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Icelandic Horse Breed Profile

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Besides being a symbol of beauty for their native country, Iceland, Icelandic horses are popular for many things, among them being the only horse breed that can effortlessly perform the five gaits.   

Luckily, that’s not all this unique horse breed has to offer. Read on to learn with us what to expect from this small but mighty horse breed. 

Pair of Icelandic horses in the winter outdoors

Icelandic Horse History 

Icelandic horse history dates back to the 10th-century settlement period when Vikings introduced their horses to Iceland. 

However, since they couldn’t bring all their horses to Iceland, they only chose the best from their herds and these laid the Icelandic horse breed foundation.

Breeders believe that Icelandic horses originated from the stock native to Norway in the Viking era. This explains why Icelandic horses were a mixed breed originally. 

Today the Icelandic breed is among the oldest purebred horse breeds worldwide.

This is because Icelandic horses have been the only horse breed in the country for centuries.  

This is thanks to the law that prohibits horse importation into the country or the return of exported horses.

This isolation has helped achieve the purebred status and maintain the signature characteristics of the breed. 

Pair of Icelandic horses in the winter outdoors

Icelandic Horse Registry

Today, the International Federation of Icelandic Horse Associations oversees the registration of all Icelandic horses in 22 countries. It was founded on 25th May 1969 with only 6 member countries: 

  • Iceland
  • Austria
  • Denmark
  • Germany
  • Switzerland
  • Netherlands 

Over the years, other countries including the US gradually joined the association.

In 2000, the International Federation of Icelandic Horse Associations established WorldFengur as its official registry for Icelandic horses. 

The registry serves as a studbook tracking the various bloodlines and histories of the Icelandic horse breed. It essentially contains details on:

  • Owners
  • Pedigree
  • Breeders
  • Offspring
  • Photos
  • Unique identifications
  • Breeding assessments and evaluations

Since its establishment, it has registered roughly 300,000 Icelandic horses worldwide.

Beautiful Icelandic horse in meadow

Icelandic Horse Characteristics 

Icelandic Horse Conformation 

Conformation may vary from one horse to another, but Icelandic horses generally have rectangular, compact shapes. 

This gives them a uniquely straight profile with well-balanced heads and somewhat wide foreheads. The most noticeable feature of the Icelandic horse has to be its long and thick tails and manes.  

Their short but muscular necks rise above the low and broad withers that lay above slightly sloped shoulders and deep chests. 

Their legs are notably short and so are the pasterns. The cannon bones are, however, long and the horse’s croup is slightly sloped.

You will also notice that the breed’s tail is set quite low. 

Icelandic Horse Size 

While the breed’s height can vary dramatically, the average height of the Icelandic horse is 13 to 14 hands. That is an average of 13 hands for the mares and 14 hands for the Icelandic studs. 

Breeders believe that the breed’s height is a result of its prolonged isolation before it was first introduced to Iceland by the Viking settlers.  

As far as weight goes, Icelandic horses can weigh anywhere from 730 and 840 pounds. However, unlike height, there is not much difference in how much each of the Icelandic horse sexes weighs.    

Group of Icelandic horses, brown white horses grazing in the field against clear sky

Icelandic Horse Colors 

Icelandic horses have one of the most diverse colorations in the world. The breed boasts over 40 colors that have up to 100 coat variations. 

The most common coat colors you will see on Icelandic horses include:

  • Black 
  • Dun
  • Gray
  • Bay
  • Chestnut
  • Palomino
  • Pinto

Interestingly, all Icelandic horses exhibit one of the primary coat colors—that is, chestnut, brown, or bay.

Variations like silver, skewbald, gray, or dun then show on top of primary colors.

And further variations like the blaze, snipe, star, and white leg among others come on top of the second layer.

Breeders encourage variations within the standard breed colors and these are also allowed in the breed’s studbook. 

Icelandic Horse Temperament 

Dark brown Icelandic horse with blonde mane in Iceland

As far as personality goes, Icelandic horses are docile and friendly. These make them easy to handle, especially because they are also self-assured and energetic. 

As a result, you can rest assured that these horses are reliable for you to ride and can coexist with other horse breeds in your herd. 

This confidence and intelligence is documented in several records of Icelandic horses that have saved riders during storms — they have done this by refusing to ride in directions they sense a storm coming from, especially snowstorms.  

As you can see, Icelandic horses are the perfect blend of submissiveness and assertiveness while being gentle with riders of different riding experience levels and ages.

This is one of the reasons why the Icelandic horse is not considered a pony.

Icelandic Horse Lifespan

Icelandic horses are a hardy and robust breed that is highly adaptable. Due to this resilience, the horses can live for up to 40 years with the proper care. 

The oldest known Icelandic horse was a mare from Denmark. Its owner was Andreas Larsen, and the horse peacefully died at 57 years old. 

Two Icelandic horses with chestnut hair coat behind wire fence on the farm

Icelandic Horse Uses

Multipurpose horse breeds don’t get better than the Icelandic. The breed is still used for economic, agricultural, and domestic purposes in its home country. 

Whereas its expertise and popularity in competitive disciplines like dressage are gaining popularity in countries like Sweden, Germany, and Norway.  

This is mainly because Icelandic horses are the only horses that effortlessly perform five gaits. 

Their famous tolt is among the reasons why horse enthusiasts get Icelandic horses. It makes them extremely comfortable to ride.

Icelandic Horse Fun Facts 

  • Norse mythology believes that the eight-legged horse belonging to the god Odin was an Icelandic horse. 
  • Icelandic horses are some of the oldest pure-bred horses in the world. 
  • Iceland has a ban on horse importation to guarantee pure breeding in the future. Also, a horse can never return to the island after leaving. 
Attractive Iccelandic horse with a thick blonde name, rare icelandic horse on the farm

Icelandic Horse Rare Colors 

As earlier mentioned, Icelandic horses are among the most diversely colored horse breeds in the world. That said, true roan-colored Icelandic horses are quite rare. 

Roan-colored coats are also referred to as color-changing coats.

The color-changing effect of the roan coat comes as a result of the thick primary-colored coat having scattered coat hairs that have a different color. 

Caring for Icelandic Horses

Diet and Nutrition 

Being the only domesticated animal that’s mostly kept outdoors in Iceland, Icelandic horses adapt their diet to the conditons, often grazing on what they need to stay healthy and in good shape. 

Icelandic horses are happy eating hay and grass, and this is evident in their healthy and strong physiques. 

You will most likely not need any additional grain, and if you do, it will oftentimes be little.

You may, however, want to add mineral and vitamin supplements like multivitamins to your horses’ diet as per your vet’s advice. 

Keep a keen eye on the amount of grain, starch, and calorie-rich grass and hay to prevent overfeeding as this could lead to issues with joints and obesity.  


Another way to care for and keep your Icelandic horse looking sharp is by regularly grooming them. With this in mind, you should groom your Icelandic horse daily. 

A body brush is a great tool to use when brushing your horse, but a curry comb will also help whenever you need to remove any dirt deeper in the coat and inaccessible with a body brush. 

Similarly, use a hoof pick to clean your horse’s hooves every 3 to 4 days. Keep in mind that Icelandic horses have strong and thick hoof soles and walls.

As a result, the horses require a hoof trim every 6 to 8 weeks and can do without horseshoes. This is, however, determined by the environment you live in and how you use your horse. 

Sideview of brown Icelandic horse in the grassland

Icelandic Horse Common Health Issues 

Icelandic horses are typically healthy and sturdy. Except for some common internal parasites, Icelanders believe that these horses do not have any genetic problems. 

This low prevalence of health issues among Icelandic horses is thanks to a law that prohibits the return of any exported horses. 

This inexposure means that native Icelandic horses lack acquired immunity to diseases, which can be destructive to the breed in case of an outbreak. 

That being said, balanced and consistent training all year round is necessary to guarantee and maintain good health in Icelandic horses. 

Unfortunately, like in Iceland, this training may halt during the winter months and resume in spring and summer, and this may have harmful effects on their hearts. 

Another health risk to the Icelandic horse breed is its rider’s weight. Though the breed has a high bone density, heavyweight riders can risk straining the backs of these small horses. 

Adorable face of a light brown and white Icelandic horse behind the barbed wire fence

Famous Icelandic Horses 

Kopar frá Sunnuhvoli 

Kopar frá Sunnuhvoli’s reputation precedes him after winning the YR World Championship in 2019 with his rider, Elsa Teverud. 


Icelandic horses are so popular that they are even used in Norse Mythology. Sleipnir was an eight-footed Icelandic horse that was ridden by Odin on land and in the sky and water. 


There you have it, fellow horse lovers. From its versatility to its calm demeanor and hardiness, you can never go wrong with an Icelandic horse for domestic use or professional competitions. 

Luckily, these pony-like horses are long-lived and are a joy to keep as pets for both adults and children. They might just be what your horse-oriented family needs.