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.
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. The tölt, is known in hardly any other of the world's breeds. By lifting one foot at a time, a tölting horse can keep the rider comfortable over considerable distances. Such characteristics have made the Icelandic horse so popular that nowadays there are more of them being bred in other countries than in Iceland. The breed also performs a pace called skeið, or "flying 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.
The Icelandic horse comes in many different colours, and the Icelandic language includes more than 100 names for the various colours and colour 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.
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.
In september there is a unique way to experience the Icelandic horse besides the typical riding tours. One of Iceland's oldest agricultural tradition takes place during this time, at the annual horse and sheep roundups. Each farming community across the country herd 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.