20 Mar 5 facts about the Icelandic Horse

The distinctive characteristics of the beloved Icelandic horse have become known to horse enthusiasts worldwide and the reputation of this unique breed has traveled from all parts of the world. There are many factors that distinguish the Icelandic horse from other breeds around the world.

So what are those characteristics and traits that you hear so much about?


  1. The five gaits of the Icelandic horse

When it comes to gaits, the Icelandic horse has a few tricks up its sleeve. Like all horses, the Icelandic can walk, trot, and canter, but they’ve got two more gaits to add to the mix. Their reputation as a “five-gaited” breed truly makes the Icelandic horse stand out in the equestrian world.

The first additional gait is the famous tölt, an incredibly smooth four-beat gait. In this unusual gait, the horse’s hooves move in the same pattern as a walk — left hind, left front, right hind, right front — but can go as fast as a typical cantor. However, a tölt can also be performed at a slow pace as well. The second unique gait is the flugskeið — the “flying pace.” This quick racing gait can hit speeds of nearly fifty kilometers per hour. The flying pace is achieved through a two-beat gait in which the hooves on one side of the horse hit the ground almost simultaneously.


  1. Brought to Iceland by Vikings

The ancestors of the Icelandic horse were probably taken to Iceland by Viking Age Scandinavians between 860 and 935 AD. The Norse settlers were followed by immigrants from Norse colonies in Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Western Isles of Scotland. These later settlers arrived with the ancestors of what would elsewhere become Shetland,Highland, and Connemara ponies, which were crossed with the previously imported animal. There may also have been a connection with the Yakut pony and the breed has physical similarities to the Nordlandshest of Norway


  1. When a horse leaves the island he is not allowed back

The genetic uniqueness of the Icelandic breed has been guarded for over 1000 years and the Icelandic law dictates that horses in Iceland have to stay contained in Iceland. At one point in time, other breeds were brought over from mainland Europe and brought with them diseases uncommon to the Icelandic breed. As a consequence half of the Icelandic horse population died from those diseases. These days, no foreign livestock is allowed in the country, and any Icelandic horses that leave the island (such as for an international competition) can never return.


  1. Unique structure

Icelandic horses weigh between 330 and 380 kilograms and stand an average of 13 and 14 hands (52 and 56 inches, 132 and 142 cm) high, which is often considered pony size, but breeders and breed registries always refer to the Icelandic breed as horses. They have well-proportioned heads, with straight profiles and wide foreheads. The neck is short, muscular, and broad at the base; the withers broad and low; the chest deep; the shoulders muscular and slightly sloping; the back long; the croup broad, muscular, short and slightly sloping. The legs are strong and short, with relatively long cannon bones and short pasterns. The mane and tail are full, with coarse hair, and the tail is set low.


  1. The oldest Icelandic mare reached the age of 56

Members of the breed are not usually ridden until they are four years old, and structural development is not complete until age seven. Their most productive years are between eight and eighteen, although they retain their strength and stamina into their twenties. An Icelandic mare that lived in Denmark reached a record age of 56, while another horse, living in Great Britain, reached the age of 42. The horses are highly fertile, and both sexes are fit for breeding up to age 25; mares have been recorded giving birth at age 27.