HISTORY OF THE ICELANDIC HORSE
The Icelandic horses is one of the oldest horse breeds in the world. They were brought to
Iceland by the first settlers from Norway, in the late ninth to early tenth centuries. The
Icelandic horse is Iceland's only native breed. These horses are the direct descendants of the horses that were taken to Iceland by the Vikings in the Dark Ages. The Vikings travelled by sea in narrow boats with limited space, so only the best horses were selected to make the journey.
The horses brought to Iceland during this period were probably Norwegian Dole Horses and Celtic Ponies (the ancestor of the British Exmoor and Shetland). Due to the harsh climate and the lack of vegetation over more than one half of the country, the Icelandic horse had an extremely difficult existence. Only the strongest and the fittest could survive.
The Icelandic breed has had no outside influence since 982 AD, when the Icelandic
Parliament passed a law prohibiting the importation of horses from foreign nations. The law
was meant to prevent the introduction of new diseases, but it also helped contribute to the evolution of a completely unique breed that has never been crossbred with other horse
breeds, which makes Icelandic horses one of the purest breeds in the world. Today the law
remains, and Icelandic horses that leave the country are not allowed to return.
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE ICELANDIC HORSE
The Icelandic horse has five gaits, among them the magical tölt. The tölt is the speciality of
the Icelandic horse. It is a remarkably smooth gait in which the horse moves its feet in the
same order as in walk, though more quickly. It is a supremely comfortable gait for the rider,
and one that is available at a variety of speeds.
The Icelandic horse is very good-natured – it is virtually unknown for an Icelandic horse to
kick or bite – and it is usually easy to catch, float and handle. It is also self-assured and
behaves well in traffic.
Most Icelandic horses today are between 13 and 14 hands high. Though they are usually
small in stature, they are extremely strong and bred to carry adults over long distances and
The breed has charm, strength and courage. They are intelligent and love learning and being
trained. You can use an Icelandic horse for almost anything – hacks, endurance, riding club
activities, dressage, and even driving.
The Icelandic horse can be found in over 40 different colours, with hundreds of variations.
Information taken from Icelandic Horses New Zealand (www.icehnz.org.nz).