|Icelandics have lived on Iceland in total isolation for a thousand
years. There has been no in-breeding due to the law passed by the Icelandic
parliament in 982AD which forbade any importation of horses to prevent
disease. Even today, any horse which leaves
Iceland can never return. Today´s Icelandics are the direct descendants
of the Viking horses who possessed the lateral gaits. I Iceland horses
have been treated with respect and dignity and raised to the highest levels
by selective breeding. In Iceland, horse breeding is considered an art,
just as much as an agricultural business. No other horse breed in the world
has as much status in the minds of a whole nation.
Because of Iceland's geographic isolation, the Icelandic horse has remained virtually disease-free so far. To keep it that way no import of horses, or other livestock is allowed. All imports of used riding wear, tack and other things used around livestock are also forbidden, unless fully disinfected. As a result, the World Championships can never be held in the home country of the Icelandic horse because once horses have been exported they can never return.
For centuries, the horse was the only means of transportation in Iceland,
as well as, being the most important working animal in the days before
machinery. The horse was called "the most useful servant" until the first
automobile arrived in Iceland in the year 1904. Almost immediately the
horse became redundant. Breeders kept breeding good horses and Iceland's
first horse breeding association was formed the same year the automobile
The main competition and show season for the Icelandic horse is during
the summer, but winter games, ice-riding and indoor shows take place from
February to May. The Icelandic horse is suitable for most types of shows
and competition. In Iceland there are two main types of competition, sports
competitions and the so-called Gæðingakeppni. In the sports competition
the main emphasis is on the rider's ability and the co-operation between
man and horse but in Gæðingakeppni the horse's abilities weigh
Icelandic horses have five gaits:
WALK - the usual slow four-beat gait in which there are always at least two feet on the ground. However, most
Icelandics have an extremely good walk which covers the ground very well.
TROT - a two-beat diagonal gait (diagonal pairs of legs move together) which has a moment of suspension in which
there are no legs on the ground
TÖLT - a four-beat lateral gait in which there is always at least one foot on the gound. As there is no moment of
suspension this gait is very smooth and comfortable for the rider. It can be performed at any speed from a slow trot to a
gallop. The Tolt is similar to the running walk or rack of a Tennessee Walking Horse or the Corto of the Paso Fino. In
the Icelandic Horse, Tolt is a very smooth four-beat gait which, while reaching speeds similar to fast trotting, is
much less jolting to the rider. It is an excellent gait for trail-riding or horse-trekking.
CANTER - a three-beat gait with a moment of suspension. The Icelanders count canter and gallop as a single gait.
FLYING PACE - a two-beat lateral gait in which the pairs of legs on the same side move together, and there is a clear
moment of suspensionr. This is a fast gait used for racing over short distances, and the horses can reach 30mph. In the
Pace, the hooves on the same side touch the ground together. Often called the Flying Pace, this gait can equal the speed
of a full gallop and is used in Iceland for racing. To Icelanders, riding at the Flying Pace is considered the crown of
One of the attractions of the breed is the wide variety of colors. Icelandics can be any color - dun, skewbald, black, red,
palomino or grey are easily found, and there are also rare colors such as silver dapple (almost black with a silver mane and
tail) and silver bay (bay with white mane and tail).The Icelandic language has more than a hundred names for the shades and patterns of horses; its wide range of colors is one of the distinguishing characteristics of the Icelandic Horse. While the majority of Icelandic Horses are chestnut, brown, bay, or black, there are many other shades, including dun, buckskin, palomino, white, gray, dapple, piebald, and skewbald. The rarest colors are the wind dapples and the roans. Icelandics are distinctive for their thick and often double-sided mane and long tail
In addition to formal horse shows and competitions, Icelandic Horses are widely used for cross-country rides and long-distance trekking. They have also competed in dressage, jumping, and endurance races.
In Iceland today, horses are seen as one way of preserving the country's agricultural tradition while improving its
economy. Long distance horse trekking is popular among Icelanders as well as among tourists, as are horse
shows, horse races, horse trading, and pleasure riding. Exports of Icelandic Horses have increased since the
first were sent to Germany in the 1940s. Currently there are some 70,000 Icelandic Horses in other countries
(as compared to 80,000 in Iceland), spread unevenly among the 19 member countries of the Federation of
Icelandic Horse Associations (FEIF). Some 40,000 horses are in Germany. In all of North America, by contrast,
there are fewer than 2,000 registered Icelandics.
BACK to List of