Icelandic horses are a must see when traveling to Iceland. They are small, sturdy, and the only breed of horse in the country. They were brought to Iceland by the Vikings between 874 and 930, and are one of the oldest horses in the world. Originally, Icelandic horses were used to plow fields and carry food and other cargo for the first settlers. For centuries they lived and worked in harsh conditions, enduring natural disasters and volcanic eruptions. Through natural selection, Icelandic horses evolved into powerful creatures that could withstand any obstacle nature threw at them.
In Iceland, these horses are completely purebred. To this day, other horses are not allowed to be imported into the country, and exported horses cannot come back, in order to preserve the safe environment that the Icelandic horses have adapted to. Many diseases that horses suffer from elsewhere have never been a problem to horses in Iceland.
Characteristics of the Icelandic horse include long, flowing manes and short size. Generally, the horse stands 13 to 14 hands (52 to 56 inches), virtually making it a pony. However, its horse-like temperament deems it a horse, as does the lack of an Icelandic word for “pony”.
There are many aspects of Icelandic horses that make them special, but one of the most prominent of those is that aside from the original gaits that a typical horse has (walk, trot, canter, and gallop), they also are able to perform a tölt, which is a fast, smooth, four-beat gait, and a flying pace, which is a two beat gait known for its suspension and speed.
Currently, Icelandic horses are used for traditional farm work, racing, and showing. They are also used for scenic trail rides which are quite popular in Iceland. These powerful horses can show you countless glaciers, mountains, and other remarkable landscapes. Tours like these will take you back in time as you ride on trails used by the first settlers in Iceland. Icelandic horses are unusually affectionate, because their history of battling through environmental dangers has taught them to not fear nature and other living beings like other breeds.
When you travel to Iceland, there are many places where you can meet and ride these horses. There are a variety of tours that will take you to different places depending on what you would like to see. There are even tours where you can ride underneath the Northern Lights! Facilities like Ishestar, Riding Iceland, and Eldhestar offer rides for complete beginners to advanced riders. Come visit Iceland and learn about the majestic Icelandic horses that are unlike any other!