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Icelandic Horses

Updated on March 29, 2009

Photo by Gróa Valgerður Ingimundardóttir


When I first saw an Icelandic horse, it was a bay gelding and oh, so handsome. I liked the long, thick  mane and tail. I was compelled to get  a closer look. Then (it happened) he affectionately placed his head on my chest to greet me and I was hooked. His big soft brown eyes are so expressive and gentle. I have come to respect the Icelandic breed and have a great affection for them. This is my tribute to them.


To find the origins of the Icelandic horse you must go back in history to the age of the Vikings. They settled in Iceland between 870-930 AD bringing with them a small number of excellent quality horses of various kinds. During the 10th Century the Icelandic government, the Althingi, restricted importation of horses for fear of bringing in diseases. A thousand years of isolation since then has developed the characteristics that the Icelanders prize in the Icelandic horse. Today, they are considered the purest breed in the world.

Icelandic horse with winter coat
Icelandic horse with winter coat

What is hh?

hh = hands high

It is a unit of measurement originally based on the breadth of a man's hand.- about 4 inches. hh is used to describe the height of horses, ponies and other equine.

Example: A horse 15 hh is 60 inches (152 cm)

Physical Attributes

Icelandics are a stocky breed with long, thick mane and tails, and a thick generous forelock as well. They are a small horse typically 12.3 to 14.2 hh, but many are taller up to 15.3 hh. American height standards place them as ponies but Icelandic breeders consider them to be a true horse. Unlike ponies they can carry 1.6 times more weight than a large horse. Which means that an 800 lb Icelandic can pull as much weight as a 1250 lb large horse.

Terrain in Iceland is quite rugged- formed by active volanoes and earthquakes. The Icelandic horse is steadfast and strudy. They are well adapted to harsh winters; developing a dense coat with long guard hairs that shed the rain and deflect the wind. In addition, they grow an extra seasonal coat and store fat for the winter. Icelandic horses are capable of remaining outside during winter in Iceland, when the cattle and sheep must be housed. People say they look similar to furry teddy bears in their winter coat.


Anyone I know who has ridden an Icelandic will say they are a fun ride. They are endowed with great stamina and having an adult on their back is comfortable for them. They are surefooted horses that handle changes in terrain with ease. Whether it is rough mountain trails, crossing a stream or walking through very tall grass- they are steady and don't miss a beat.

The Icelandic horse is a gated horse. It has two unique gates in addition to the usual walk, trot, and canter: the tolt and flying pace. For an Icelandic Horse enthusiast there is probably no greater pleasure than to enjoy a good tolter. Tolt is a four-beat gait without a moment of suspension. The tolt can be at various speeds; from a working speed up to racing speed and a fast tolting horse can reach speeds similar as in a gallop. The horse gives a very smooth ride, allowing the rider to cover long distances without tiring. It is said that the rider seems to be floating.

In Iceland, flying pace is held in high regard. Good pacers are racehorses: highly strung, eagerly awaiting the start. A pacer is more than just a horse-he is a reliable friend and willing to give his all. He is a star. Flying pace is a two-beat gait, the lateral pairs of legs move together and there is a moment of suspension. Those that have felt it will agree it is exhilarating , often indescribable.

While every Icelandic horse should be able to tolt, not all have the genetic ability to pace.


Traditionally, the Icelandic horse is raised free range as opposed to being kept in a stall. The first 4-5 years of their lives are spent becoming an integrated member of a herd. They first learn to be a horse among horses; developing physical strength, emotional and mental stability while in the herd. The four year mark is when they usually begin their training. It is believed this method is part of the reason Icelandics are noted for their soundness and lack of "spookiness" that characterizes most horses.

Icelandic at Tolt and Flying Pace

What's in a Name?

Another tradition is the naming of the Icelandic horse. They have two parts to their name. For example: I have a horse whose name is . Sörli frá Strond. First comes the given name, then where  the horse comes from. Sörli ( frá ) from the farm, Strond. The accent in the word frá rhymes with cow and how. Most Americans don't know what comes after the frá without looking at their horses registration papers. This is truly sad because the after-frá is not only where the horse was bred, but also where their horse probably spent the first four or so years of its life and where it started its training. Moreover, it is where the very special qualities that made it "Icelandic" took place.

Icelandics Come in Many Colors


The Icelandic is a versatile breed. There are individuals suitable for dressage, jumping, endurance, trekking, pleasure trail, and competition trail. They are known for being willing, very responsive as well as taking new stimuli in stride. There is a lot of power in these small packages and some may not be suitable for beginners. However, I have seen a 5 year old on a stallion that was easy going and attentive. So you'll find a wide range of personalities as well.

Overall, the Icelandic horse is one to consider as part of the family. I don't consider myself a "horsey person" nor did I dream of having a horse as a child. But this breed of horse has captured my heart and I feel enriched for having the privilege of knowing them.


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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I own our very special Vinka.... Icelandics are a very unusual breed and if you have never walked into a pasture and had 10 of them come up and nuzzle you in curiousity then you haven't met a herd of Icelandics yet! The first time I saw the herd I couldn't believe it.... I was hooked too. Our Vinka, now 5 years old went through training last year. First time with a saddle on her... she went through training so fast that the trainer called her "einstein" haha. She was afraid of nothing and still isn't! Very curious, friendly.. a bit stubborn if she thinks she can get away with something. She is in the middle of everything like a dog. We were building a chicken coop in the main pasture and she kept walking up and stealing the Gatorade bottles and running off with them as if it was a game. We love our Baby Vinka and hope that she can become a great mother to a little Vink soon!

      If you have never been around an Icelandic.... dont wait any longer. There is a great breeder in West Virginia... Icelandic Thunder where we bought our Baby Vinka... check out their website and learn all you can about them!

    • Alpaca Annie profile image

      Alpaca Annie 

      8 years ago from Indianapolis, IN

      I really enjoyed your hub on the Icelandic Horse! Great Hub!! My husband and I have alpacas and wouldn't mind someday of getting a couple of these beautiful horses! They look amazing!! Thanks for sharing!

    • bileygur profile image


      8 years ago from Reykjavik

      Great hub, I also wrote about the Icelandic horse and linked to you:

      The Icelandic horse is really unique, strong willed and great working horse.

    • mythbuster profile image


      8 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Wow, I really like the pictures here and enjoyed the video. You are followed and bookmarked!

    • KEckerle profile image


      9 years ago from Currently near Surprise, AZ

      What a great hub. As a lover of horses I can understand your afinity for them.Lots of great information here too.

    • Journey * profile image

      Nyesha Pagnou MPH 

      9 years ago from USA

      These horses are beautiful. Thanks for sharing the photos and video.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      9 years ago from East Coast, United States

      The tolt and flying pace are really something to watch and you can tell from the way those adorable little horses move that they'd be great at dressage.

    • dana825 profile image


      9 years ago from Chicago

      they are gorgeous. I love horses and am so biased towards Arabians but these Icelandic horses are gorgeous and I now want to ride one! I recently got to ride an Andalusian and it was amazing, I'm curious to see how these horses ride!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      thanx a lot of info

    • The Real Tomato profile imageAUTHOR

      The Real Tomato 

      9 years ago

      SA- part of their beauty comes from within. : )

      PW-thank you for stopping in and reading!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      9 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Very nice hub and informative. These horses appear to be real beauties!

    • Shirley Anderson profile image

      Shirley Anderson 

      9 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      TRT, I also had never heard of Icelandic horses before I read your hub last week. They look and sound like really beautiful beasts.

      Great hub, TRT!

    • The Real Tomato profile imageAUTHOR

      The Real Tomato 

      9 years ago

      footoo-thank you for reading and the kind words.

      Londongirl- glad you stopped in, horses are awsome aren't they?

      Heidi- I appriciate you reading and commenting! I used the word - should- because most do naturally, I was told from a breeder that some need to be taught/trained to do so, just as many don't trot naturally but can be taught to do so. Personally, I have never met one that didn't tolt.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Hi, very good hub! Only thing I have to comment: You say all icelandic horses should be able to tolt, but not pace.. That is not true, some can't tolt either, only got the 3 normal gaits :)..

    • LondonGirl profile image


      9 years ago from London

      they are lovely animals - a friend of my sisters' has one, and it boarded with their horses last winter. So lovely!

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 

      9 years ago from Ohio

      I had to come back to see the pictures again. This breed is so beautiful! I love that first photo! It makes me smile, every time I see it.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I found the hub by real tomato on icelandic horses to be very informative. Also it was very nteresting.I personaly own 2 icelandics myself. They are a wonderful breed of horse. Tomato's hub is well written and well researched.

    • The Real Tomato profile imageAUTHOR

      The Real Tomato 

      9 years ago

      ripplemaker- I am so glad you liked reading the article.

      kerryg-some horses are faster than others, I think part of the reason is not just physiological but that a certain horses simply love to go fast! Hey, I'll bet part of the thrill of riding has to do with negative ions...; )

      JamaGenee- There are many Icelandic enthusiasts out there!

      Frieda Babbly-Your so right, there is so much to say about these horses- a book worth for sure!

      ajcor- Thanks for the comment- and the congrats. -cheers

    • ajcor profile image


      9 years ago from NSW. Australia

      I have never - until today - heard about icelandic horses - your oening paragraph got me in! congratulations for being in the hubnugget lineup - cheers

    • Frieda Babbley profile image

      Frieda Babbley 

      9 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

      JamaGenee, that link says that hub does not exist (at least when I click it). But I do know the one you're speaking of. And yes it is awesome and shows up in the "Related Hubs" box.

      This awesome hub by the real tomato, people will find, is diferent. Lots to say about Icelandic Horses, you know. More than one take and bits of info on all the subject we hubbers write about.

      Tomato, I really like your hub and your personal intro. Nice job. Sounds like you and robie2 have a shared love and afinity for this breed.

      Welcome to hubpages.

    • kerryg profile image


      9 years ago from USA

      Wow, I don't think I'd ever seen the flying pace in action before. Those little cuties are FAST!

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 

      9 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Hi, congratulations! This hub is chosen as one of the hubnuggets for this week. Click on this link to vote and make sure to invite all those that you know to vote too. The more people who will vote, the more fun it will be right?

      I've often wondered what it would be like to ride on a horse. I enjoyed reading your hub. :-)

    • The Real Tomato profile imageAUTHOR

      The Real Tomato 

      9 years ago

      K@ri- Thanks -it took a long time to get the right pics. And if you get the chance to meet one, you'll be glad you did.

      Teresa- I think horses in general are gorgeous but I am partial to Icelandics. : )

    • Teresa McGurk profile image


      9 years ago from The Other Bangor

      They're gorgeous. Thanks for this interesting, off-beat hub.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 

      9 years ago from Ohio

      Nice hub, beautiful pictures! I've never met an Icelandic, but now I want to!!!


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