The Most Faithful Servant
The Icelandic horse is a unique breed of smallish horses that came to Iceland with the first settlers from Norway 1100 years ago. Archeological digs in Europe have revealed that it is descendent from an ancient breed of horses that is now extinct outside of Iceland, where it has been preserved in isolation.
The Icelandic, as it is commonly referred to, is known for being sure-footed and able to cross rough terrain. It displays two gaits in addition to the typical walk, trot, and canter/gallop commonly displayed by other breeds. The first additional gait is a four-beat lateral ambling gait called tölt. Tölt is known for its explosive acceleration and speed; it is also comfortable and ground-covering. The breed also performs a pace called skeið, or "flying pace". It is used in pacing races, and is fast and smooth, with some horses able to reach up to 50 km/h (30 mph). It is not a gait for long-distance travel.
The Icelandic horse comes in many different colors, and the Icelandic language includes more than 100 names for the various colors and color patterns. It is small, weighing between 330 and 380 kilograms (730 and 840 lb) and standing an average of 132 to 142 cm (52 to 56 inches) high. It has a spirited temperament and a large personality.
The Icelandic horse has gradually developed into several strains. The most important of these are the Svaðastaðir and the Hornafjörður strain. Horses descendent of Svaðastaðir are considered to have a more attractive gait and to be more dainty and frisky; while those from Hornafjörður are larger, and have greater endurance and courage. The Icelandic horse is long-lived and hardy and has become very popular internationally. A sizable population exists in Europe and North America. In their native country they have few diseases; and as a result Icelandic law prevents horses from being imported into the country and exported animals are not allowed to return.
The Icelandic language includes more than 100 names for various colors and color patterns of the Icelandic horse.
The Icelandic horse continues to be used for farm work in addition to showing, racing and recreation. Horse riding is a great way to explore unspoiled nature, offering stunning, views of panoramic landscapes and grazing sheep. Riding tours are offered all throughout Iceland by various and numerous farms, many of which are only a few minutes outside of Reykjavik. The tours suit all levels of experience and can last anywhere between half a day to ten days.
Iceland is the perfect location for whale watching. The cold waters off the coast play host to a diverse marine life. During the summer months in particular, Iceland's shores become a veritable feeding ground for multiple species of large marine mammals, giving visitors a chance to observe these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.
Iceland is known as one of the best places in the world for birdwatching. A large number of birds make their home along Iceland's coast, including some of the largest colonies in the world for certain types of sea fowl. Iceland's wetlands are also a conducive habitat for many species of birds.
The local natural wonder that is perhaps most ingrained in the fabric of Icelandic culture is the bounty of geothermal energy, the naturally heated water that powers our lives and heats our homes, baths and pools, public as well as private. And as unlikely as it may sound, Reykjavík sports its own geothermal beach, with white sands and warm ocean water.