The Icelandic horse


Traditional Riding Tours in Iceland



The history of the Icelandic Horse can be traced right back to the settlement of the country in the late 9th century.


Viking settlers brought with them their best horses, from various origins, though mostly of Germanic descent. Some sources say that the Icelandic Horse is a descendant of a Northern European breed, “Equus Scandinavicus”, while others claim that the horse is closely related to the English Exmoor pony. Although the origin of the breed was mixed, today this is one of the most purebred horse breeds in the world, due to its isolation. The breed has remained pure for over a thousand years and thus today there is only one breed of horse in Iceland – The Icelandic Horse.


The Icelandic Horse has played a key role in the life of Icelanders from the beginning. Therefore the horse was called “the most useful servant” and it literally followed man from birth to grave, fetching the midwife as well as pulling the coffin to the cemetery. When the first automobile arrived in Iceland in 1940 the horse rapidly became redundant.


However, a few enthusiastic individuals who were interested in the horse’s riding abilities kept breeding good horses and Iceland’s first horse breeding association was formed the same year the automobile arrived, but up until that time horses had mainly been bred with strength and stamina in mind, rather than riding abilities or gaits.

Thanks to "The Horse Breeders Association of Iceland" for the information.



Today, there are close to 80,000 horses in Iceland which is an incredible number for a nation that counts 300,000 people.


Ten thousand people are enlisted in riding clubs, but it is estimated that close to 30,000 people are active horsemen in Iceland. The horse is used for pleasure riding, traveling and competition purposes and it still plays a practical role in the annual sheep and horse round-ups where farmers use horses to round up sheep and horses in the highlands. Horse breeding is very popular and there are many ambitious breeding farms in Iceland, as well as individual breeders who breed horses for pleasure. The first breeding shows were held in 1906 and since then horse breeders in Iceland have concentrated on improving this versatile breed which is suitable for children and adults alike, whether people like to compete or enjoy nature on horseback.


Each year thousands of foals are born in Iceland. Most of them are born outside in grassy fields where the breeding mares roam in herds all year round. It is magical to witness the birth of a foal during a bright summer night in Iceland’s beautiful nature and to many a breeder that is their favorite time of year. Breeders like to watch their foals closely in the beginning and they believe that the movements and spirit presented by the foal during its early days will predict their outcome in the future.

The herd


Foals will follow their mothers for the first few months of their lives, sometimes longer, but some are stabled during their first winter.


After that the young horses are put in a herd where they will learn to live within a group and find their place in the chain of command.


During the summer they graze in lush green fields and during winter they are fed hay and provided with shelter. If they are properly attended to, Icelandic horses can easily be kept outside all year. Horses that are being ridden should however be stabled during the colder months. In parts of northern Iceland horses are still allowed into the highlands during the summer and autumn months. In late September or early October, they are rounded up and sorted out in corrals where each horse breeder picks out his/her horses and then drives them home to the farm. Raising horses in this manner, in herds that roam free in wide open fields and highlands, is the key to shaping the personality and character of the Icelandic Horse.


These horses will treat humans with respect as they have only been handled occasionally, when their hooves are trimmed and they are given worming medication, and they learn to behave within the herd. The outcome is a spirited and forward going horse with much respect for the rider. The landscapes also play a major role in shaping a sure-footed and muscular horse, toughened by harsh weather and wide open spaces.