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1 June 2021

Herdís Reynis

2 minute read

Let's talk about the horses of Iceland

The Icelandic horse is known worldwide for its genuine and welcoming character.

The Icelandic horse is the best ambassador Iceland has ever had, even the non-horsey Icelanders have to agree to that! These gentle, smooth rides have convinced countless people around the world, to dive into the world of the Icelandics, and usually, that means even a visit to Iceland, as well as buying the woolly traditional sweater!

The Icelandic horse has earned its respect and love throughout the world as a gentle, yet powerful, strong yet incredibly smooth, favorite riding horse and companion to anyone that gets to know this versatile and generous breed. Along with the great character, the most loved trait of the Icelandics is the tölt. This four-beat lateral gait that makes you feel you glide, rather than bounce, is in their genes, along with the fast and smooth, flying pace. Most competitions with Icelandic horses focus on the quality of the gaits, so along with showing walk, trot, and canter, we strive to get the best tölt and pace.

These horses are truly the original Viking horses and were brought to Iceland by the Vikings over 1,100 years ago where they have been isolated ever since, without any other genetic input.

This makes the Icelandic horse one of the oldest pure breeds in the world. There have never been any other horse breeds in Iceland so to us, Icelanders, this THE HORSE!

Still today the import of any horses (or other livestock) is forbidden due to the risk of bringing disease with introduced animals. Iceland enjoys an almost disease-free status, meaning no vaccinations are needed. This allows a rather unique way of keeping the horses, usually in big herds in huge pastures, also stallions with their mares. In the summertime, thousands of horses can roam free in the mountains from various farms and are being brought down to the lowlands in the autumn during the famous horse round-ups.

However, in order to protect this way of horse keeping, used tack, used leather boots, or other equipment is prohibited, and people are kindly asked to respect this and disinfect thoroughly any clothing or such that has been in contact with other animals abroad before visiting Iceland. More info here.

Another unique thing in Iceland is the travel with horses in the summertime. As Iceland is quite a big island (103.000 sq km/ 40,000 sq m) with a very scarce population (369,000 people in 2021), there are vast lands with no houses or roads. Because of this, we Icelanders (and our guests) can travel with our horses for days—or weeks—through the remarkable countryside. There is surely nothing that compares to traveling with a big herd of horses; perhaps 100 free horses lining up over the narrow path through the lava field, few riders in the front to guide them, and the rest of the riders in the back to drive them. Imagine the view of glaciers and volcanos around you and black desert, or old lava beneath you while you glide in the fabulous smooth tölt of an Icelandic horse.  Now that is something to dream about... I know I do!

Horses of Iceland official website

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This article was written by Herdís Reynis

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