Skip to content
Feb 2, 2022

The Icelandic Horse

The Icelandic Horse

You may have heard about the Icelandic horse and seen pictures of these adorable fluffy creatures in their winter coats outside in a storm. Perhaps you’ve seen them yourself on a driving excursion in Iceland or even met them on the other side of a fence trying to convince you that they need just a few more treats before you move on. But this stout little character is much more than meets the eye.

Read on to find out why the Icelandic horse is one of the world’s most beloved horse breeds.

The Icelandic Horse Breed

Originating from the Norwegian horses brought to Iceland with the first settlers in the 9th century, the Icelandic horse is definitely one of the oldest horse breeds in the world. They enjoy a highly protected status in Iceland which means strict rules regarding the import of tac and equipment and no other horse breed is allowed to set foot on the island. This also means that Icelandic horses that leave Iceland are never allowed to return. While this sounds like a heartbreaking fact for the Icelandic National Equestrian team that has to leave their champion horses behind when competing abroad, it also means that the Icelandic horse is free from many of the diseases and ailments that plague other horse breeds abroad.

The Build of the Icelandic Horse

The most immediate characteristic of the Icelandic horse is its small stature. They range in height between 13 and 14 hands but their average height is constantly growing due to better feed and selective breeding. These are no ponies and while they are popular family horses, they easily carry large adults over long distances through rough terrain. They’re endowed with high bone density and strong legs, coupled with their incredible stamina, sure-footedness, courage and strong nerves, they make for excellent vehicles over the difficult Icelandic highlands. It also means that they’re a joy to get on. Their winter coats make them adorably fluffy during the coldest months and allow them to stay outdoors and enjoy the fresh air in harsh conditions. They’re mostly moved inside to shelter them from very wet and cold weather and they usually hate their indoor stalls.

Got excited?

Catch a flight to Iceland

Search flights

The Unique Gaits of the Icelandic Horse

In the equestrian world, the Icelandic horse is most famous for its two extra natural gaits, pace and tölt. The tolt is an incredibly smooth and comfortable four beat lateral gait with a quick acceleration and is regarded as a horse’s best feature. Most Icelandic horses do this beautiful gait naturally, much to the delight of their owners but fewer horses and riders work on the flying pace gait. It’s an incredibly fast two-beat lateral movement with suspension, hence the “flying” part, and is sometimes called “the fifth gear”. There’s really nothing quite like getting your horse to do the flying pace on a smooth surface alone on a trail in the countryside and a flying pace race is one of the most popular events in competitions. Horses that manage all five gaits well are prized possessions and wonderful companions over any kind of terrain.

The Color Variations of the Icelandic Horse

The Icelandic horse has a huge variety of color. With over 40 colors the breed is one of the most colorful in the world. Preserving this natural variety is part of the official breeding goal but everybody has their own personal favorite. The most common colors are chestnut and brown while the rarest are the color-changers or roan that change color with their winter coats.

The Friendly Character of the Icelandic Horse

We are aware that this blog makes the Icelandic horse sound like some kind of magical creature and we could honestly just keep going praising this fine animal. And we will. Despite its many, many qualities, none come close to its amazing character. These sturdy horses have a truly wonderful temperament. Well, some do anyway. The fact that they vary greatly in character is one of their best characteristics. These are not uniform soldiers who all behave alike. Your Icelandic horse likely has a unique personality that is a joy to get to know over time. They are generally very courageous and friendly, spirited, inquisitive and very social.

If an Icelandic horse were a dog, it would probably be a husky: a huge character packed into a gorgeous, athletic fluffy creature which is rarely quiet and prefers a mission in the great outdoors above all. Don’t forget to give it proper treats and plenty of scratches.

Got excited?

Catch a flight to Iceland

Search flights
Þingvellir (Thingvellir)

The Golden Circle

Book a tour in Iceland