The horse with five gaits

In solitary splendour the Icelandic horse has thrived and flourished since the first settlers brought their horses with them to Iceland over a thousand years ago.

The unique Icelandic breed is remarkably social, curious, fun-loving, friendly and inquisitive. After centuries in the role of “most essential servant”, the horse also has a strong mind and a stubbornness that has helped it safely carry inexperienced riders over rough and dangerous terrain for a millennium.

As a result, there’s nothing quite like exploring the beautiful Icelandic countryside (particularly the wild Westfjords) on the back of a charming and patient guide like the Icelandic horse.

Individualistically yours: the unique gene pool

Icelandics are shorter than most other horses, often drawing incorrect comparison to the Shetland pony. But it is definitely counted as a horse and can become offended when accused of being a pony!

Rarely more than 150 cm tall, it stands out for its cheerful temperament, muscular form and shaggy fur in winter.

Its singular good looks might be helped by the fact that the horse rarely suffers from common livestock diseases thanks to unforgiving and stringent rules in place about even bringing saddles or riding boots with you into Iceland.

History says that when Iceland was first settled only the best livestock was considered worthy of limited space on the boats. Given the space constraints, the early chieftains or the Viking seafarers took only a handful, ensuring that by the end of the settlement period Iceland had a treasure of some of the strongest horses from Norway. The original Norwegian horses traced their ancestry back to Mongolia.

These horses were used for everything from transportation to armed conflict amidst clans. In Iceland’s tough climate, it soon became apparent that horses were also essential to successful farming and gradually they emerged as vital cogs in the wheel of an agrarian economy.

Never again to return

Their pleasing appearance, general hardiness and steady temper has made the Icelandic a popular choice overseas; in fact there are as many as 100,000 abroad today compared to 80,000 that live in Iceland. This comes with a caveat: once a horse is transported abroad it can never come back home for fear of bringing in disease.
By and large this policy seems to have worked well.

The Superbly Gaited horse

While most other horses around the world have just three or four ‘gaits’ (style of walking, such as the trot and gallop), Icelandic horses have as many as five. Their unique gait, also known as the ‘tölt’ is a style which developed due to Iceland’s rough terrain and undulating topography. However, not all Icelandic horses can do it and those who have the ability usually need to be trained to do it properly.

To sum up, riding an Icelandic horse is as much of a quintessential local experience as it gets. You could add it to your itinerary along with hiking, biking, kayaking and sightseeing. You could also check out the activities on local farms on horseback.
So go right ahead and book your rides on!

Scroll to Top