Natural Wonders
4 June 2019

The Unique and Dependable Icelandic Horse

Iceland may not be famous for exotic animals or have many species of animals. But what we do have is a unique animal, the Icelandic horse, which in the horse world is considered highly unique because of its unusual features.

The purest of horse breeds

horses in iceland

The Icelandic horse is distinct from all other horses around the world. It's been purebred for over a thousand years because of laws that have been around since the year 982. No other horse breeds are allowed on the island, and if an Icelandic horse leaves the country, it is never allowed back. This isolation led to almost no livestock disease amongst horses in Iceland, and Icelandic horses are generally healthier than other breeds.

The unique tölt gait of the Icelandic horse

To survive harsh conditions, one must always adapt to new surroundings. The Icelandic horse has certainly adapted to the unique Icelandic landscape. How so? With a new type of gait (in human terms: a new type of walking style). While most horses only have three to four types of gait, the Icelandic horse possesses five!

Icelandic horses

Your average horse can canter, trot, walk, and gallop. The Icelandic horse can do all of those in addition to the tölt. The tölt has no English translation due to the uniqueness to the Icelandic horse. When a horse tölts, it raises its legs, and only one leg touches the ground at a time. Tölt has helped the horses travel around the rugged landscape of Iceland through the centuries.

The friendliest horse in the world?

The Icelandic horse is small, and some might even call it a pony (it's not a pony, by the way). It's also exceptionally well-tempered. The temperament may be because of how well Icelanders treat their horses. Most horses are like dogs to Icelanders, a part of the family. We also have an emphasis on treating the horses well when we train them. No forcing them for hours in training but to use subtle guidance instead. If you get the opportunity to ride an Icelandic horse, we wholeheartedly recommend it.


Also, a side note: don't greet horses you don't know in Iceland. Because although most are well-tempered, some horses bite. And please, for your safety, do not stop on the roads if you see horses close by to take pictures of them. We rather recommend going on a guided horseback riding tour!