The Icelandic Horse
All of the horses found in
Iceland today are the descendants of horses taken there by the Vikings. Space
was precious on the longboats, so only the best horses were selected. The
ancestors of today´s Icelandic horses came from Northern Scandinavia and
the British Isles - in particular the Dole Horse of Norway and from Britain the
Celtic Pony, the ancestor of the Exmoor and the Shetland.
In 982AD the Icelandic Parliament passed a law forbidding
the importation of any more horses or ponies to prevent disease. As a result,
all the horses in Iceland are descended from a relatively small gene pool, but
over the centuries ruthless selection - by man and nature - has eradicated the
faults that might be expected to occur in such a closely related
population. Even today, any horse which leaves
Iceland can never return.
| The Icelandic
horse is rarely more than 14.2hh, or less than 12hh. He is rather stocky, with
a deep chest, expressive head, supple, well-set neck and strong limbs. When
ridden, he should give an impression of courage and power, with a proud
expression. The mane and tail are thick and plentiful. In the summer the coat
is fine and shiny, but in winter the horse grows a long, thick coat with three
Icelandics can be literally any colour - bay, brown,
chestnut, grey, skewbald, palomino or dun, with hundreds of variations of the
usual colours. One much sought-after colour is silver dapple, in which the body
of the horse is chocolate brown and the mane and tail are silvery white.
|| As well as the usual gaits - walk, trot and canter - Icelandics
also have two extra gaits.
The "TÖLT", a
4-beat lateral gait also known as running walk. The Tölt can be performed
at any speed and is smooth and comfortable for the rider.
The FLYING PACE, a two-beat
lateral gait used for racing. Flying Pace makes great demands of both horse and
rider, but is spectacular to watch and exhilarating to ride.
The horse can
reach speeds of 30mph.
Icelandics should not be backed until they are at least
four years old, and they are not considered mature until seven, but they are
commonly still in work at 25 or 30 years of age - the oldest one so far in
Britain died at the age of 42. They are extremely versatile riding horses, bred
to carry heavy adult riders. They have short-coupled legs with very high bone
density. Although small, they are always referred to as "horses" -
there is no word in Icelandic for pony, and the Icelanders wish to honour their
national breed, which holds the title "the most useful
Icelandics are incredibly versatile. As well as being
excellent family riding horses, they are used for driving, hunting, long
distance and endurance riding, racing, horse football, le TREC, dressage,
gymkhana, riding for the disabled, trekking and just about any other equestrain