The Icelandic horse: A versatile and friendly legend

4 min.

The Icelandic horse has gradually become a very popular horse breed, especially in Europe. This Nordic breed is especially known for its gaits, versatility and calm mind. Let us take a closer look at its history and what makes the Icelandic horse so special.

Height: The ideal height for the breed is 135-147 cm.
Colors: The Icelandic horses can have all colors, color combinations and markings.
Gaits: walk, trot, tölt, canter and flying pace.


The Icelandic horse breed is known as a real ‘Viking horse’, and for good reason. The breed originates from the horses that the Nordic Vikings once rode. These horses came to Iceland around the year 875 – and have since been bred into the popular breed we have today. Since then, no horses have been imported to Iceland, and therefore the Icelandic horse is a very pure breed. There have been no other breeds in Iceland.

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As the Nordic breed has lived and developed in Iceland’s harsh nature, the breed is very resilient. The terrain in Iceland has also made this breed incredibly confident. It has also become a reliable, strong and comfortable riding horse with a good temperament and lots of energy. As the breed is a working horse and has been used a lot for transport, the good riding qualities have been a focus point during the development of the breed.

Iceland and its horses
Icelandic horses are the only horse breed in Iceland and it is illegal to import other breeds. If an Icelandic horse leaves Iceland, it is not allowed to return to the country.


Apart from the fact that the breed is a good and comfortable riding horse, it also has an amazing mentality. The breed has been bred in to a brave, independent and cooperative horse. The Icelander’s mind is one of the things that many riders find fascinating. And it is also what makes it suitable for many different people.

Many riders fall for the Icelander’s calm mind, which means that both adults and children can often ride them. Photo: Archive.


This special breed is a very versatile riding horse and can be used for many different disciplines. Everything from fantastic picnics, long distance or competitions.
The Icelandic horse has five-gait. It can walk, trot, tölt, canter and do the flying pace. However, not all the horses can master all five gaits. Some of them prefer trotting, others tölt and some prefer to walk.


Tölt is a very smooth, four-beat lateral and natural gait for Icelandic horses. While riding tölt, the speed can be from very slow (up to 32km/h), there is no worry that you will feel uncomfortable at any moment. 

Flying pace

The gait, typical only for Icelandic horses, is the flying pace. This is a very fast movement, where a horse can go up to 48km/h during a short distance – from 100 to 200 meters. Not all Icelandic horses can do flying pace, and of course, those who do manage are automatically considered to be the best of the best.

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The nature

The Icelandic horses are tough and stand firmly on the ground. Many riders have taken this quality into account and therefore ride their Icelanders in nature. The pleasant tölt is great to sit in while riding through a beautiful forest or across the field.

Sports competitions

When it comes to competitions, the versatility of the breed is very much in focus. There are competitions where a team is judged, and then there is the Gæðingakeppni, where only the horse’s performance is judged. At these competitions, the horse’s gaits are judged on an oval track, and the horse can be judged as either 4-gait or 5-gait. In addition, there are also various tölt competitions, where it is the quality of the tölt that is in focus.

When riding an Icelandic horse, it is also possible to have the versatility assessed in the discipline Alrid, where you can try your hand at both distance riding, terrain riding and gaits.

Sources, Horses of Iceland
The book “Horses” – Illustrated reference work

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