The Icelandic horse is unique amongst horse breeds because it masters five gaits. No horse has been imported to Iceland for more than a thousand years and riding the Icelandic horse in its natural habitat is unique experience.
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. For a very long time the Icelandic horse played a paramount role in making Iceland fit for human habitation. For centuries, therefore, the horse played a role of a carriage, bridge, transport wagon and even a train. It carried its countrymen and their goods everywhere needed, from the most rural areas to the commercial areas situated along the coastline. Some claim that without the horse, habitation would have been virtually impossible in Iceland for a thousand years.
A clear distinction was made between work horses and riding horses. Icelandic farmers commonly owned up to 150 horses that were differently gifted. Work horses were meant to carry heavy loads on transportation routes, and riding horses were meant to carry the man.
A pony is usually described as being under 14.2 hands (A “hand” is four inches, originally named for the breadth, not length, of a human hand, it is approximately 127 cm). The Icelandic horse has particular characteristics that define a pony. Most Icelandic horses are small, and some verge on pony size, but the horses are quite strong, and able to bear much more weight than larger horses.
Icelandic horses can be 3, 4, or 5 gaited. Their gaits are: walk, trot, tolt, canter, pace. In the Icelandic horse, Tolt is special for the Icelandic horse. It is a very smooth four-beat gait which, while reaching speeds similar to fast trotting, is much less jolting to the rider.
The Icelandic horses exhibit a diverse array of coat colors and distinctive markings, and a specialized vocabulary has evolved to describe them. In total the Icelandic horse has about 40 colors and color varieties.
The ratio of horses to people is a world record, around 80.000 horses to 300.000 people. The horse sport is also very popular in Iceland and active people in the horse sport account for about 10% of the nation.
Horse riding is one of the most popular attractions among visitors to Iceland – a real “must. There are plenty of operators, from simple rental with unguided tours and also complete holiday packages. The possibilities are endless and it is just question about the time and money you are willing to spend with the Icelandic men’s best friend.