Horses of Iceland Icelandic Horses

The horses of Iceland are the original Viking horses and one of the purest horse breeds in the world.

Horses of Iceland

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 descended from an ancient breed of horses that is now extinct outside of Iceland, where it has been preserved in isolation.

Horses of Iceland. Icelandic Horses, Icelandic Horse breed, The Icelandic Horse breed

Tölt is known for its explosive acceleration and speed; it is also comfortable and ground-covering. Rider: Helga Una Björnsdóttir /photographer Gígja Einarsdóttir

The Icelandic horse 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. By lifting one to two hooves at a time, a tölting horse can keep the rider comfortable over considerable distances. Tölt is ridden from slow- to high tempo. The fifth gait of the Icelandic horse is called flying pace, or "skeið ". Not all horses can pace. Skeið 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, but rather short distances and high adrenaline! More about the gaits here.  

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 weighs between 330 and 450 kilograms (730 and 990 lb) and standing an average of 142 cm (56 inches) high at the withers. It has a spirited temperament and a large personality and is very strong. 

Horses fording a river

The Icelandic horse comes in many different colors, and the Icelandic language includes more than 100 names for the various colors and color patterns. Photographer Gígja Einarsdóttir

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. It should be noted that riding is not offered everywhere during the winter. For horse riding in the winter, prior inquiry to horse riding tour operators should help you.

Every other year during the summer, Iceland hosts the main event in the Icelandic horse world – Landsmót. It is a cultural event where the best horses and riders compete for the winning title and in the evenings live music and festivities go well into the night. 

In September there is a unique way to experience the Icelandic horse beside the typical riding tours. One of Iceland's oldest agricultural traditions takes place during this time, at the annual horse and sheep roundups. Each farming community across the country herds hundreds of sheep and in some places horses together in the surroundings of stunning mountains and isolated pastures.

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.

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Horses of Iceland