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The Icelandic Horse


Iceland an incredible country, is an island about the size of Ireland or state of Virginia. With a vast majority of Arctic desert, glaciers, steep mountains and volcanos, this country does not at first glance seem like a homeland of horses. In a land of stunning waterfalls, green rolling hills and agriculture, there is commonly seen a work force that cannot be underestimated; The Icelandic Horse.
Iceland was one of the last European country to be settled by Norsemen in the 9th and 10th Centuries. These settlers were mostly from Norway, Scandinavia and a the odd Celt from the British Isles. The first horses were believed to have been brought over by Scandinavians settlers. The Norse mythology featured horses in written literature and history with references made of horses by name in the 12th Century.

This incredible horse who was not only a work horse, toiled in the field to break hard ground to make agriculture what it is today in Iceland while also enduring elements of extreme cold for the more than 1100 years that the people of Iceland have chosen to stay and brave them out. The elements have seldom been friendly and conditions have often been intolerably harsh. Merely surviving has been a desperate and chancy business in itself. Therefore, the the nearly indestructible constitution of a horse needed to be bred to meet the expectations of people who were able to endure and love this country.

The Icelandic horses were almost wiped out in 1780 during a volcanic eruption, leaving only the most hardy surviving to become the foundation of the Icelandic Breed Society in 1904.The Icelandic has always been a product of careful breeding in Iceland with no cross breeding for over 1100 years, although it has gradually evolved to promote the most important lines. Two important ones are the Svadastađir and Hornafjörđur lines. Icelanders claim that horses from Svadastađir are considered to have a more attractive gait and to be more dainty and frisky; those from Hornafjörđur are larger, and have greater endurance and courage

Icelandic Law prohibits the import of other horses, eliminating the risk of disease to their horses. Obviously export is allowed, yet once a horse has been exported they are not allowed by law to return to the country. There are no predators of the horse in Iceland, reducing the level of the breeds flight or fight instincts, which remain today in their trusting and calm nature. They remain a horse; with the instincts of preservation and curiosity. They will run from danger, but this curtailed reaction to predators makes them more acceptable to surprising situations. They have a strong sense of herd dynamic and a clear hierarchy. As with all young horses, it is always healthy to grow up in a herd situation to learn life lessons.

The Icelandic Horse is very popular in Europe, with over 80,000 with almost the same number in Iceland, and has grown in popularity in North America with over 2000 horses and growing. 19 nations have breed representation and all of them are under the main registry of the International Federation of Icelandic Horse Associations.

The physical attributes that an Icelandic are most commonly known for is their gait. As well as a walk, trot, canter an they will perform a "tolt" and "flying pace".

The Tolt is a four beat wonderfully smooth gait with very little movement for the rider, this is the Icelandic birthright with foals often seen doing a tolt. No training is needed nor artificial aids for an Icelandic to tolt up to speeds of 20 mph. Although like any horse a skilled rider must train to bring out the very best of the gait undersaddle. The Flying Pace, a lateral racing gait, may attain speeds of 30 mph. It is an incredible gait that gives the rider a feeling of flying!

Breed standard is to be of 12.2-14 hh, and only 800 to 1000 pound, but don't let the size of this horse fool you; this horse was bred to carry a Viking across rough terrain for days on end and is extremely strong and sturdy. The vegetation of Iceland is mainly sub arctic, with grasslands, bogs, moorlands, marsh, and heatland and large expanses of rock, sand and lavarock. Large trees are not especially common, and even in medieval times birch and dwarf birch were the most common species. All of which brought forth an old Nordic joke on Iceland that "if you get lost in the forest, just stand up." Perhaps for this reason, the Vikings on this island wanted a horse who was smaller in stature simply for protection from enemies and to stay out of the wind! These horses have wonderfully thick downy coats and double manes and full luxurious tails are common. They come in all shades of colour from bay to dun and pinto as well.

They are so versatile and their temperament so agreeable that they are an asset to any sport or discipline. Icelandics are seen under English or western tack, are amazing trail and mountain horses, but are just as much at home pulling a show cart, doing competitive driving, hunter, jumping and doing their best to enchant all of those who get to know them.

The Icelandic Horse, is a rare and special horse that has found its home in a variety of places, watch for them tolting by with a flying mane and a rider with a smile!

*The history of our breeds is subject to the memories and tales of those who came before us, and as with the history of many they are open to interpretation. One thing is for certain, that these were horses who were
cherished and preserved for a purpose with the greatest love and respect for history. *


Written By
Sherri Baker

Photography By
Iris Marenbach
Tolt Away Icelandic Horse Farm

Canadian Icelandic Horse Federation

And Many Thanks to Tolt Away Icelandic Horse Farm for their facts and photos!

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