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Overview and history of the Icelandic Horse

The Icelandic horse was originally taken over to Iceland by the Vikings on their longships thousands of years ago. As these settlers came to Iceland, they could only bring a limited number of livestock with them and so the best animals were chosen for this journey. Since their arrival in Iceland, these horses have been pure bred and from their arrival in Iceland until this day, no horse is allowed to enter Iceland.

Icelandic horses can be found all over the world from Germany, Britain, Greenland, America, Australia to New Zealand. All Icelandic Horses are required to be registered in the Icelandic studbook, with their parentage traceable back to Iceland.

Appearance of the Icelandic Horse

Icelandics are hardy and robust horses and although small in size, they are strong and powerful riding horses, bred to carry the early Vikings and in our day and age all members of the family in comfort and safety. They are not broken in until they are at least 4 years old and are commonly still ridden until the age of 25 or 30.

Icelandic horses are rarely taller than 14.2hh, however, heights aren’t fixed and can vary. These horses have an expressive head, a supple and well set neck and strong limbs and when ridden portray pride, courage and power in their movements. In winter, the Icelandic horse will grow a thick coat with three layers and in summer will lose this winter coat in place of its shiny fine summer coat.

.Icelandics can be found in any colour, from dun, brown, chestnut, bay, grey, palomino and silver dapple with many variations of the usual colours. However, the most common colours are red (chestnut) and black (brown). All horses have one of the three basic colours, black, red/chestnut or bay.

Character of the Icelandic horse

Icelandic horses are known for their welcoming and loyal character and are friendly and quick to learn. They are usually very easy to handle both on the ground and in the saddle and have a great willingness to work.

In Iceland, these horses were given the name “indispensable servant” and with few roads, vast distances and rough terrain were used to carry goods, transporting doctors and picking up the groceries.

Today, these horses are used for competitions at the highest level, and will also safely carry the youngest family member out for a ride. They seem to adapt to the task that they are given and this versatility is treasured among the Icelandic horse lovers and is one of the most important breeding goals.

Gaits of the Icelandic horse

The Icelandic Horse is a gaited horse breed with this breed having either one or two extra gaits besides walk, trot and canter. The extra gaits that these horses have compared to other horse breeds are tölt and flying pace.


Tölt is the unique four-beat lateral gait, that the breed is best known for. The horse’s hind legs should move under its body and carry more of the weight on the hind end, allowing the front to rise and be free and loose. Tölt is very smooth to ride and can be ridden very slow or fast.


The flying pace is the “fifth gear”, offering a two-beat lateral movement with suspension. This gait is ridden very fast, even used for racing and only for short distances, 100-200 metres usually. Note, not all Icelandic horses have this fifth gait.


Icelandic Horses are very versatile, and some make fantastic jumpers or are trained to a higher level in dressage riding. They are also used for carriage pulling and barrel racing, however, the most common use for this horse is as a general riding horse for the whole family. Their character makes them a very loyal, safe and reliable horse to own and enjoy.

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