Europe - Iceland

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The ancestors of the Icelandic horse were small, sturdy and well adapted to the harsh Icelandic climate. They were brought to Iceland in the 9th century by settlers from the north of Britain and western Norway. Crossbreeding with some eastern blood proved damaging to the breed and in 930 the parliament passed a law forbidding all imports of other breeds, which had the added advantage that the breed remained virtually disease free. For over 800 years the Icelandic had no influence from outside blood lines and turned into a tough, extremely well adapted horse capable to swim across the rivers as there were no bridges in the country until the beginning of the 20th century. In 1879 Iceland started a selective breeding program in Skagafjordur, the country's famous horse breeding region, primarily based on the quality of the horse's gaits (see below).
The people of Iceland refer to the breed as horses and not ponies. They are tremendously tough little horses able to carry an adult rider at speed safely over mountainous terrain like during the annual autumn sheep round-ups. While the sheep are sorted into flocks the horses are usually set loose and will set off to their homes. The Icelandic has a strong homing sense and many have returned to their original owners after being sold to other areas of the country.
In the olden days horse fights were a popular form of entertainment in Iceland. Two specially trained stallions would be set against one another, urged on by goads. This proved to be a very dangerous activity often injuring the handlers or even killing them.
Many thousands of Icelandic horses can be found in Europe, the United States and Canada with the largest number found in Germany.  Breeding and exporting of the horse has become an important business.

stocky, compact, handsome
Head: fairly heavy
Neck: well carried
Body: compact body; short back; deep girth
Hindquarters: very strong, muscular, sloping, wedge-shaped
Legs: short, strong limbs; short cannons; strong hocks
Feet: strong, hard, well shaped
Mane and Forelock: extremely thick
Color: any
Height: 12.3 to 13.2hh
Temperament: good, very gentle, intelligent, enthusiastic
Qualities: very strong, fast, very easy to handle, versatile, five gaited, act well in traffic, strong swimmer, strong homing instinct


fetgangur walk
brokk trot, used to cross rough country
stokk gallop
skeid lateral pace, used to cover short distances at high speed
tolt running walk, used to cover broken ground

The Icelandic horse is equally popular with the Icelanders and the growing numbers of tourists travelling to the highlands on horseback. Competitions and horse shows are held in summer and also indoors in winter. In the sports competition the main emphasis is on the rider's ability and the co-operation between rider and horse.