Tourist info blog

The Icelandic Horse

|International Day of The Icelandic Horse


The International Day of the Icelandic Horse is coming up on the 1st of May and I thought it would be appropriate to write a bit about the Icelandic Horse! One thing to note before we dive in is that although the Icelandic horse is quite small in comparison to other breeds it is not a pony! Locals WILL get offended if you refer to them as ponies!


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General Info

The Icelandic horse is a unique breed that originated in Iceland and has been cherished by the Icelandic people for over a thousand years. The breed’s origins can be traced back to the ninth century when Vikings first brought horses to Iceland. Its closest relative is the Nordlandshest from Norway but genetic analyses have revealed links between the Mongolian horse and the Icelandic horse.

The Icelandic horse is a small, hardy breed that is well adapted to the harsh and unpredictable weather conditions in Iceland. They are known for their distinctive looks, including their shaggy mane and tail, short and stocky build, and expressive eyes. Icelandic horses come in a variety of colors, including chestnut, bay, black and gray.

One of the most unique characteristics of the Icelandic horse is its gait. While most horses have three gaits (walk, trot, and canter), the Icelandic horse has FIVE: walk, trot, canter, tölt, and pace. The tölt is a smooth, four-beat gait that is extremely comfortable for riders. The pace is a two-beat lateral gait that is faster than the trot – it is even said you can drink a cup of tea without spilling a drop while riding in tölt!

The Icelandic horse is a versatile breed that can be used for a variety of activities, showing, racing, leisure, and we still use it for traditional sheepherding work.


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Cultural Info

In Iceland, the Icelandic horse is an important part of the country’s culture and heritage. They are celebrated in art, literature and music. Every year, Iceland hosts the Icelandic Horse Festival, Landsmót hestamanna, where people from all over the world come to celebrate the breed and participate in events such as horse shows, riding tours, lectures on Icelandic horse history and care.

Importance of the Icelandic horse for locals

One of the reasons why the Icelandic horse is so important to the Icelandic people is because of their unique genetics. Due to Iceland’s isolation and strict breeding regulations, the Icelandic horse has remained relatively purebred and free of many of the health issues that can plague other breeds. Icelandic horses are also free of many diseases that are common in other breeds, such as equine infectious anemia and African horse sickness.

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Export and import

Icelandic horses are exported to countries all over the world, even to New Zealand and Australia! Iceland does not allow importation of horses at all. That also means that as soon as an Icelandic horse is exported it is not allowed to be imported again. The main reason is to keep the breed purebred and to prevent diseases.

There are over 22 countries in FEIF – (International Federation of the Icelandic Horse Association) so you can probably find an Icelandic Horse in every corner of the world!

Getting to know the Icelandic Horse

There are some do’s and don’ts when visiting Iceland. One of them is how people treat the Icelandic horses. Although they usually have a good temper it does not mean that you should go and pet them. It is highly discouraged by the owners who put a lot of pride in taking care of their horses. Feeding the horses is not allowed either. You often see horses while driving in the countryside of Iceland but you should under no circumstances engage with them. To be frank and honest some of the Icelandic horses have become spoiled brats because of tourists feeding them apples and sugarcubes. What you can and should do is either book a horse riding tour and get to know the horse under supervision or take a photo from a good distance, they do tend to scare easily sometimes.

If you’re visiting Iceland and want to get to know the Icelandic horse in person we offer a variety of tours which you can check out here!


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The International Day of the Icelandic horse

The International Day of the Icelandic horse is an annual event that celebrates the Icelandic horse and its unique qualities. This year it’s held on May 1st. The day is celebrated by Icelandic horse enthusiasts and breeders around the world.

The day is dedicated to promoting the Icelandic horse breed, increasing awareness of its special qualities and its cultural significance in Iceland. Owners from all around the world are encouraged to open the doors to their stable and welcome people to get to know the Icelandic horse. 

People that engage with the Icelandic Horse are especially encouraged to post a reel on Instagram of them scratching the horse using the hashtags #dayoftheicelandichorse and #horsesoficeland, tag and follow @horsesoficeland and of course wearing a helmet if you’re riding (safety always comes first!) They tend to put on a really happy face when they get a little scratch. Winner will be chosen on the 1st of May!

To Sum it Up!

In conclusion, the Icelandic horse is a unique and beloved breed that holds a special place in Icelandic culture, history, and our hearts. Their distinctive looks, versatile abilities, and unique gaits make them a favorite among horse enthusiasts worldwide. Whether you’re a seasoned rider or a casual observer, the Icelandic horse is definitely a breed worth learning more about.

Yours truly,

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