From a horse’s back
The Icelandic horse is very loved by its people, it is considered a local and since it arrived in Iceland with the very first ships of the settlers, it has always remained a loyal friend and vital servant. Many tourists say it looks like a pony but we don’t seem to agree with that, it is just a unique and magnificent animal that you can encounter by the side of the Ring Road throughout the country, they are used to any kind of weather and believe me, we have it all!
The first horses that arrived in Iceland came in Viking ships sometime between 860 and 935 AD. Interestingly, many of its breed characteristics can be related to its transportation. Some claim that the animals were chosen because of their short stature, this made them ideal for overseas travelling. Since then, the Icelandic horse is been changing and adapting to the surroundings and weather, it is why they present this thick winter coat that sheds in springtime. The horses are prepared for high winds, snowstorms and even capable of crossing glacial rivers and rough terrains.
Since we are talking about the horse’s short stature, it’s time to address the pony topic. The main advice I’ll give you is that you should never mention this to an Icelandic person, locals will always argue that even though Icelandic horses might be similar to ponies, they have the genetic, intelligence and strength of a horse.
In 982 AD, the Icelandic parliament Alþingi prohibited any importation of other horse breeds into the country, which means that for over a thousand years, the breed has been kept in complete isolation. For that reason, it is one of the purest horse breeds in the world. If a horse is exported from the country, he may never return.
This horse breed is also exceptionally healthy. The average animal might live up to 40 years, it is reported that the oldest reached the age of 59. Besides that, they are known by their gentle personality, since these animals never had any predators in their environment, they are not easily scared, so they are approachable and friendly.
One of the Icelandic horse's most notable attributes is its five gaits. Other typical breeds possess the three general gaits of walk, trot and gallop, while the Icelandic possesses the two additional gaits of 'tölt' and 'skeið'. The 'tölt' is known for its merger of speed and riding comfort, the 'skeið,' however, could be described as a very rhythmic gallop with a moment of suspension in between foot paces, at up to 48 km/h, this truly feels like flying.
The Icelandic horse comes in a wide variety of colours with more than forty basic colourings listed. Icelanders believe that a horse’s colour might reflect its personality. Also, the names of the horses hold an entire tradition, you might have heard of the Icelandic Naming Committee that maintains the official register of names in Iceland, well, the horses also have their very own naming committee, so the owners cannot name them like any regular pet, even though it seems strange, this reflects the respect of the nation towards their companions. Some names refer to their colour like Bleikur (the pink) or Gráni (the grey), others to their temperament like Farfús (likes to travel), Háski (daredevil) or Prakkari (trickster) and many refer to the Norse mythology like Loki, Þór or Freya.
In the past, the horse was crucial for survival, it was the best way of transportation and often a lifesaver. There are many tales of riders getting lost in blizzards in the Icelandic wilderness and the horse kept them warm or found its own way home carrying the exhausted rider to safety. Today, even though it is not so crucial for transportation, they are used for sheep-herding, leisure riding and popular competitions for gait performance and racing that are held every year since the late 1800s.
Some say that a traveller won’t fully experience the beauty of the Icelandic nature without having witnessed it from a horse's back.
When coming to Iceland to meet the Icelandic horse, know that you will have encountered a unique and exceptional animal and if you can, just get off the roads and brave up the mountains and glacial rivers on a horse ride tour. You will fly through the Icelandic scenery and explore the land in the same way as the settlers did and their descendants have kept on doing ever since.
Let us know if you are interested on a horse riding tour and we can add it to your itinerary.