7 Things You Didn’t Know About The Icelandic Horse

Image source:  Dagur Brynjólfsson - wikimedia

I just had the pleasure of watching an Icelandic horse club do a demonstration at the NW Horse Expo in Albany, Oregon. It was the first time I had really gotten to see this breed in action, and some of the things I learned about them really surprised me. Let’s see if you knew all these fun and interesting facts about the adorable Icelandic.

#1 – Brought to Iceland by Vikings

The Icelandic horse is the only horse breed from Iceland and their ancestors were brought there in the 9th and 10th centuries by Vikings.

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#2 – Pony-sized horses

Though the Icelandic ranges in size from just 12hh to roughly 14.2hh, they are referred to as horses, not ponies. This may partly be due to their weight, bone structure and weight-carrying abilities, which are more horse than pony.

Image source: Thomas Quine - wikimedia 
Image source: Thomas Quine – wikimedia

#3 – 3-layered winter coat

The Icelandic is fairly sleek in the summer months – though they retain a heavy mane and tail – but in the winter they grow a special, three-layer coat, which helps them survive the freezing Icelandic temperatures.

Image source: Andreas Tille - wikimedia 
Image source: Andreas Tille – wikimedia

#4 – They have two special gaits

I was surprised to learn that this primitive Viking “pony” was gaited. The tölt is a four-beat gait “without a moment of suspension” meaning the horse always has one or two feet on the ground. It is a very smooth gait, and can be ridden at a slow “working speed” up to a racing speed that can reach 20 miles per hour! The other gait is called the Flying Pace – it’s “a lateral gait with a moment of suspension” This gait is only ridden at racing speed and, according to the group who showed at the expo, can reach 45 miles per hour! (

An example of the Flying Pace. Image source: Dagur Brynjólfsson – wikimedia

#5 – They are the only horse breed in Iceland

I don’t just mean the only breed native to Iceland – they are the only breed. Period. In the 10th century they banned importing horses into Iceland in an effort to keep the Icelandic breed pure. The ban still stands today. If an Icelandic horse leaves Iceland, they are not allowed to return.

Image source:  Dagur Brynjólfsson – wikimedia

#6 – A horse of many colors

The Icelandic is one of the few equine breeds that exhibits almost all the colors possible in a horse. From painted to solid – and everything in between. As you can see, they also can blue eyes. (


Image source: Anjali Kiggal - wikimedia
Image source: Anjali Kiggal – wikimedia

#7 – A horse for every family

Iceland has a human population of only 270,000. There are 80,000 Icelandic horses in Iceland. So that means for every three people, there is one horse. It is one of the most “horse dense” areas in the world.

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