18 Interesting Icelandic Horse Facts

If you want to own a strong, energetic horse, then the Icelandic horse is the best breed for you. It is, pound for pound, the strongest breed of horse in the world today. These horses are typically smaller than the average horse, sometimes barely exceeding pony-size, and are extremely hardy with few diseases. This is because Icelandic law prevents horses from being imported and exported animals are not allowed to return.

Here are some more interesting Icelandic horse facts to help you get to know this unique breed a little bit better.

#1. The Icelandic Horse is the only horse breed in Iceland. 

They are also popular horses around the world. There are sizable Icelandic Horse populations in North America and in Europe. With up to 5 natural gaits, they are used for leisure riding, showing, and even racing in some areas. Remington, who is the first Icelandic Horse to be named to the American Endurance Ride Conference Hall of Fame, still races 50-mile rides on a regular basis, even at the age of 28. 

#2. This horse breed was initially bred for farm work. 

The Icelandic Horse was bred for the same purposes as the horses in the US West. The only difference is that the Icelandic breed was called upon to herd sheep instead of cattle. You can even participate in your own “Dude Ranch” experience in Iceland like you can in the Western US if you wish. Book a weekend roundup and a ranch will put you out on an Icelandic Horse so you can bring the sheep in. 

#3. Icelandic Horses have a lineage that goes back over 1,000 years. 

The first Icelandic Horses came to the country from Norse settlers who arrive as far back as the year 1,000. It’s a horse breed that is thoroughly documented in literature from that era. The first reference to a named horse in Iceland appears in the 1100s. It is believed that the Vikings were the first to introduce this breed to the country, perhaps bringing them over from mainland Europe in their famously large early ships. 

#4. It’s not just selective breeding that has helped to shape this horse. 

With so much time to help perfect the breed, there is a combination of natural selection and selective breeding at work with Icelandic Horses. The harsh climates of Iceland have unfortunately killed many horses due to starvation and exposure. At one point, much of the horse breed was eliminated due to the Laki volcanic eruption in the 18th century. 

#5. The first breed association was founded in 1904. 

The first Icelandic Horse Association was founded in Iceland in 1904. Today this horse breed is represented by a total of 19 member nations, all organized under one parent organization called the International Federation of Icelandic Horse Associations. This eliminates the issue of having different standards for different associations around the world, like some other breeds experience. 

#6. Icelandic Horses are one of the smallest breeds in the world. 

The average Icelandic Horse only weighs between 700-850 pounds. From a height standpoint, most will be between 13-14 hands. They have a very large personality and a spirited temperament, with short pasterns and relatively long cannon bones. The full mane and tail is a trademark of this breed, with the tail set low. When in its natural environment, this breed also has a double coat for added warmth during the coldest temperatures of the year.

#7a. There are 100+ names for the color and marking combinations in the Icelandic language for this horse. 

The Icelandic Horse has a coat of many colors. Several common colors, including dun, bay, and roan, combine with white markings to create a very unique look for each horse. What is remarkable about this face is that the Icelandic language has a descriptive term for each known coat variation that has been documented.

#7b. Some Icelandic Horses can change the color of their coat based on the season. 

Just when you think you’ve got everything figured out, the double coat of the Icelandic Horse changes everything. It is very possible for a cream-colored Icelandic Horse to grow in a chestnut coat for the winter months. Maybe it’s just because this horse breed prefers to “not wear white after Labor Day.”

#8. Some Icelandic Horses qualify for multiple registrations. 

Although it is somewhat rare, Icelandic horses can also be a Palomino. Should this occur, the owner would be potentially able to register the horse as a color breed in addition to its lineage. Some of this depends on where the horse is actually owned. Some regions prefer to avoid color breed registration if a lineage registration is valid. 

#9. The Icelandic Horse is often considered to be the purest breed in the world. 

Records indicate that no horses have been allowed to be imported to Iceland since 982. This means there is more than 1,000 years of lineage included with this breed without the issues of cross-breeding. Not only does make it an authentically pure breed, but those Icelandic Horses which do not meet breed standards are also excluded from local breeding programs.

#10. Icelandic Horse owners used to be buried with their animals. 

The bond between these horses and their owners is one of the closest connections in the animal/human kingdom. It’s so strong, in fact, that historically the horse was buried with the owner when they passed away. Sometimes this meant the horse had to be put down, unfortunately, but the status of this relationship is notable because of its profound nature.

#11. The Icelandic Horse lives a very long life. 

An Icelandic mare that was living in Denmark reached the ripe old age of 56 before passing away. Another horse of this breed is known to have reaches the age of 42. Part of the reason behind this longer life is the fact that Icelandic Horses develop slower than most other breeds. 

#12. Icelandic Horses are an extremely fertile breed. 

Both mares and stallions are considered to be fit for breeding up until the age of 25. There are even records of a mare giving birth at the age of 27 for this breed.

#13. These horses do not spook very easily. 

This is likely because the Icelandic Horse has no natural predators in their home country. It creates a personality that is very friendly, mostly docile, but also quite enthusiastic. You will struggle to find a more confident horse than the Icelandic Horse. That also means these horses tend to think that they’re always in charge, which if left unchecked, can lead to behavioral problems within the breed as well. 

#14. Virtually no disease affects Icelandic Horses. 

Now this doesn’t mean this horse breed couldn’t catch a disease. Because there is no import/export of horses in Iceland, there is also no natural levels of acquired immunity within the breed. For this reason, Icelandic law requires that all equine equipment taken into the country must be fully disinfected or completely brand new. It is also why laws prohibit horses which leave Iceland from ever returning. This sometimes makes it problematic to show these horses with those restrictions in place.

#15. Almost all Icelandic horses are raised in a herd environment. 

This allows the horses to be able to develop their social skills right from the start. It is also believed that the herd-raising efforts for this breed has helped it to become one of the most intelligent horses that is in the world today.

#16. Many Icelandic Horses are still ridden regularly, even after they reach their 30th birthday. 

The structural development of this breed is not complete until they reach the age of 7. Because of this, it is very rare for Icelandic Horses to be ridden before the age of 4. On the other hand, owners can ride this breed of horse for an extended amount of time. If you purchased a 4-year old Icelandic Horse, it would not be an unreasonable expectation to be able to ride that horse for the next 25 years.

#17. The main health issue with Icelandic Horses involves parasitic infections. 

For this reason, it is highly recommended that all horses within this breed have a de-worming protocol developed by a breed-knowledgeable veterinarian. This will help to support the health of the horse, no matter which country it calls home. Exported horses within this breed often need a full series of vaccinations to prevent disease exposure.

#18. Here are the 5 gaits of the Icelandic Horse. 

Like most horses, this breed has a natural ability to walk, trot, and canter. You’ll also have the four-beat gait, where the hooves of the horse move in the same pattern as they walk. The four-beat gait can be brought up to the speed of the typical cantor. There’s also the flying pace gait, which is the racing gait of the Icelandic Horse. It’s a two-beat gait where some horses have been clocked at speeds of 31 miles per hour.

These Icelandic horse facts show you how strong and resilient this breed happens to be. If you have the opportunity to own one of these horses, then do so. You won’t find a more loyal, friendly, or energetic horse out there.