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Two Icelandic horses standing in windy Icelandic weather

International Day of the Icelandic Horse

  • Átak
  • 12.04.2022

These fantastic creatures are symbolic of Iceland and are known for their unique qualities, which are particularly celebrated on this day the world over. But what is it that makes them so special?

This article will give a brief introduction to the Icelandic horse to help you understand their past and present a little better, as well as their links to Icelandic tradition and way of life. In this way, you can participate in this celebration when it rolls around in May.

How did Icelandic Horses arrive?

Just like ancient Icelanders, Iceland Horses arrived in the country on Norse longboats. While there are doubts about where exactly the original breed came from, modern Icelandic horses have gained many of their characteristics from simply arriving on the island. It is theorised that settlers chose their most sturdy, intelligent, and amiable horses to bring on the longboats - space was scarce, so choosing the best of their stock to bring along makes perfect sense. Alternatively, others believe the transported horses were chosen due to their sturdy nature and small frame, which also makes sense considering the nature of the open sea. 

Since their arrival, the modern Icelandic Horse has been developed through very selective breeding. This ensures that the desired qualities were continued in the species so that the animal can continue to thrive in the unique conditions in Iceland. 

Why are Icelandic Horses so special?

You might be wondering just what makes these creatures so special - the answer has a lot to do with their heritage and breeding. Not only are their personalities unique and iconic to the country, but also their physical characteristics.

Let us begin with their physicality. The species has adapted over the centuries to combat the unusual climate of Iceland. Their thick winter coats allow them to withstand the cold winds and even snowstorms during the colder months in Iceland, while their strength and sturdiness also provide adequate defence against rough terrain and wading glacial rivers. In short, Iceland Horses are perfectly built for the country in which they live. 

Two Icelandic horses in an Icelandic field

While they are a feat of nature, the Icelandic people love these horses for more than just their appearance. Iceland Horses are gentle and intelligent animals, with their lack of predators in their natural habitat possibly the cause of their approachable and friendly personalities. Though gentle, these creatures are also known for their spirited wills, which is a trait that the Icelandic people identify with above all.

Due to their isolation, it is prohibited to import other breeds of horse into Iceland to avoid the importation of alien diseases that could wipe out the Icelandic Horse population. Furthermore, Iceland Horses that are exported may never return to the island. This means that the Icelandic Horse is one of the purest breeds in the world.

What are Icelandic Horses used for?

Since their arrival with humans on Icelandic shores, these horses have been vital to Icelandic human survival. They were often the only way to travel around the island and there are plenty of ancient stories about Iceland Horses being lifesavers in snowstorms and difficult conditions. While this is no longer the case, as transport has developed considerably, they are still a vital part of Icelandic life.

As well as kept for leisure riding, both individuals and for day trips for tourists, farmers in Iceland’s Highlands like to use horses to herd flocks of sheep over difficult terrain. Icelandic Horses are also popular breeds to enter in gait performance, horse racing, and showmanship competitions. Some people also breed horses for meat, which is frowned upon by many but still enjoyed as a traditional delicacy in Iceland. 

If you are spending May the 1st in Iceland, you might be able to find open stables with these gorgeous horses to get up close and personal. Alternatively, there are plenty of horse riding experiences to discover in Iceland, which will always use Icelandic horses. View these spirited creatures as they roam the Icelandic Highlands from the comfort of your Atak rental car!