As a horse lover, you’ve most definitely heard about the Icelandic horse. If not, this article will be the most succinct yet comprehensive introduction into the world of one of the most exhilarating horses in the world.
The Icelandic horse is a curious blend of power, cuteness, and graciousness that you can rarely see in other breeds. Its Viking descent is undoubtedly the foundation of these characteristics, making the Icelandic horse one of the most iconic breeds in the world.
But why is this horse so beloved, and how to differentiate between a pure-breed and a mongrel? Here are the core characteristics of the Icelandic horse that you should know about:
History and Origin
The horse’s origin dates back somewhere between 860 and 935 AD, corresponding to the Viking Age of Scandinavians. Paradoxically, the Icelandic horse is a mix between different breeds, eventually becoming its own breed with time. Researchers have found traces of Mongolian horse DNA in the Icelandic horse, showing that early Norse settlers either bred them or the mix-up simply occurred naturally.
Whatever the case may be, the Icelandic horse found its way through history as a central figure in the Norse culture. It has been revered as the most prized possession of any Icelandic warrior, and it was often buried alongside its human companion upon death. The bond between Icelandic warriors and their horses was so strong that they began mentioning it in ballads over time.
They were symbols of fertility and were even mentioned as serving the Gods. There are probably few horses in the world with a richer history and a more robust history behind it than the Icelandic horse.
There are more than 200 horse breeds around the world, speaking to the astounding variety among these gracious herbivores. Icelandic horses have unique characteristics that manage to blend power with softness, unlike any other creature on Earth.
Here are the most defining traits of the Icelandic horse that you should be aware of:
– Size and Weight
Unexpectedly enough, Icelandic horses look more like ponies than classic horses. They are shorter (only up to 56 inches in height with some variations) but can carry impressive weights compared to their stature. An adult horse can carry in excess of 240 lbs. which is clearly more than what a pony can budge.
These numbers will vary significantly due to breeders always looking for larger specimens to breed. Despite their smaller size, Icelandic horses are quite powerful and faster than other, larger breeds.
The average Icelandic horse will weigh around 730 to 850 lbs. depending on the individual. This is small compared to other breeds. Consider your average everyday horse that’s of no specific breed and with no distinct physical characteristics. Such a horse will weigh between 900 to 2,000 lbs. That’s more than double the Icelandic horse on the high end.
A monster like the Clydesdale will reach 1,800-2,000 lbs. literally putting the Icelandic horse to shame. However, and here’s the crucial difference, the Icelandic horse’s strength outweighs its physical size and weight. It can carry riders of all sizes, excluding the extremes, without feeling too impaired or intimidated.
Although they are part of the same breed, Icelandic horses have over 40 colors and around 200 variations in the coloring pattern. This fact alone can create an abundance of different specimens, each with its unique coloring traits. Many Icelandic inhabitants believe that the horse’s colors are markers of its personality.
This belief goes so far as to suggest that one can derive the horse’s characteristics simply by analyzing the color patterns. The most common colors to expect in an Icelandic horse include brown, white, chestnut, and black, along with tons of variations among them.
The most exciting aspect about the Icelandic horse is that it can often change its colors. This happens both during its growth and a result of environmental changes. Icelandic horses change their coats and, often, their colors with it.
This is where things get groundbreaking since the Icelandic horse has 5 gaits compared to the 3 that other breeds share. It is the only horse breed with as many gaits, showing how versatile and unique the breed is. The 5 gaits are:
- The Walk – A natural, slow-paced movement consisting of the horse touching the ground with two hooves at once. This gait is not meant for speed but for controlled walking during parades or simply relaxing strolls in nature.
- The Trot – This is a faster-paced gait that has more to do with synchronicity than effective movement. The horse will lift its hooves in diagonal (left hind hoof and right-front hoof) and lower them simultaneously as lifting the other two. This makes for a gracious movement pattern that will have the horse floating during the middle of the movement.
- The Canter – This gait is the 3rd one that all other horse breeds share. It is another walking pattern built for show that will have the horse moving slightly diagonally. Because of this pattern, the Canter may prove tiring for the horse, which is why it’s only performed when necessary.
- The Tolt – This is a gait specific to the Icelandic horse only, and it’s what makes the horse so gracious and appreciated by connoisseurs. It is a fluid and bump-free gait where only one hoof touches the ground at all times. It provides the rider with a smooth-riding experience and can achieve speeds of up to 20 miles per hour or more. This makes the horse’s ability to maintain the rider’s stability during the gait that much more impressive.
- The Flying Pace – The Flying Pace is the crowning gait, providing the Icelandic horse with graciousness and speed. It can reach the speed of a full gallop, and riders use it mostly in racing competitions. This gait will carry the horse to speeds of up to 30 mph or more in some cases, which is why it’s so used over short distances.
The Icelandic horse comes with a friendly temperament but doesn’t expect an excessively docile animal. After all, this beast has a Viking heritage and comes from generations of wild horses riding the wild and harsh Scandinavian planes. Their ancestors have interacted with harsh men, leading them into battles and breeding them in the heart of nature.
This explains why Icelandic horses tend to be more curious than scared and timid compared to other breeds. You will also have variations between individuals from the same breed, depending on their inherited characteristics, personality, and other aspects.
If you’re looking to purchase a pair of Icelandic horses, know that they can live between 20 to 30 years on average. With proper care and optimal environmental conditions, you can probably ride one late into its twenties.
You can also have horses reaching 40 years of age, depending on their parents, upbringing, and overall care.
Diet and Nutrition
When it comes to feeding, the Icelandic horse is easy to satisfy. Some good, quality hay should do the job. If you’re already living in Iceland, Mother Nature should provide you with everything you need to keep your horse(s) in good health. If necessary, you can supplement the horse’s food with some vitamins and minerals, but that’s rarely the case.
It’s worth mentioning that overfeeding is a no-no. It can lead to obesity, joint problems, or laminitis. Ideally, you should feed your horse according to its age, size, physical activity, appetite, etc. Not all horses will eat as much or as often.
Grooming your Icelandic horse is a must, given that this breed can grow a double coat in the winter. Icelandic horses come with thick manes and tails that will get dirty fast, especially in rainy conditions.
You need various grooming tools to keep your horse in pristine condition, including a coat brush, a mane, and a tail comb, equine shampoo for the regular bath, and tools to clean hooves of dirt.
Regular grooming will not only keep your horse clean and healthy but will also help you bond with each other in the process.
The Icelandic horse is most commonly used as a general riding horse. Its petite stature, rather friendly temperament, and ease of maintenance make it ideal as a family horse. It’s also used in races and worldwide competitions, displaying the horse’s gaits and physical prowess.
If you live in the US and look to purchase an Icelandic horse, I have some not-so-bright news for you. At a minimum, you should look at a $10,000 investment to buy an Icelandic horse, but that’s the bare minimum. You will, more realistically, spend in excess of $12,000, including the import fees.
The problem is that there are very few Icelandic horses and trainers in the US, making it extremely difficult to purchase and train one locally. Importing one from Iceland will boost your expenses considerably, but you have few options otherwise.
The horse’s price will also vary from one individual to the next. Some of the factors coming into play include the horse’s age, pedigree, overall health status, training regime, etc.
If there’s one aspect you will take with you from this chapter, it’s this – Icelandic horses have poor genetic immunization against a wide variety of equine disorders. This means that they require extra care and a complete vaccination for equine diseases upon purchase.
You have around 180,000 Icelandic horses available today, with 80,000 of them being in Iceland and the rest scattered around the world. This means there aren’t many to choose from, making this horse one of the most valuable worldwide.
Icelandic horses are, without a doubt, jewels of nature. They are more or like pony-size but more powerful by comparison and are relatively easy to maintain and care for.
In Iceland, these horses are regarded more like family members than pets.
If you’re looking to buy an Icelandic horse, hit the comment section below if you have questions about the breed. You can also fill the contact form for additional details about the Icelandic horse or anything related to it.Horse Breeds