All of the horses found in Iceland today are the descendants of horses taken there by the Vikings. Space was precious on the longboats, so only the best horses were selected. The ancestors of today´s Icelandic horses came from Northern Scandinavia and the British Isles - in particular the Dole Horse of Norway and from Britain the Celtic Pony, the ancestor of the Exmoor and the Shetland.
In 982AD the Icelandic Parliament passed a law forbidding the importation of any more horses or ponies to prevent disease. As a result, all the horses in Iceland are descended from a relatively small gene pool, but over the centuries ruthless selection - by man and nature - has eradicated the faults that might be expected to occur in such a closely related population. Even today, any horse which leaves Iceland can never return.
Icelandics can be literally any colour - bay, brown, chestnut, grey, skewbald, palomino or dun, with hundreds of variations of the usual colours. One much sought-after colour is silver dapple, in which the body of the horse is chocolate brown and the mane and tail are silvery white.
Icelandics should not be backed until they are at least four years old, and they are not considered mature until seven, but they are commonly still in work at 25 or 30 years of age - the oldest one so far in Britain died at the age of 42. They are extremely versatile riding horses, bred to carry heavy adult riders. They have short-coupled legs with very high bone density. Although small, they are always referred to as "horses" - there is no word in Icelandic for pony, and the Icelanders wish to honour their national breed, which holds the title "the most useful servant".
Icelandics are incredibly versatile. As well as being excellent family riding horses, they are used for driving, hunting, long distance and endurance riding, racing, horse football, le TREC, dressage, gymkhana, riding for the disabled, trekking and just about any other equestrian discipline.
Formed in 1968, the
Icelandic Horse Society of GB exists to maintain the purity of the Icelandic
Horse and to promote interest in this unique gaited breed. John Crawford
met with F. Pugh of the Society at the British Equine Event 2001. Please
click on the ilnk below to listen to their discussion.
(Note: to listen to
this file you will need Real Player. A free download is available at www.real.com