As unique as the utopian country, the Icelandic horse is born of a breed of small horses that arrived in Iceland with the initial settlers from Norway, thousands and thousands of years ago!
Descended from an ancient breed of horses that are now extinct, the Icelandic horse is a loyal friend to locals and an obedient servant to its suitors.
As an intelligent, independent, much-loved mare that you’re unlikely to find elsewhere, the Icelandic horse has a very special place in the heart of the Nordic nation.
Here, we’ve pulled together lots of interesting information on this beautiful breed of horse so before you bolt off, make a brew and have a read through.
The history of the Icelandic horse dates all the way back to the Viking settlement in Iceland in the late 9th Century.
Vikings brought their families, their possessions, and their Icelandic horse stock with them when they decided to bury their roots in the land of fire and ice.
Some say the Icelandic horse is of Germanic descent, while others claim they strikingly resemble the Scandinavian breed called Equus Scandinavicus. The Icelandic horse has always had a short but sturdy physique, and they are said to have the same brain, strength, and intelligence of other breeds of horse.
Icelanders have always maintained and protected the Icelandic horse, making them one of the purest breeds in the world, in a region so far removed from the rest of Europe.
The Icelandic horse has also grown very accustomed to its climactic settings, growing a thick, furry coat in wintertime, which it slowly sheds in spring.
The horse is not poised by high winds or snowstorms and is more than capable of cruising across glacial rivers and rickety terrains with their sure-footed, strong bodies which are strengthened by harsh weather conditions.
These friendly horses are also very healthy, spirited, and kind creatures, and most have a life span of about forty years. They have never had any predatorial threat within their natural environment, so they’ve never known anything other than the love they’re shown by their owners and community.
You can catch sight of these soft-hearted stallions, standing by the side of the Ring Road or at an Icelandic farm, and they will happily greet you with the hope of a pat on the snout in return.
The Icelandic horse will also be more than willing to star in a selfie with you, but it is very important that you do not feed them, as some treats can have a negative effect on their health.
As Iceland is a region so far removed from the rest of Europe, the Icelandic horse has never had a bug! For this reason, Icelanders do not import any other horses and even used riding wear is not allowed to be brought into the country unless it is thoroughly disinfected.
Lots of Icelandic foals are born each year and normally, roam freely with the herd for the first four years of their lives. Once they reach this age, they are taught to use the bridle, saddle, and ride a little.
In the summer, they feed in the flourishing fields of Iceland and, in winter, they seek shelter within stables and survive on hay.
In the autumn months, the horses are herded into corrals in huge open spaces which is vital for the development of their delightful and nonchalant natures. They are well behaved and will treat their human friends with what they are best known for, lots of love and respect.
The Icelandic horse has also been used as a means of transport, and a useful ‘working’ buddy for many centuries by Icelandic locals. In times, when there was no transport or machinery, people relied on the trustworthy nature of their four-legged friends to get them to terrains unreachable by foot and carry goods there forth.
There are now over 80,000 horses in Iceland which are ridden around Reykjavik and the rural outback’s.
The Icelandic horse has the most significant gaits. They walk, trot, canter and gallop, as well as ‘tölt’ and ‘skeið’. The capacity to perform the latter two gaits defines the animals value to their keeper.
The tölt is a four-beat, lateral, strolling gait, known for its combination of speediness and superb riding comfort, like a tireless trot as you gather momentum, moving fervently forward.
The skeið is a two-beat lateral gait, like a rhythm-building gallop where each side of the horse’s feet move concurrently, with only a minute between footsteps. The rider will feel like they’re flying high as the Icelandic horse gathers pace!
You will find the Icelandic horse in a variety of different colours, making them an even more special and beautiful breed!
Icelanders have celebrated the mythos of the Icelandic horse since ancient times. Literature, poetry, and Norse folklore have always taken great pride in their Nordic stallion, which is seen as the Icelanders most trusted friend.
Legend has it that the Icelandic horse was believed to have heaved the sun across the Icelandic skies. The horses of deity Dagur, day and night were Skinfaxi and Hrímfaxi. Their names translate to ‘mane of light’ and ‘mane of frost’.
When pulling Dagur’s chariot across the heavens, Skinfaxi’s mane and tail lit up the sky and the earth below it. The sun is eternally seen as the source of life, so the horses are therefore, the deliverers of light and new birth.
Not every mythological Icelandic horse is a bearer of light though. Nykur, a demon of Icelandic folklore, was a water imp who had the look of a horse, but its ears and hooves were bent backwards. The Nykur lurked in lakes and lagoons and, disguised as a horse, it would entice innocent travellers to an underwater demise.
The noise of cracking ice on frozen pools and rivers was said to be the neigh of Nykur, which was said to encourage riders to take extra precautions when traveling across the iced-up elements of the Icelandic environs.
The name of many an Icelandic horse holds a tradition of its own too. Some refer to the steed’s colour, such as Bleikur for pink, and some refer to the horse’s personality, like Prakkari which means the Trickster!
As a much-loved creature, the Icelandic horse has a special place in Norse mythology and folklore which once again reinforces its regal beauty and adoration by the Icelandic community.
Like something out of a fairy-tale, the Icelandic horse is a rare and regal creature. Exclusive to a country as diverse and divine as the land of fire and ice, you know it must be a mythical mammal.
The pure-bred Icelandic horse, with its myriad of colours and unique traits, is a favourite amongst Icelanders and, as one of the main attractions for visitors, is treated with the utmost respect and pride.
No other horse in the world is as loved as the Icelandic horse is by the whole nation, so make sure you catch sight of one of these beautiful creatures when you visit!
Main image courtesy of horsesoficeland.is