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New Zealand: Rare
Imported: 1990s
Origin: Iceland

Icelandic Horses

A Rare Breed of Icelandic Origin

Icelandic horses
Icelandic horses
(Photo by Jennie Boerema)

      The Icelandic horse is one of the oldest horse breeds in the world. They were brought to Iceland by the first settlers from Norway, in the late ninth to early tenth centuries.

      Due to the harsh climate and the lack of vegetation over more than one half of the country, the Icelandic horse had an extremely difficult existence. Only the strongest and the fittest could survive.

      As a result of a plague in Europe, Iceland quarantined itself for many years. In AD 930 a law was passed to ban the importation of horses and other animals into Iceland to keep out diseases. This had the effect of preserving the purity of the Icelandic horses – they have never been crossbred with other horses and have remained pure for over a thousand years – and they still are!

Icelandic horse
Biskup frá Wetsinghe
(Photo by Jennie Boerema)

      The Icelandic horse has five gaits, among them the magical tölt. The tölt is the speciality of the Icelandic horse. It is a remarkably smooth gait in which the horse moves its feet in the same order as in walk, though more quickly. It is a supremely comfortable gait for the rider, and one that is available at a variety of speeds.

      The Icelandic horse is very good-natured – it is virtually unknown for an Icelandic horse to kick or bite – and it is usually easy to catch, box and handle. It is also self-assured and behaves well in traffic.

Icelandic horse
Stallion Thótti frá Wetsinghe
(Photo by Jennie Boerema)

      Most Icelandic horses today are between 13 and 14 hands high. They are extremely strong and are expected to carry an adult, no matter how tall or heavy. The breed has charm, strength and courage. They are intelligent and love learning and being trained. You can use an Icelandic horse for almost anything – hacks, endurance, riding club activities, dressage and even driving. The Icelandic horse can be found in over 40 different colours, with hundreds of variations.

      There have been Icelandic horses in New Zealand since the mid-1990s but their numbers are still very low in this country. One of the latest imports is the stallion Thótti frá Wetsinghe (see photo). He is very well bred, from one of the top-breeders in the Netherlands. His half-brother is one of the highest judged stallions in previous World Championships for Icelandic horses, held every two years in Europe.

Thanks to Jennie Boerema, Skógarrönd Ltd for information and photographs.
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