The Icelandic horse is believed to have arrived to the country during the settlement over 1000 years ago and has adapted to Icelandic nature and climate with great success. The first settlers brought with them livestock from Europe and amongst the livestock were some excellent Scandinavian riding horses. Although the Icelandic horse is fairly small compared to many other horse breeds, it is exceptionally robust and healthy with great stamina and endures the harsh Arctic weather conditions well.
The house boasts of a calm, friendly and welcoming character resulting in a well-deserved admiration. Its strong spirit overrides many of the larger horse breeds, which is no wonder when considering the harsh situation it has endured through the centuries, carrying people from place to place. There are many stories of how horses have outsmarted their riders by choosing a safer path, or finding the way home when the rider has lost his way.
A healthy Icelandic horse has a life expectancy of 25 to 27 years but can very well reach 30 years or more.
Nowadays, the Icelandic horse is trained for competitions and breeding shows, but most horse owners use their horses as riding horses in leisure riding, riding on the ice during winter and travelling during summer. Trips into the wilderness are often the highlight of the year amongst horsemen, usually lasting 4 to 8 days, where they spend the nights in mountain cabins located in various places in the highlands, some in the vicinity of hot springs where one can bathe in at the end of the day.
The Icelandic horse is famous for its five gaits: walk, trot, gallop, tölt and flying pace. The horse is the only breed in the world that holds all five gaits.
While most Icelandic horses are five-gaited, meaning they possess all five gaits, some lack either tölt or flying pace. Therefore, they are split into three categories: a versatile riding horse possessing all five gaits; a working horse with tölt but lacking the flying pace, and a working horse lacking both the tölt and flying pace. For the past 60 years, the official breeding goal of Icelandic horses has been to produce a versatile horse with five excellent gaits and a temperament suitable for most riders.
The Icelandic horse has over 40 base colours and up to 100 variations, ranging from palomino to bay. The most common base colours are red/chestnut and black, with red being the most common, but with various nuances. In addition, the horsetail and mane do not always hold the same colour nuance and the feet can be variable in colour as well.