The Icelandic Pony is a breed that has lived in Iceland for around 1200 years. They are technically a horse, with more horse like characteristics than pony characteristics. They are also one of the purest breeds of horse in the world having had no outside influence for over 800 years. They are beloved by Icelanders.
The Icelandic Horse is not indigenous to Iceland. It is thought to be related to the
North European Forest pony and the Celtic pony. The first horses were brought to Iceland by
the island’s original two settlers. These Norwegian chiefs, Ingolfur and Leifur, settled the land in AD 871. They also brought their livestock from the mainland. They were joined by other settlers from Norway, as well as Great Britain, who brought their livestock and horses also.
The breed was used as a means of transportation and to carry loads. They had to be well suited to a harsh climate. This environment led to a very tough and sturdy horse as the generations passed.
About 900 years ago, there was an attempt to improve the bloodlines through breeding with some Oriental stock. This was such a disastrous experiment that all imports of foreign horses were prohibited. This rule is still in effect today. In fact, any Icelandic horse that is exported may not be brought back to the country. This law accounts for the continued purity of the breed.
The Icelandic horse is bred along several different lines. There are types for draught work, pleasure riding, racing and showing. In general though, the horse stands between 12.3 and 13.2 hands tall. They are generally strong and sturdy. They have a large head and intelligent eyes. Their neck is short and thick connecting to a strong short back. They have good legs with adequate bone. They can see very well, and they have an unusually strong homing instinct.
They can be found in any color, but the predominant colors are chestnut, gray and dun. They have a very abundant mane and tail. In winter, their coat becomes very long, sometimes up to four inches in length. They also grow a very long beard during the winter.
The Icelandic horse is the only horse in the world that possesses five natural gaits. These gaits are the walk, trot, fast gallop, pace and the tolt. The pace is a two beat lateral gait that is very fast and can only be done over a short distance. The tolt is a fast four beat walk, similar to a running walk such as the Tennessee Walker may exhibit.
There is a system of evaluation in place for the Icelandic horse which was developed by the International Federation of Icelandic Horse Associations. This system rates horses according to the desirable characteristics they possess. This sets an international standard by which the Icelandic horse can be judged. The system consists of two parts: 60 percent is dedicated to rideability and temperament and 40 percent is dedicated to conformation.
The score is recorded in a figure between 5 and 10, with 7.5 being the average score of most horses. If a horse scores above an eight, which indicates it is a very good horse. Clearly the importance is placed on the temperament and ability to get along with the handler. The typical temperament of the Icelandic horse is very sweet and amiable.
Another important system in place to aide in the breeding of superior Icelandic horses is the BLUP system which stands for Best Linear Unbias Prediction. This system evaluates the potential offspring of a cross between a mare and stud. The rating should be around 100, with over 100 indicating the animal is an enhancer of a trait. A score of fewer than 100 means the animal has negative development of a trait.
The Icelandic horse is well loved by the people of Iceland. It has long been used as a means of transportation and it remains in use in areas with limited access by motorized vehicles. They have also been used for farm work and to transport goods across the island.
Today they are gaining popularity as sport horses, dressage, jumping, and other activities. The racing of the Icelandic horse is also a very popular pastime, with races taking place almost every week in their native country. Some are bred especially to perform a “flying pace” or skold which is used in short distance racing. These horses can achieve 30 miles per hour in the short distance.
They are easily trained and bond very well with their human companion .The horses are also enjoying popularity outside of Iceland especially because of their smooth and quick tolt gait.
They are beautiful horses with showy manes and tails and compact conformation. Though they are a smaller horse, they can handle adult weight easily.