You may have seen an Icelandic horse looking so fearless, small and rugged. But there’s a lot more about the plucky animals; they have a long history and are highly regarded by equestrians all over the world due to their intelligence, loyalty, strength and rare beauty. Icelandic horses got their peculiar name because they were first domesticated in Iceland by ninth-century explorers.
Icelandic horses (Image Credit: Kata Pal/Stock Photos/Pexels)
According to Norse mythology, Icelandic horses were first owned by Nordic explorers who travelled around the country on horseback. Apart from being a major means of transportation, the animals were also used to herd livestock and clear farmlands. Unfortunately, Icelandic horses faced mass extinction in the early 20th century, when automobiles were imported into Iceland and people found the animals to be something old-fashioned.
Icelandic horses had mixed genetic roots but are now considered a pure breed in Iceland by dint of governmental regulations on importation of agricultural products. Restrictions and efforts from rescue organizations aim at protecting the endangered horse species, and so far, around 100,000 Icelandic horses can be found in the country—with an estimated 120,000 surviving in other countries, particularly Germany and other EU nations.
The Icelandic government and rescue agencies spend part of their annual budget on importing quality stables for the horse and there are constituted laws to protected the endangered animals from harm.
In modern-day Iceland, most owners of the unique horses no longer use them for farm work. Instead, equestrians find them most suitable for recreational activities due to its special frame.
Icelandic horses are easily mistaken due to their pony size but the animals are stronger than larger horses.
The iconic horses also have natural protection from very cold temperatures. During winter, Icelandic horses grow heavier coat which shields them from adverse weather conditions and regulate body heat. Interestingly, the animals retain their long, flowing mane and tail throughout the coldest season of the year.
The Icelandic breed of horses comes in different colours (gray, black, bay, pinto and palomino), a reason why it’s common to see a rainbow of coats among large herds.
The horse breed has two extra gaits apart from the common four (walk, trot, canter and gallop) namely “tolt” and “pace.” The last two gaits are peculiar to Icelandic horses. “Tolting” is described as a smooth, high-stepping and flowing gait while “pace” requires extraordinary skills that enable Icelandic horses to simultaneously move with both legs on one side of the body and tack up with the other pair, showcasing a flowing gait that makes the iconic horses adorable.
There’s a ban on exporting Icelandic horses. The rare horse breed can never return once it leaves the country because foreign governments—in collaboration with Iceland’s national registries—keep records and monitor the naturally talented animals to ensure that their genetic purity is strictly maintained.
There hasn’t been any cross-breeding of Icelandic horses in over 1,000 years, so they are considered the purest of horse breeds.
Icelandic horses are preferred by new riders because the animals are good natured—a reason why equestrians describe them as “excellent family horses.”. In sport, the horses are best used for dressage and endurance riding but can compete favourably against other breeds in racing.
Icelandic horses are known for their late maturity. They are never subjected to training until the age of 4, and don’t be surprised, their maturity age is 7. But you might need to wait until they’re 20 before taking them on a ride.
Last but not the least, Icelandic horses are confident and fearless, with the capacity to easily navigate through rough terrains than all other breeds.