A small island deserves a small horse! The Icelandic ponies are actually horses. Though short in stature, usually between 13 and 15 hands, they are registered by breeders as a horse. This small horse is a very hardy breed and suffer from far less diseases than a mainland horse. The law does not let these small guys to be exported and no other breeds to be imported. If one ever were to leave the island, they are never allowed to return, ensuring the purity of this majestic breed.
The Icelandic horse has even been a focal point in many Norse Myths. They were thought to be a symbol of fertility so they often were sacrificed by early Norse settlers. The horses were revered by warriors during the Medieval period and were often made to fight each other for breeding rights. A warrior killed in battle would often be sent to Valhalla with his Nobel Steed by his side.
Natural selection often played a role in these stallions lives. In the early medieval times the horses would starve or succumb to the brutal winter winds and cold. Exposure to the elements, notwithstanding volcanic eruptions, famine and sacrifice, often became the end to whole herds. The breed was once thought descendent from the Shetland, Faroe Pony and the Norwegian Fjord horse. In the early 9th century, the Icelandic Parliament prohibited the inbreeding of outside horses. This act in 992 AD lead eventually to a pure breed. For over 1,000 years the Icelandic horse has been a pure breed.
The characteristic flowing mane, short legs, well proportioned head, incredible weight bearing capacities, muscular shoulders and slightly sloping long backs, make this an incredibly valuable prized possession. The breed has an average life span of 30 good years, with recorded life spans of over 50 years. They are known for having two distinctive gaits, the Tölt, which is a four beat stride good for comfortably covering great distances at explosive accelerations. The second is called flugskeið or “flying pace”. This is a fast and smooth gait used to pace the horse during a race. This is mostly used for short bursts but not a long distance run. An amazing breed indeed.
A trip on the back of an Icelandic is a great way to explore the terrain of Iceland. The horse is sure-footed and fearless, yet comfortable to ride, even for the beginner. There are numerous farms that offer guests this pleasurable past time. There is nothing like getting up into the wilds of the highlands on the back of one of these majestic steeds.
When in Iceland, search out a farm offering tours and ride one of these wild and adventurous horses. These are treasured companions and loyal servants. They have earned their place in the past and future of Iceland.