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Breed Information

Icelandic horse history


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. The Icelandic Horse is Iceland's only native breed. These horses are the direct descendants of the horses that were taken to Iceland by the Vikings in the dark ages. The Vikings travelled by sea in narrow boats with limited space, so only the best horses were selected to make the journey.


The horses brought to Iceland during this period were probably Norwegian Dole Horses and Celtic Ponies (the ancestor of the British Exmoor and Shetland). 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.

The Icelandic breed has had no outside influence since 982 AD, when the Icelandic Parliament passed a law prohibiting the importation of horses from foreign nations. The law was meant to prevent the introduction of new diseases, but it also helped contribute to the evolution of a completely unique breed that has never been crossbred with other horse breeds, which makes Icelandic horses one of the purest breeds in the world. Today the law remains, and Icelandic Horses that leave the country are not allowed to return. 

Icelandic horse characteristics


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 has a spirited but easy-going and gentle temperament. It is very level-headed and not easily spooked, and can be a great confidence builder.  It is well-mannered and rarely kicks or bites. The Icelandic horse is generally easy to catch, float and handle. It is also self-assured and behaves well in traffic.


Most Icelandic horses today are between 13 and 14 hands high. Though they are usually small in stature, they are extremely strong and robust, and bred to carry adults over long distances and rugged terrain. The breed has charm, strength and courage. They are intelligent and love learning and being trained.  The Icelandic horse can be found in over 40 different colours, with hundreds of variations.

You can use an Icelandic horse for almost anything – hacks, endurance, riding club activities, dressage and even driving. The greatest asset of the Icelandic horse is its special gaits, the tölt and the flying pace, and in Europe Icelandic horses compete in special gait competitions of all levels.  However, the tölt is also just the perfect gait to enjoy during a leisurely ride through New Zealand's beautiful landscapes!

Breeding Standards

The goal of the IceHNZ Studbook for Icelandic Horses in New Zealand is to follow and maintain the rules and standards for breeding Icelandic horses as set by FEIF, the International Federation of Icelandic Horse Associations.  You can read more information in this brochure. Please get in touch if you have any questions about this or anything else! 

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