The next time you’re at an equine expo with a breed display, make sure you seek out the stalls containing Icelandic Horses. Never seen an Icelandic Horse up close? If you spot a smallish, but sturdy-looking horse with an extremely fluffy and thick mane and tail check the stall sign--you’ve probably found an Icelandic Horse!
Iceland is a sparsely-populated island located in the North Atlantic Ocean northwest of Canada and northeast of Europe. If you’re flying to Great Britain from New York, you’ll probably fly over it. The island’s terrain is rocky, rugged and wild, and some parts of central Iceland can only be reached on horseback.
Icelandic Horses have been around since the 9th century, when Viking settlers brought horses with them to Iceland from Norway and the British isles. For years, these hardy little horses were the only mode of transportation for the Icelandic people.
The breed has changed little since its birth, because for more than 1,000 years importing horses to Iceland has been banned. So, no outside horses or different breeds have been bred to the horses living on the island. The Icelandic breed is considered very pure.
In the 1940s, Icelandic Horse breeders began sharing their mounts with the outside world. According to the United States Icelandic Horse Congress, there are around 70,000 Icelandic Horses in other countries. There are only 4437 registered Icelandic Horses in the United States, but this number is growing as more riders learn about the breed at horse expos and breed shows around the country.
Icelandic Horses range in size from 12 to 14.2 hands. They come in all equine colors and sport bushy, full manes and tails. They are strong little horses, with plenty of stamina. Although they are pony size, Icelandic Horse can carry most adults easily.
Because they mature late, Icelandic owners don’t usually back their horses until they are five years old. They are hardy and healthy, and many Icelandics are ridden into well into their 20s.
An Icelandic Horse may have five natural gaits. Apart from walk, trot and canter, Icelandics can tolt. The tolt is a four-beat running walk that can cover a lot of terrain at a fast pace. This is a smooth gait and is comfortable for the rider. Many Icelandic Horses can also do the lateral flying pace, a racing gait that can reach speeds of 30 miles per hour!
Icelandic horses have a reputation for being patient and forgiving with new riders in the saddle. But they are lots of fun for experienced equestrians too. Breed fans say that their Icelandic Horses are friendly and inquisitive, and that they form strong bonds with their humans.
Icelandic Horses are always given Icelandic names. Most have a personal first name and a surname which is usually the name of the farm where the horse was bred. For example, there is a pretty palomino stallion in California named Flygill Fra Mosfellsbae. Flygill is his personal name, Fra means from and Mosfellsbae is the name of the farm where he was raised.
A good place to find out more about Icelandic Horses is the United States Icelandic Congress website at www.icelandics.org. The site has tons of information about Icelandic Horse farms, stallions, local clubs, trainers and fun programs that you can participate in with your Icelandic Horse.